Opinion: Now That We Can Begin to Assess Sandy and Beyond . . .

Mark M. Murphy | December 3, 2012 | Opinion, Sandy
The governor showed he can lead during a crisis, but can he guide the state through the difficult years ahead?

This week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he would run for reelection next year. During his first campaign. Christie urged reporters to “get the bat out” and go after his opponent’s grandmotherly running-mate for deputy governor. Impressions of a bully like that tend to stick in the mind.

Then came Sandy.

During those crucial days at the end of October, spirits were like tinder that resentments easily sparked. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged President Barack Obama to delay his visit to the disaster area until calm was restored. Meanwhile, he rallied to hold a marathon that would boost the City’s economy even as it would visibly syphon police, generators, and water from stricken onlookers. A remarkably tinny score from a first-order political impresario.

But on our side of the Hudson, Christie was on cue and in tune. He stood at the shoulder of the suffering and said what he was doing about it. He told my children not to worry, adults were taking care of things and them. He acted to protect the body politic in those crucial days after the wreckage.

Now we learn more every day of the difficult trials ahead in Sandy’s devastating wake. And it is not just about rebuilding. It is about whether to rebuild in this manner and in this specific place — at all. It is about sharing the burden among those who have lost their homes and those unscathed homeowners who see impossibly high tax reassessments rising ahead to meet municipal budgets.

We now squarely face critical long-term goals as well. And to achieve our best aims, it’s going to be a huge lift. But what choice do we have? Just look at what our past negligence in facing tough choices has meant. We have to recognize the costs we have shouldered in the past when we tried to avoid making tough investment decisions. Let’s take a short, if painful, look at just a few examples.
A single giant government contract made in haste, the Parsons car-inspection privatization has cost us over $20 million in expected savings that never materialized, according to state auditors. Smart contracting would caution against our rush to sign large-scale reconstruction deals before making sure we safeguard costs and ensure that our own unemployed and displaced workers are trained and hired for the long haul.

Shoreline building that mocks nature’s normal patterns — even when a Sandy doesn’t blow it all down — exacts yearly resources for beach replenishment just to hold sand in place for another season. And according to the internationally renowned researchers at Climate Central in Princeton, the rising sea levels coming in the next two decades will make water resources along broad swaths of South Jersey shoreline so saline that new water supplies will have to be pumped in just to maintain those communities. Smart growth principles dictate the obvious: rebuild only in areas that can sustain it, where infrastructure already exists to support it.

The state’s Energy Master Plan, constantly being revised to take account of new findings, contains warnings of potential blackouts from projected growth in electricity usage. Smart grid technology monitors usage patterns, detects usage spikes early, and commands additional capacity to the grid to anticipate and mitigate power outages. The utilities advocate for it, we all need it, but in efforts to avoid new energy surcharges on our bills, the Board of Public Utility watchdogs haven’t yet allowed it to go forward.

These times are uniquely opportune. We are all focused, right now, on what to do, for the very reason that the entire state has felt the effects of a single weather event.

After the heady images of our governor at the site of disaster, and his deserved praise for it, now comes the task of channeling all that political goodwill and expectant attention to shape a recovery program that can clean up, build up, and set right. Then we’ll talk about who is best qualified to lead our state in the next four years.

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