SEA BRIGHT: CHRISTIE STORMS THE TOWN

Governor Chris Christie, accompanied by Mayor Dina Long, heads into Northshore Men’s Wear, above, and meets with Jake O’Donnell of Jake’s Surf Shop, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The rain that he said with certainty was following him from Cape May held off, long enough at least for Governor Chris Christie to make a whirlwind tour of Sea Bright’s downtown Wednesday.

The latest in a handful of visits to the borough since Hurricane Sandy knocked out every one of its commercial establishments, the 90-minute tour gave Christie a chance to tout his administration’s storm recovery efforts, slam a couple of federal agencies, and glad-hand supporters as he runs for a second term.

Though “not everything is perfect by a longshot” with the Shore’s recovery and efforts to attract tourists this summer, “we’re laying the groundwork for next summer, when I know things are going to be significantly better here in Sea Bright and all up and down the Jersey Shore,” Christie said.

Christie ended his 90-minute tour with a brief, private chat with Long at Sea Bright Pizza. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

During a parking-lot speech that drew several dozen onlookers and at least as many media members, keen on any signal that he might make a run for president in 2016, Christie took aim at the federal Small Business Administration and the National Flood Insurance program for making recovery efforts harder for business owner and homeowners.

“Basically, the Small Business Administration is a disaster,” he said. “We should send FEMA to the Small Business Administration to clean up after the disaster that is the Small Business Administration and what they did to small-business people in this state.”

He urged business owners to apply for state grants and loans that have drawn few applications: the Stronger New Jersey Business Grant Program, with grants of up to $50,000 each, and the Stronger NJ Business Loan Program, with loans of up to $5 million that are interest-free for the first two years.

After speaking for about 20 minutes and fielding media questions from a from a podium set up outside Woody’s Ocean Grille, Christie stopped at Alice’s Kitchen, which opened recently in the space long occupied by Steve’s Breakfast and Lunch. He then crossed Ocean Avenue to schmooze with Brian George, owner of Northshore Menswear, and popped in briefly at Giglio’s Bait & Tackle shop.

Heading north on foot, followed by a scrum of television and still cameras, Christie met the young owners of Jake’s Surf Shop, ducked into Bain’s Hardware, shook hands with construction workers at Angelica’s restaurant and ended his tour at Cono Trezza’s Sea Bright Pizza.

“He was helpful to me personally,” said Ray Lena, owner of Angelica’s, which is still about three weeks from opening for the first time since Sandy.

Lena, who took Christie inside the restaurant for about five minutes, said he asked for some guidance on financial help, “and he gave me the card of a gal who can help me with those things. So that’s important. It’s important that he came and showed support” for the town’s recovery, he said.

At Sea Bright Pizza, Christie sequestered himself at a front table with Mayor Dina Long for a one-on-one while the cameras waited outside. Long told redbankgreen afterward that she spoke to Christie about beach dunes “and concerns I have about our readiness for the next [storm], that could literally be here in weeks.” She said Christie, with whom she occasionally talks by telephone, was “responsive.”

“Today’s not a closeout,” Long said of the visit. “Today is a check-in, in that he’s really just coming to see where we are and to celebrate the small successes and hear about the challenges.”.

Along his tour, Christie stopped to shake hands with Rumson resident Mark Filipkowski, who – having been advised by security that Christie had an allergy to dogs –  held a black Labrador named Star at arm’s length away from the governor. Filipkowski said he just want to thank Christie both for his recovery work and for his support for a favored cause: Wounded Warrior Dogs.

“He’s doing a tremendous job for our communities,” Filipkowski said.

Left in the lurch as Christie exited in his black SUV were the owners of Beach Burgers and Grille and Gracie and the Dudes ice cream, who had gathered outside their stores with employees and others on the expectation of a Christie visit.