(NEW YORK) -- Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that rebuilding New Jersey after superstorm Sandy's devastation had to be his priority and called on Congress to swiftly approve disaster aid, at the same time praising both friends and foes in the state legislature for working together in the aftermath of the storm.
"You have helped define New Jersey as a community, one which -- when faced with adversity -- rolls up its sleeves, gets back to work, and in word and deed shows that New Jersey will never, ever give up," Christie said of his fellow New Jerseyans in his annual state of the state address in Trenton.
"One thing I hope everyone in America now clearly understands -- New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being short-changed," he said.
He said the superstorm that devastated the state was "above politics" and he now looks forward "to what we hope will be quick congressional action on a full, clean Sandy aid bill -- now, next week -- and to enactment by the president."
Christie urged Washington, D.C., to deliver quick financial relief to the state in a speech that was at times reminiscent of the angry dressing down he gave members of his own party, notably House Speaker John Boehner last week, when Boehner decided not to bring a $60 billion Sandy aid bill to the floor, despite assuring northeastern Republicans he would.
"We have waited 72 days, seven times longer than victims of Hurricane Katrina waited," Christie said. "The people of New Jersey are in need and not from their own actions but from an act of God that delivered a natural, human, and financial disaster -- and let me say on behalf of all New Jerseyans we are thankful to the people of America for honoring the tradition of providing relief."
He said it could take "years to repair" some of the devastation in his state and touted his state's bipartisanship, digging the federal government to do the same. He even praised his foes in the state legislature, including Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who just a day before accused Christie of "pray(ing)" for the storm to hit New Jersey.
"We are working together, not just as a people, in digging out from Sandy and rebuilding our economy," Christie said. "Here in Trenton, in this chamber, we have had our fights. We have stuck to our principles. But we have established a governing model for the nation that shows that, even with heartfelt beliefs, bipartisan compromise is possible. Achievement is the result. And progress for our people is the payoff."
"The folks in Washington, in both parties could learn something from our record here," Christie, who is considered a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, said.
Congress approved $9.7 billion last week to help pay for Sandy-related insurance claims, and Boehner promised a second vote on disaster relief would be held on Jan. 15.
Sandy slammed into New Jersey on Oct. 29, killing more than 125 people and causing billions of dollars in damage. In the days after the storm and before the election, Christie stood with President Obama and praised him, irking some Republicans in the process.
Christie singled out specific New Jersey residents in his speech -- who were also in the audience -- for going beyond the call of duty as the storm hit the state, such as Marsha Hedgepeth, an emergency room technician in Toms River who swam and then hitchhiked with a utility worker from Michigan in order to get to her hospital and put in a 12-hour shift.
After the address, state Democrats responded that while they agree with the Republican governor that there is much rebuilding to do, they criticized Christie for solely focusing on storm recovery and glossing over the state's economic problems.
"I believe that as government leaders we have the responsibility to be able to address more than one problem at a time," Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said. "The governor must stand with us to recognize that after the first three years of his administration, in the policies of his economic recovery, the numbers don't ring true."
In a Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind poll released Monday, 73 percent of registered voters approved of the job their governor was doing.
In November, Christie officially announced his intention to run for re-election and in the 36-day period afterwards he hauled in more than $2.1 million.
In the survey, Christie also comes out on top against his opponents and potential opponents. Christie bests state senator Barbara Buono, who announced her bid last month, with 64 percent to 21 percent. He tops state senator Richard Codey, who served as the state's interim governor for 14 months after the 2004 resignation of Gov. Jim McGreevey, 59 percent to 26 percent. Up against Sweeney, Christie was picked 65 percent to 19 percent.
Neither Sweeney or Codey have announced campaigns, but have said they are considering bids for governor.
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