Chris Christie was planning on spending the Fourth of July holiday weekend with his family and friends at the Governor’s residence on New Jersey’s Island Beach State Park. As of Monday morning, he was still there. But instead of enjoying a relaxing holiday, he was calling into a local talk show to explain a weekend beach outing, as he and his Administration found themselves on defense after it emerged that he had enjoyed some time on a public beach that was closed to the public because of the state’s government shutdown.
“Starting a week ago today, I told people we had plans to be here, and whether the government shut down or it didn’t, we were going to be here because it’s our residence,” Christie told Good Day Philadelphia.
Photos emerged over the weekend, snapped by NJ Advance Media’s Andrew Mills, of the Governor on Island Beach State Park. Although Christie has a state residence there, the beach is currently closed to the public as a result of a legislative standoff that prompted a government shutdown.
Both the photographs and Christie’s response seemed to encapsulate the gradual political downfall of a Republican who was once expected to be a leading candidate for his party’s presidential nomination. Christie’s two-term run as governor of New Jersey is over in January, ending a bumpy tenure that started off hopeful but ultimately included a failed presidential bid, a scandal over bridge closures that resulted in the conviction of two of his associates — and now, dismal poll numbers.
Christie’s approval rating is at a lowly 15%, according to the latest Quinnipiac University survey, the worst the poll has found for a governor in any state over the last 20 years. In November 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, when he was widely praised for his response to the storm, Christie’s approval ratings were at a sky-high 72%, according to Quinnipiac.
With the finish line in sight, Christie and his aides did little to acknowledge the optics of himself and his family enjoying a beach that New Jersey residents were prohibited from accessing because of government gridlock. His office told TIME that 211 beaches are still open, while two state beaches remain closed due to the shutdown, including Island Beach State Park. His office said that the portion of the beach Christie was photographed on is generally not available to the public all year, regardless of a shutdown.
When Good Day Philadelphia pressed Christie about the perception of the photographs, he responded that the question was indicative of a bigger issue.
“This is the problem with politics today,” he said, “When I tell you the substance of the problem, then you say, ‘well you know the optics.’ The fact is that the reason the park is closed is one simple reason. I didn’t close it. The legislature did not pass a budget to me for me to sign so that we’d have the money to keep it open.”
Christie’s administration continued its defense into Monday afternoon, with his official government Twitter account posting a photograph of a busy New Jersey shore retweeting posts from different local beaches noting they were open.
But in a sign of how politically toxic he has become, even Kim Guadano, his own lieutenant governor and onetime running mate now running to succeed him, took to Facebook to criticize her boss.
“If I were governor, I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches,” she said. “It’s beyond words.”
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