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Christie Faces Criticism For Police Helicopter Ride To Son's Ballgame

State police defend use of helicopter, say flight hours would have been logged on new craft anyway for training purposes.

Against a backdrop of school budget cuts and state layoffs, Gov. Chris Christie faced mounting criticism Wednesday for to travel to his son's baseball game in Bergen County.

Christie landed on a sports field at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale in the $12 million chopper Tuesday afternoon, minutes before his son was about to take the field as the catcher for the Delbarton School in their playoff game against St. Joe's. He and his wife, Mary Pat, left in the helicopter after the 5th inning.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) blasted Christie, saying she "fully expects" the governor to reimburse the state of New Jersey for the cost of the ride.

"If this was for an official reason, that would have been one thing, but he used a state helicopter to fly to his child's baseball game," Weinberg said. "I have a real problem with this as a taxpayer and I fully expect that he will reimburse the state of New Jersey for the cost of this ride, which I'm assuming runs into the thousands of dollars," she said. 

Weinberg said politicians should use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas while on personal trips. 

"I've gone in my lifetime to plenty of school games, dance recitals, you name it, and like any other parent or grandparent, I sat in traffic and I paid for it myself," Weinberg said, adding that she sat in traffic for four hours last week on her way to Vineland for a hearing. She paid her own gas and tolls, she said.

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, (D-Englewood) said he questioned Christie's judgment.

"I understand there are family events you might want to get to, but to use a helicopter, which is extremely expensive to fly, when it comes to fuel and labor costs, is just not appropriate," Johnson said.

The governor's office has not spoken at length about the helicopter ride, issuing a statement that read simply, "It is a means of transportation that is occasionally used as the schedule demands. This has historically been the case in prior administrations as well, and we continue to be judicious in limiting its use."

A Christie spokesman did not respond to an email asking for additional comment.

In defending the governor's trip, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said the flight hours would have been accumulated anyway on the aircraft, as pilots become accustomed to the new helicopters. The state police oversees security for the governor.

"Governor Christie is on duty every hour of every day," Fuentes said in a release. "His transportation, safety and security are my responsibility, and he therefore travels with the State Police Executive Protection Unit, whether on state or personal business.  As part of our long-standing security protocol, the EPU provides secure, protected travel by vehicle in the overwhelming majority of the Governor’s business and personal travel, except in those rare instances when the Governor’s schedule warrants use of air travel. 

"To date, Governor Christie has been aboard State Police helicopters 35 times since taking office, including aerial surveys of flood and storm damage. It is important to understand that State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions, and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft. These are flight hours that would be logged in any event. Therefore, there is no additional cost to taxpayers or the State Police budget, nor is there any interference with our daily mission by adding the state’s chief executive to any of these trips. Any flights transporting the Governor would be subordinated to priority needs for our aircraft including rescue and emergent law enforcement missions."

Bergen County Republican Organization Chair Robert Yudin said he wholeheartedly agreed with Fuentes' statement, adding that the governor should be able to use whatever form of transportation he wants - whenever he wants it. 

"There is absolutely nothing inappropriate about the chief executive of the state of New Jersey - who is on duty 24/7 - using the helicopter to catch some of his son's baseball game," said Yudin, who likened the situation to a volunteer fire chief using a department vehicle to go to the grocery store. "If there's a fire, the chief can get there right away, as opposed to going home and getting his chief's car. ... If there was an emergency when the governor was being transported, the emergency would take precedence," he said.

Yudin, who was nominated by Christie for an appointment with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, accused Democrats of politicizing a non-issue.

"This is just the Democrats politicizing, showing that they have nothing they can say about the governor," Yudin said. "As far as I'm concerned, he can use any form of transportation he wants."

Peter Woolley, Fairleigh Dickinson University's polling director and a political science professor, said the incident is unlikely to have lasting political implications for the governor.

“Generally people have short memories,” Woolley said. “I think that it’s going to blow over, but I’m sure his critics will try to remind people.”

Woolley said other governors have used the privileges of the office in ways that raised questions. Corzine sped to stay on schedule, a move that led to his near fatal car crash.

“In many instances there seemed to be no reason for that kind of excess,” Woolley said.

Negative reaction to Christie’s helicopter flight is unlikely to damage the Republican party, Woolley said. Christie has been floated as a possible presidential candidate, but said he has no intention of running. 

“I’m not sure it’s going to hurt the Republican brand,” Woolley said. “They’ve been pretty diligently hurting themselves.”

Jeff Tittel, the president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, estimated that the helicopter used by Christie averages between 2.25 to 2.5 miles per gallon, compared to a large SUV that gets 16 miles per gallon on a highway.

"There is a bigger environmental impact from using a helicopter. Anyone who says otherwise is just spinning it," Tittel said, who added that he's not against using helicopters for official business, but criticized the use for personal flights.

"God help us if there was ever an emergency when the helicopter is in use by the governor to take him to his son's baseball game," U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) said in remarks Wednesday to a rally of state union workers in Newark's Military Park.

Patch users debated the issue with fervor on Tuesday and Wednesday. Comments were about 3-to-1 in favor of people who said they felt that Christie had abused his access to the state police helicopter. Some pointed to his son's enrollment in a private high school, while at the same time he battles with the state teachers' union. Still others questioned the use of the helicopter to return Christie from the game to the Governor's Mansion in Princeton, where he met with an Iowa group that is trying to pursuade him to run for president.

A minority of commenters, however, said that Christie's use of the helicopter was acceptable. They contrasted Christie's one-time personal use with Air Force One shuttling President Obama around the country for vacation, though federal law requires the president to travel via Air Force One or its helicopter cousin, Marine One.

For a governor who many would classify as divisive and unapologetic, the discussion mirrored the man.

“What is wrong with that picture?,” wrote Alice Cole of Wyckoff. “A State emergency? I could see that. A ballgame? No.”

Cole said that the governor travelling by helicopter didn’t sit well with her while New Jersey’s citizens are struggling at the pump.

Commenter Frank wrote that "just because people think he should run for president, doesn't mean he should act like one. Kudos for attending his kid's game, a thumbs down for using a copter that clearly looks like it suppose to be for emergency use."

Christie has pledged to cut state funding in various “wasteful” institutions, in what he says is a necessary but painful attempt to combat some of the nation’s highest taxes. While some suggested the governor’s five-inning PR fiasco was little more than partisanship and opportunistic grabs by those on the other side of the aisle, others chimed in to say they thought the flight represented hypocrisy on the Christie’s part.

“It's a story because my governor rails against public spending and says he's a fiscal conservative, then spends thousands of dollars to fly to a ball game,” commenter Scott Goldman wrote. Commenters BSquared and Jerzgirl101 took a different perspective, with Jerzgirl101 -- who claimed to be a single mom with three kids -- writing that there’s nothing more important than cheering on your children.

“Seeing them see me at the end of the game is ... priceless,” she wrote.

“He wanted to go to his son's state playoff game and is the governor of this state that has access to a helicopter. No big deal,” BSquared wrote.

Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, of Ridgewood, drew on the Obama parallel, writing in the comments that a recent trip to Cresskill raised $1 million for the Democratic National Committee.

“I suppose those of you who object to Christie using a form of government transportation, also object to Pres. Obama using Air force one for a date night in NYC, or Pelosi using Air force jets to shuttle her back and forth from Wash, to Ca.,” wrote Jeanette. “The Gov. is a busy man, perhaps the only way he could make his sons game was by using a helicopter. I commend him on trying to serve the people of NJ and while trying to fulfill his job as a parent.”

Commenter Margie wrote Wednesday that the helicopter ride had actually hurt her positive view of Christie.

“I was thinking that Christie was a good guy and I gave him a lot of credit for the job he is doing to straighten things out in the crook ridden state of NJ,” Margie wrote late Wednesday morning. “I ignored all the political commercials and rhetoric, but I have to tell you Governor, this doesn't look good. A huge waste of taxpayer money. With times such as they are, this was definitely a lapse in judgment.”

Christie is not the first governor to draw ire for using state helicopters, with criticism for personal flights spanning Democratic and Republican administrations.

Former Governor James McGreevey, a Democrat, had the Democratic State Committee repay $18,200 for personal flights on state-owned helicopters, the New York Times reported at the time. McGreevey’s office said he had done nothing wrong.

Personal use of state helicopters became a campaign issue in 1993 when then-gubernatorial candidate Christine Whitman pointed to use of the helicopters by Governor Jim Florio as a sign of government waste. As governor, Whitman was criticized for using a state helicopter in 1997 to fly to a Devils game.

A state panel said it would be safer for governors to use helicopters after Governor Jon Corzine, Christie’s Democratic predecessor, was nearly killed in a crash on the Garden State Parkway while riding in an official SUV.  Corzine, a multimillionaire, used rented helicopters for personal business and reimbursed the state for personal flights, NJ.com reported.

Tom Troncone (Editor) June 01, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Thanks Melissa. It's funny, because people rarely ask those types of questions. I got a call from someone yesterday morning who told me that Christie would be arriving in a helicopter at his son's game. They didn't know if it would be a state police helicopter or a private helicopter like Corzine used to use. I sent a photographer out there just to play it safe. When he arrived, security told him that he had to move way away from where Christie would land. Luckily, he had a very long lens with him and was able to still get the shots. I come from a print background and, to be honest, my first instinct was to hold the photos until I knew he was in the air, so that we could ensure our exclusive. But this is a different media landscape, where it's about getting readers info as quick as we can, so I had the photographer drive to my house and dump the photos directly onto my laptop. It's not really so much about media competition anymore, it's about serving a community. The photos got up so quickly that The Record was able to see them and get a photographer there before he left. That's why we have him arriving and they have him leaving. So that's the backstory.
caroline brown June 01, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Amazing just amazing! Just looking at the size of this person ! You would think that common sense would urge him to walk for his health. But that would mean I am passing judgement on someone I don't know or even voted for----------
MT June 01, 2011 at 09:41 PM
As I was standing outside Bergen Mall (Town Center) last night at 7pm-ish. I saw TWO choppers flying in very close proximity to one another. I commented to my daughter about how it looked like an important person being escorted somewhere. I wonder if anyone else can confirm two choppers.
Louise goldsmith June 01, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Take away financial aid for those in need, take away funds for educating our chidden, and what do you have. Big error my neighbors. Make up for the mistake in the voting booth! Lou
JP June 01, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Pete Sutliff June 02, 2011 at 01:19 AM
The state police spokesman said he doesn't see a problem with inserting the Governor onto a training mission, and that these helicopters fly Homeland Security missions every day. I guess the Gov was just lucky that the homeland security mission that day was to his son's baseball game! What luck!
David June 02, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Let's not cricize the guy. After all, the large chunk he took out of the property tax rebate had to be spend on something. What better use than to tote his big butt in the most expensive way possible. What's even better is that his son goes to a private school, while he cuts the budget for public New Jersey schools. Guess he doesn't have much time in between meqls to think things through.
Pete Sutliff June 02, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Robert Yudin likened the situation to a volunteer fire chief using a department vehicle to go to the grocery store. "If there's a fire, the chief can get there right away, as opposed to going home and getting his chief's car. ... If there was an emergency when the governor was being transported, the emergency would take precedence," he said. No, it's more like having the crew drive you to the grocery store in a fire truck. Interesting question though, if there was an emergency would the governor be flown in or flown home to protect his safety? Also, who provided the limo from the copter to the field and where did the limo have to be driven from to reach the landing site? Sounds like the governor is now officially a wasteful institution.
Justine June 02, 2011 at 02:24 AM
Well gee, I've never ridden in a helicopter. Maybe I can take a ride with the police pilots who are practicing anyway. Maybe they could land in the grocery store parking lot and wait a few minutes while I run in for a loaf of bread. This is all BS. Christie is feeling the 'power' of the governorship and in his mind now, is the idea that he deserves to ride in the helicopter and show everyone at the baseball game that the the governor is a 'great father', making an effort to be at his son's game like every other father. I'd be more impressed if he drove to the stadium himself and quietly sat in the bleachers.
Lisa Accurso Donofrio June 02, 2011 at 02:34 AM
Why should we have to pay for our kid's to play sports in school because of the cut backs and his fat butt spends our money to go see his kid play baseball. Most of us can't even make it to our kid's games because we are working and he gets a free ride. I say make him pay the State back
anathemaNJ June 02, 2011 at 05:27 AM
Look some of you that seem to be making this a DEM/ REPUB issue are either lacking the ability to think critically, are brainwashed by the media or both... This is an issue that should resonate with EVERYBODY while America's infrastructure crumbles particularly the roads and services here in NJ erode the Gov has the audacity to park his rear in brand spanking new SP Helicopters... Sorry folks this is the epitome of hypocrisy you don't tell others they have to do more with less while you jet set around in the cream of corporate helicopters in one of the smallest states in the US. Please spare me the lunacy about traffic here especially since the SP will rocket him anywhere in the state in a cushy G-Ride SUV... At least raise taxes on the rich if you are going to utilize sunshine airlines to shuttle you around NJ...
Ricky June 02, 2011 at 08:06 AM
Isn't this what a "helicopter parent" is supposed to do?
shirley waller June 02, 2011 at 10:44 AM
Reading all these comments re Christie's helicipter ride to his son's baseball game, did anyone rant and rave when Obama took his wife to a Broadway show and dinner in NYC on our taxpayer money? Plus all the lavish vacations that he takes which you are paying for? Leave Christie alone -- he's a doing such a great job here in NJ, that the Republican party is pleading with him to run for President I guess this is what Dems do when they feel threatened Dig up all the dirt they can on a successful opposing candidate in the hope that they will scare him off. This is a great governor. I am proud that he is running the State.
sean mccooe June 02, 2011 at 11:05 AM
I saw 2 choppers Where did 2nd one wait? Whose SUV? State police?
sean mccooe June 02, 2011 at 11:06 AM
IOWANS - 8 - were courting him that am in Trenton- NOT STATE biz!
TaxPayer June 02, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Enough with the fat jokes liberal so called "tolerant" haters.
Tom Troncone (Editor) June 02, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Two choppers?
Elaine June 02, 2011 at 01:41 PM
Christie exhibited monumental poor judgment, to say the least. I plan to estimate my share of the cost of his boondoggle and deduct it from my NJ state taxes for the year. And to have the nerve to suggest that helicopters are SAFER because of Jon Corzine's monumentally poor judgment to go 85 miles an hour on the GSP WITHOUT HIS SEATBELT is insulting to the intelligence of NJ voters. PLEASE!!!
bsmi021 June 02, 2011 at 01:56 PM
He should be ripped apart for this, when the ceo's went to Washington with there private jets they were told to never do it again. Why is he or any politician different. This is the problem with all of politics in general today {DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO} This type of abuse has to stop if the people are ever going to get Washington on down back in order!!Just remember folks there has been a lot of noise about Christie running for president so ALWAYS remember where your vote is going!!
Salviati June 02, 2011 at 02:03 PM
I am really glad that my second year as a inner city high school math and physics teacher was sacrificed last year, because as I sit idly unemployed, its completely clear to me that we Jerseyan's had more pressing matters to spend our tax dollars on.
anathemaNJ June 02, 2011 at 02:29 PM
You must be in the top income tax bracket if you think he's doing such a great job... The fact Christie is laying off teachers, cops and firefighters while he's jetting around a tiny state in a helicopter that costs 15 Million to buy and nearly $3K an hour to operate is ridiculous. Meanwhile the roads all over NJ are crumbling with potholes that easily could rip the wheels off most cars, our cities are more dangerous and kids are losing when it comes to education. All so we can have the uber-wealthy avoid paying taxes because they are responsible for creating so many new jobs, if your paying attention WE ARE LOSING JOBS WITH OUR CURRENT FISCAL POLICIES... However, I am inclined to agree with you about Obama's travel needs politicians of either party should be making sacrifices not preaching to people about how they should live and lead by example. Politicians of EITHER PARTY do not understand responsibility when it comes to living on the taxpayer dime...
Amy Greulich June 02, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Wasteful and shameful all around. It's disgraceful to talk about the necessity of hard funding cuts while using taxpayer dollars the way he does. There was nothing state related about his kid's game or his meeting with the Iowa group. The helicopter should only be used for state issues. Period.
doodles June 02, 2011 at 03:53 PM
surprize he could even fit in the helicopter wasting our tax money on that and crapping on the senior citizens..you mean he couldnt walk 20 feet to the game? What a poor excuse for a governor shame on you christie cream ! Definately wasteful using our tax money like he does.
doodles June 02, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Shirley you must have money to burn not like the rest of us and some even live paycheck to paycheck. Im sorry but christie dough boy is doing a horrible job for NJ. All for himself and his millionaire buddys he makes me sick period.
Michelle Budinick-Dores June 02, 2011 at 04:57 PM
I heard them, too. I was at my kitchen sink when I felt and heard a slight rumbling. My daughter and I ran outside to see what it was. We caught the two choppers as they passed over our house. Thinking there may have been a bad accident, I mentioned to my little girl, "Oh, I hope this wasn't an air lift operation. I hope no one was seriously hurt!" Well, now I can explain to my girl, "No, honey, there wasn't any accident. Just a ball game!" Ah, the irony.....
Michelle Budinick-Dores June 02, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Dearest Shirley, You say "I guess this is what Dems do when they feel threatened Dig up all the dirt they can on a successful opposing candidate in the hope that they will scare him off." Party lines have nothing to do with my opinion nor the opinions of many I have spoken to regarding this topic. It is hurtful to me that we, the NJ residents, are asked to be patient and understanding while he makes his hard choices and drastic cuts. All the while he does not endure what he expects us to endure. I commend him on making the time to go see his son's game--it is wonderful to be part of that experience---both for him and for his son. But how many thousands of parents out there have to miss their child's game because they are working? One job, two jobs, or maybe out trying to FIND a job!! We simply don't all have the luxury he displayed so blatantly. All I ask is that he practices what he preaches. Drive yourself to the game....please don't waste our government dollars.
REAmerican June 02, 2011 at 07:31 PM
I applaud you for publically displaying your ignorance, that takes guts. But to compare a governor to a President is quite a stretch and makes your argument quite silly. Presidents have to travel that way, and besides, because of the excellent job that Obama is doing fixing the problems left behind by the last presidunce, he deserves a vacation or a night out on the town. He has a very difficult job fixing all the problems left behind by Bush and Cheney. However, Governor Christie Creams is NOT doing a great job at helping people, or solving problems or resolving our budget issues. In fact he is doing the same screw job to the people of New Jersey along the same lines that Bush and Cheney had done to the entire country. You know the whole tax breaks for the rich scam, the corporate tax breaks for wealthy, the lies about us being in a crisis caused by the poor and hard working middle class folks that collect evil pensions and belong to evil unions. You know the polls and facts are showing that Christie is NOT doing so well in NJ, so I don't think he would be that successsful a candidate for the right. I think the right just is frustrated they have NO ONE that has even a glimmer of hope at beating Obama in 2012, because he is doing a fine job without one tiny bit of any support from the party of "NO" that only hopes for failure and pushes for failure of our economy and policies by not helping in any way to fix the bush depression. Where are republicans jobs ideas?????
REAmerican June 02, 2011 at 07:49 PM
njdem666 August 16, 2011 at 01:43 PM
What was the final score of the game?


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