TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey’s pugnacious, budget-cutting Gov. Chris Christie — widely mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for president — is catching grief for taking a state helicopter to his son’s high school baseball game.
“Gov. Christie must learn that taxpayers cannot afford his helicopter joyrides,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriart, who called on the governor to disclose his use of state police helicopters and reimburse taxpayers for costs associated with personal and political trips.
Christie, who has made a name for himself nationally for his tough talk and budget cutting ways, arrived with wife Mary Pat just before the game between Delbarton High School and St. Joseph’s of Montvale in Montvale on Tuesday night.
The governor’s oldest son, Andrew, is the starting catcher for Delbarton — a position Christie also played in high school.
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New Jersey State Police officials say it costs $2,500 an hour to fly in their helicopter, but that ferrying Christie to his son’s high school baseball game didn’t cost taxpayers anything extra.
Colonel Rick Fuentes, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, released a statement Wednesday saying that Christie’s use of the helicopter didn’t come at an additional cost to taxpayers or the State Police budget.
Fuentes said ” it is important to understand that State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions.” He added that the missions and flight time are used for training purposes and that the flight hours are those that “would be logged in any event.”
“Any flights transporting the Governor would be subordinated to priority needs for our aircraft including rescue and emergent law enforcement missions,” Fuentes said.
“One of the options at our disposal is the helicopter. I mean, we can certainly move him from one point to another by land and that’s what most often happens. Especially given the fact that he’s only been on the helicopter 35 times since taking office. You can see that this is not something that happens regularly,” New Jersey State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones told 1010 WINS.
However, it is still unclear whether any of those 35 trips were either personal or political.
“It’s inappropriate,” said state Democratic Party chairman John Wisniewski. “The only thing I can think of is that he wanted to look presidential flying in. It’s his version of Marine One.”
In an interview with 1010 WINS, Wisniewski also criticized state police officials coming to Christie’s defense.
“I didn’t know Col. Fuentes is now working in the communications office for the governor. The fact of the matter is that it is not a matter for state police to determine whether or not the use of a public resource is appropriate,” he said.
Flanked by state police troopers, the Christies watched the game from the stands until the 5th inning. Play was stopped briefly while the helicopter took off.
“This is to me is an example of do as a I say, not as I do,” state Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
The governor had no public schedule Tuesday but had a dinner meeting later at the governor’s mansion in Princeton with a delegation of Iowans who tried — unsuccessfully — to persuade him to run for president.
“It is a means of transportation that is occasionally used as the schedule demands,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said, declining to give specifics. “This has historically been the case in prior administrations as well, and we continue to be judicious in limiting its use.”
Drewniak said there was nothing inappropriate or illegal about the governor’s use of the helicopter, but declined to release his schedule for the day, or say where the governor was coming from when he arrived at the game.
“The Governor gets EPU (executive protection unit) coverage every day to and from Trenton or anywhere he travels on government or personal time, 24 hours a day,” he said.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said that it can make sense for governors to use helicopters on long haul business trips over gas-guzzling SUVs.
“If you have an event in Cape May and then Princeton, it makes sense,” he said, “but I’m talking about official state business, I’m not talking about going to a baseball game.”
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