Reporting Christine Sloan
DENVILLE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — After a firestorm of criticism, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie changed his mind Thursday and decided that he and the Republican Party would reimburse the state for his personal use of a state police helicopter, which includes two trips to watch his oldest son’s baseball games.
Christie said he was initially told by state police that he didn’t have to reimburse the state for personal helicopter rides.
Christie answered questions about his use of a state police helicopter Thursday afternoon at a bill signing in Denville. He unapologetically said he was balancing his role as a father and job as a governor when he used the helicopter to go to two of his son’s baseball games.
“Let’s just end it. I’ll write the check and end it,” Christie told CBS 2′s Christine Sloan. “I decided it was important for my son to be there and it was important as a father. So, I wanted to be there so I made the decision to take the trip.”
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Christie said he decided to reimburse the state about $2,151 only because the issue had become a distraction from the real problems facing New Jersey. The state Republican Party is paying about $1,200 to cover the cost of Christie’s trip Tuesday when used the helicopter to fly 75 miles from a game in Montvale to Princeton to take meeting with a group of top GOP campaign contributors from Iowa.
“As the chief of State Police said yesterday, the air travel didn’t cost taxpayers any additional dollars and fell under the protection unit’s normal security responsibilities,” Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Maria Comella said. “But the governor understands the sensitivity about this kind of thing and believes he owes it to the public to ensure that this is not a distraction.”
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Christie also released his travel log on state choppers — 33 of them — and said he’ll pay for another family flight, too.
“You know what my son said to me afterwards? He said thanks for coming,” Christie said to applause.
The governor landed on the football field and was driven to the baseball field — a trek uphill.
“It’s if the helicopter has to leave, to Medivac someone, or has a law enforcement mission or Homeland Security mission, they need some way to get me home. That’s why the cars are there,” the governor said.
Earlier, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, chairwoman of the Assembly Homeland Security Committee, told reporters she had concerns over the personal use of a chopper bought to help protect ports and airports and transport people during emergencies and disasters.
“My first reaction was, ‘did anyone that needed critical care not get it,”’ she said.
The reaction from the governor constituents was mixed.
“Even though they say it’s not coming out of the taxpayer money, they have ways to hide that under the table,” one man told CBS 2′s Sloan.
“I just feel sorry for the man as an individual come to the game and people putting him down for using state transportation,” added Jan Czerepark of Elmwood Park.
On Wednesday, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the helicopter use was appropriate and the governor “does not reimburse for security and travel.”
Christie and his wife arrived by chopper just before Tuesday’s game between Delbarton High School and St. Joseph’s in Montvale.
The Christies left in the 5th inning and headed to the governor’s mansion in Princeton. That’s where a delegation of Iowans gathered but couldn’t convince Christie to run for president.
The police superintendent said flight hours were logged daily for for security and training missions, so there was no additional cost to taxpayers.
“I don’t think any of it was government-related or policy-related,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-Englewood). “This is to me an example of do as a I say, not as I do.”
Quijano, who was named head of the committee earlier this year, said an upcoming hearing will focus on what guidelines, if any, are in place for transporting dignitaries and their families. The hearing will likely be held within two weeks, though no date has been set.
A special commission recommended New Jersey governors use helicopters as a matter of safety after the 2007 car crash involving then Gov. Jon Corzine.
Christie said his son has another game, in Sparta, on Friday and he’ll be using a car to get there.
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