TRENTON, N.J. - Republican Gov. Chris Christie may have "prayed" for Superstorm Sandy because it has provided political cover for his failed economic policies, the Democratic leader of the state Senate said Monday.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state's most powerful elected Democrat and a possible contender for his party's nomination for governor, said Christie's jobs plan before the late October storm was a disaster and now the reconstruction will provide an economic boost through thousands of new construction jobs.
He said Sandy, which killed people in 10 states but hit New York and New Jersey the hardest, flooding neighborhoods, knocking out power and destroying homes, helped hide the failings of Christie's first term, including persistently high unemployment and housing foreclosures.
"His jobs package is a hurricane," Sweeney said during a press conference on Monday, the day before Christie was set to deliver his State of the State message. "I guess he prayed a lot and got lucky because a storm came."
Sweeney immediately apologized for the remark.
The governor's office and leading Republicans pounced on Sweeney anyway.
"No one prayed for what New Jersey has endured," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. "This is politics at its worst."
The storm, formed when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, is the worst natural disaster in New Jersey, where it has racked up $36.9 billion in damage, mitigation and prevention costs. Christie, who lauded President Barack Obama for offering assistance and then openly criticized Congress for delaying funding, has been catapulted to record-high popularity for his handling of the storm, and he is now considered a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Public opinion polls after the Oct. 29 storm showed Christie had won over virtually every voting constituency in the Democratic-leaning state, even women and minorities, who had not supported him in the past.