In Hurricane Sandy Aftermath, Why Has New Jersey Been Forsaken?
Is there anyone who can tell us what the heck is going on? We in New Jersey have no power, no heat, no lights, in some places little food, and no gas. Yes, I know these are mere inconveniences compared to those who have suffered the unspeakable tragedy of losing family members. At least 50 are dead from Sandy, and those lives are irreplaceable. We mourn their loss. But nothing should excuse New York and New Jersey looking like Armageddon.
Aren’t we the nation that rebuilt Iraq and have done tons of nation-building in Afghanistan? Can’t we put the lights and heat back on New Jersey? Is it asking too much to bring a bunch of fuel tankers here and end the 100 vehicle long lines that are growing larger by the day? Just getting from point A to point B has been like navigating an labyrinth since the gas lines have cut off so many of the streets. President Obama declared this area to be a Federal Disaster Area. But where is FEMA? Where are the troops? Where are the gas tankers?
On the news we see cities that are still underwater. Half of Manhattan has no electricity. Staten Islanders are desperate for food and shelter. Tens of thousands of residents on the Jersey Shore lost everything. But President Obama is back on the campaign trail in Ohio. Because I don’t want to politicize this, I’ll make the same point about Governor Romney. True, he’s the challenger, not the incumbent. But both the President and the Governor need to understand the extent of the catastrophe all around us and do something besides argue about mobs overseas. This is more immediate. President Obama is campaigning with all the advantages of incumbency. But that entails all the responsibilities as well. And coming for a photo-op with Governor Christie then running back to Ohio ten times is wholly inadequate.
The people of this area deserve better. We’re taxed up the wazoo with the highest state and property taxes in the nation. For all that, we normally get crumbling infrastructure, potholes, and rusty bridges that cost $12 just to cross. To add a dismal and slow response to such a huge natural catastrophe is too much.
In the City of Englewood where I live nearly all the residents have no power. Trees are down everywhere. It would be nice to see the occasional electric crew repairing the wires or the occasional city crew chopping up the trees. It would be nice to hear more from Mayor Frank Huttle, who is running unopposed this Tuesday (yes, that’s what passes for democracy in our city), about when the power and heat will be back on.
Since Tuesday I have driven all over the Ninth District where I’m running for Congress. The police are out in strength, stopping you from going here, preventing you from going there. They’re trying to protect us and I thank them. But where are the relief crews?
Last year at almost precisely this time we had Tropical Storm Irene that became a freak snow storm that downed endless trees and caused huge flooding. We went without power for a week, unfortunately for us, the very week before my daughter’s wedding. Family and friends came from around the world. They sat and shivered for a week, thinking they had entered a third world country. They couldn’t wait to leave.
So it’s not as if we couldn’t see this coming. They promised us last year that it would not happen again. The next time they would be ready. Granted, the devastation this time is far worse. But the response seems far worse as well.
Three of my kids drive every morning from New Jersey to Brooklyn for Chabad yeshiva and seminary. Today, they waited three hours to get on the George Washington Bridge and eventually gave up. They joined with me instead as we drove around the district meeting people and hearing their tales of woe.
Not that we have much of a campaign left. My staff and I have been reduced to charging our phones and laptops on the floors of shopping malls, crowded Starbucks where there is no place to sit, and, especially in the cars. My run for Congress has become completely mobile. In the car we have heat, light, and the occasion cord for a laptop. And truth be told, it’s been great getting out at all out hours just to meet people, so there’s your blessing in disguise.
We did a Teletownhall tonight with a few thousand participants. We’ve done a bunch during the campaign. On previous occasions I asked the callers what their number one issue was. Every time it was jobs and the economy. But not tonight, where gas shortages, power outages, freezing homes sparked huge outrage.
My opponent Bill Pascrell spent the day savaging Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa who apparently said he wants aid for hurricane victims but with strings attached. No Gucci bags or massages as, he claimed, happened with Hurricane Katrina.
“Frankly, Tea Party extremists like Steve King who want to pass judgment, spread their false assumptions and kick people when they are at their lowest are the worst that we have to offer…” Harsh words. The worst we have to offer. These are words that Pascrell never used when it came to Chester Grabowski, his friend after whom, this past September, he tried to name a park, even though Grabowksi was a notorious Jew-hater, racist, and holocaust denier who ran for Congress in David Duke’s party. Less so did I hear him use this phrase in discussing Imam Qatanani, the unrepentant Hamas Imam whom Pascrell has pledged to do “everything in my power to keep you here” in the United States against INS, DHS, and FBI attempts to deport him for lying on his Green Card application about an earlier arrest and for membership in a terrorist organization. No, it turns out that a fellow Congressman, however misguided in his words about conditions for aid here in New Jersey, is “the worst we have to offer.”
But rather than Pascrell wasting his time politicizing this tragedy and responding to every person weighing in from halfway across the nation about this crisis, however wrong they may be, it would behoove him, as the elected representative in this area, to get federal troops on the street, large gas tankers to the stations, electrical workers restoring lines, and the army corps of engineers to get rid of the flooding. And while this may be happening to some extent, it’s simply nowhere near enough. Their presence on the streets has got to be felt.
This is no time for politics. Everyone needs to pitch in, everyone needs to do something. But more than anyone else, the people we elected to fix our problems have got to start fixing this huge problem.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the Republican Candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. The international best-selling author of 29 books, he will shortly publish “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging G-d in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com . Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.