TRENTON, N.J. (WTXF/AP) - Gov. Chris Christie got blistered online Monday after he was photographed sunning himself on a New Jersey beach that he had closed to the public over the Fourth of July weekend because of a government shutdown.
Meanwhile, New Jersey's budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Christie and the Democrat-controlled Legislature is smoldering with the state government shut down and state parks closed to the public.
Christie spoke to Good Day Philadelphia by phone, Monday morning, from the governor's residence at the state park where his family is staying amid the government shutdown.
When asked why he was calling from a beach that is closed to the public due to the government shutdown, his answer was simply, “I’m sorry they’re not the governor.”
Christie spent part of Sunday lounging with his family at a beach in a state park he had ordered closed.
NJ.com showed pictures in an article titled "PHOTOS: Christie, family soak up sun on N.J. beach he closed to public."
FOX News also has access to the photos, along with commentary.
Then, he told Mike Jerrick and Alex Holley the beach issue and pictures were an “incredible scandal” after he announced exactly what he’d been doing with his own family, and compared it to having to stay in a hotel because the governor’s mansion in Princeton was closed.
Commenters mocked the governor as selfish and arrogant and cracked wise about the sight of the heavyset Christie in a beach chair in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt. The photo soon found itself inserted into an Oval Office picture and scenes from "Planet of the Apes," "From Here to Eternity" and "The Sopranos."
Christie defended his visit to the shore, saying that he had previously announced his plans to vacation at the state-owned governor's beach house and that the media had simply "caught a politician keeping his word."
The deeply unpopular Republican was photographed Sunday by NJ.com at Island Beach State Park. He and his family had the sun and sand all to themselves.
"I didn't get any sun today," Christie told reporters at a news conference later in the day in Trenton. Then, when told of the photos, his spokesman told NJ.com that what the governor said was true because Christie was wearing a baseball hat.
Christie, who is heading into his final six months in office with his approval rating at an abysmal 15 percent, was lambasted for what many saw as a let-them-eat-cake gesture by the state's chief executive.
"Taxpayers can't use the parks and other public sites they pay for, but he and his family can hang out at a beach that no one else can use?" asked Mary Jackson, a Freehold resident walking through a mostly empty downtown near the Capitol in Trenton. "Doesn't he realize how that looks, how people will see it as a slap in the face?"
Online, one user joked that Christie was promoting the state's whale-watching industry. Another shared video of a simulated tsunami, saying it was the aftermath of Christie jumping into the water.
Others likened the beach closing to the 2013 scheme by Christie allies to close lanes and cause huge traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Some said Christie was trying to outdo President Donald Trump in low approval ratings.
"SON OF A BEACH," screamed London's Daily Mail.
Christie's lieutenant governor, who is running in November to succeed him, said Christie's beach time was "beyond words."
"If I were governor, I sure wouldn't be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn't have access to state beaches," said Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagano.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy also weighed in Monday, calling on Christie to get off the beach and get back to work.
Christie ordered a shutdown of nonessential state services over the holiday weekend -- including parks, beaches and motor vehicle offices -- after he and the Democratic-controlled legislature were unable to agree on a budget to start the new fiscal year.
The sticking point is Christie's demand that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield be overhauled so that the state can tap into the nonprofit insurer's surplus to finance drug treatment.
He blamed the Democratic legislature for not passing a budget. He said he’d sign any budget, but can’t stop the fight among Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly.
The governor blamed the shutdown of nonessential services on Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
He even had the state plaster CLOSED signs at parks with Prieto's picture and office phone number.
Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney is behind the overhaul.
“I can’t sign a budget they don’t send me,” Christie said, admitting he’d use his line-item veto power.
"That's the way it goes," Christie said Saturday about his family's use of the beach home. "Run for governor, and you can have the residence."
Later, after he was photographed on the beach, he sarcastically called it a "great bit of journalism."
"They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with, his wife and children and their friends," Christie said in an interview with the New York Fox TV station. "I am sure they will get a Pulitzer for this one."
Christie’s state-owned vacation home is a cedar-shingled Cape Cod-style home, constructed by steel magnate Henry Phipps, a partner of Andrew Carnegie. Phipps had bought the park property in 1926 to turn it into an exclusive seashore resort. Only three large homes were built before the 1929 stock market crash halted construction. Phipps died the next year.
In 1953, the state purchased the Phipps estate and additional land to preserve the island's natural beauty and create a recreation area. Island Beach opened as a state park in 1959.
For most of the year, Christie and his family live in their own home and have chosen not to live in the governor's mansion in Princeton.
Christie's ratings were thrown into a nosedive by the bridge scandal, his own run for president and his support for Trump. In the past year, he was passed over for vice president, demoted as Trump's transition chairman, and denied a top-level administration post of his liking.
But Christie regularly says that the only time popularity counts is when you're running for something -- and he's not. "I don't care," he said recently when asked about the fall in his ratings.
Among those affected by the shutdown were Cub Scouts forced to leave a state campsite and people trying to obtain or renew motor vehicle documents. Liberty State Park was closed, forcing the suspension of ticket sales and ferry service to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But the two sites remained open.
Prisons, state police, state hospitals and New Jersey's bus and commuter railroad remain open. The vast majority of beaches are open as well, since most are controlled not by the state but by towns up and down New Jersey's 130 miles of coastline.
Christie on Monday morning began retweeting posts by some of those towns promoting their beaches.
"Come and enjoy them," the governor tweeted, "but use sunscreen and hydrate."
Included among the essential functions that will remain in operation:
State Police, state correctional facilities, key child welfare services, state hospitals and treatment facilities, NJ TRANSIT, and operations linked to the health, safety, and welfare of the public, including certain environmental and health monitoring. The state closure also will NOT impact the State Lottery, casinos and racetracks.
All state parks, recreation areas, forests, and historic sites, including Island Beach State Park and Liberty State Park, will be closed; all public events within state parks and historic sites will be cancelled. Also, permitting offices for Air, Historic Preservation, Land Use, Site Remediation, Solid Waste, and Water Supply; Green Acres and Blue Acres offices; Office of Dispute Resolution; Office of Permit Coordination; most of the Division of Fish & Wildlife (Wildlife Management Areas and on-line services will not be impacted); NJ Geologic Survey; and Rebuild by Design projects. The rest areas on I-295 in Deepwater, Salem County. All MVC agencies and inspection stations will be closed. Online services will still be available.
NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, others speak on what they call the immediate need for state funding - and the consequences of losing aid for the programs they operate, and the people they serve - in the disputed state budget.
The Department of Environmental Protection is reminding New Jersey residents and visitors that all lifeguarded ocean and bay beaches along the Atlantic Coast are currently open, except for state-operated beaches at Island Beach State Park in Berkeley Township and Corson’s Inlet in Ocean City, due to the current shutdown of state government.
According to its press release:
There are also no current closures or advisories among the 211 bay and ocean beaches sampled along the Jersey Shore for marine water quality.
Routine water quality samples will be collected at all ocean and bay monitoring stations on Wednesday, July 5. Coastal surveillance flights, which typically operate six days a week from mid-May to mid-September, weather permitting, will continue on Wednesday, as well.
The DEP coordinates the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program (CCMP), a joint state and local partnership that routinely tests water quality at some 180 ocean beaches as well as 35 bay and river beaches across the state throughout the season.
New Jersey’s monitored ocean and bay beaches were open 99.9 percent of the time last season, ranking the state among the nation’s leaders in coastal water quality.
Under the Coastal Cooperative Monitoring Program, New Jersey requires that bacteria not exceed 104 colonies of Enterococci bacteria per 100 milliliters of sample. Any initial sample that exceeds the state standard requires that the local health agency issue a swimming advisory.
Beaches are closed if sampling the next day at the impacted beach continues to exceed the standard. Closings remain in effect until subsequent sampling indicates levels again meet the standard.
Advisories and closings are rare, generally occurring after heavy rainstorms that can carry bacteria in wastes from animals such as gulls, geese and other birds into affected waters. Bay and river beaches that do not have good natural circulation are more likely to experience closures.
Visitors can get up-to-date information on water quality by clicking here.