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President Obama, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's World Trade Center site for a briefing on construction progress in June. The Republican Christie and Democrat Cuomo will have to find consensus on the plan for rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, together and with a divided Congress. (AP)

Cuomo, Christie And Building Consensus

by Anna Sale
Nov 23, 2012 (Morning Edition / WNYC Radio)

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The governors of New York and New Jersey are beginning to plan for the rebuilding of their states after Superstorm Sandy.

Before the storm, Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey were known for their forcefulness — and big ambitions.

But their massive task comes at a time of political transition for both of them.

'It's Got To Be Done'

The ongoing storm response has kept the governors in the national spotlight for weeks now.

So much so that Christie's post-Sandy uniform — a navy fleece with his name embroidered on the chest — has become a national punch line.

His Saturday Night Live cameo was a light moment, but Sandy's impact has been humbling for the governor known for his brashness.

"The level of the devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable," he said, during an Oct. 30 press conference.

Christie's praise for President Obama after the storm drew some grumbling from his fellow Republicans. And it overshadowed another shift, as Christie started emphasizing collective responsibility instead of shared sacrifice.

"We in the government will be here to work with you to have New Jersey completely recover," he continued.

In the weeks since, Christie has admitted that will take lots of federal money. And the governor who's been a champion of lowering property taxes now says rates might have to go up in affected communities.

"As long as they know the money's being spent in a way that will bring their town back to life, I think people will understand," he said. "It's got to be done."

When Christie talks about rebuilding, he emphasizes restoring what was lost along the Jersey Shore.

'This State Needs Help'

Across the Hudson River in New York, Gov. Cuomo's rebuilding plans are different. He says it's time to adapt to climate change. He made the link early, within a day of Sandy's landfall.

"We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns, we have an old infrastructure, and we have old systems," Cuomo said. "And that is not a good combination."

This brought attention that's been rare during Cuomo's tenure. Despite his famous name, Cuomo has kept a low profile his first two years of office. Unlike Christie, he avoids national political shows and stayed off-stage during the Democratic convention.

But deals he's brokered in a chronically dysfunctional state capital have stoked talk about his political future.

Cuomo's rebuilding plans now rely on more than Albany lawmakers. He wants comprehensive infrastructure upgrades to protect from fiercer storms. To pay for it, he's asked Congress for $30 billion.

On an Albany AM 1300 radio show, Cuomo acknowledged his timing is bad.

"They'd rather not deal with it because of the fiscal cliff and everything else, but I'm the governor of the state of New York, and this state needs help, and it's my job to make sure they know the state needs help," he said.

'Justified And Realistic'

For both Cuomo and Christie, their re-election — and any larger political ambitions — hinge on how well they maneuver these post-storm politics.

"Cuomo has an easier path to follow here," said New York University political scientist Patrick Egan, who adds that Cuomo's attention to climate change and infrastructure aligns with his party. Christie, meanwhile, has to lobby for recovery funds without further alienating his Republican brethren.

"He doesn't want to sound like a taker, to use the language of some conservatives, and so he needs to think about how to, if he makes a request at all, to make a request that sounds justified and realistic," Egan said.

So far, though, Christie's approach has earned him some new fans. A recent poll asked New York City voters which political leader performed best after Sandy. At the top of the list, over Democrats Andrew Cuomo and President Obama, was Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Copyright 2014 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnyc.org/.

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