WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Christie Draws Fire Over Copter Ride
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is coming under fire for traveling to his son's high school baseball game in a state police helicopter. Although Christie had no public schedule on Tuesday, he did have an evening event after the ballgame - a dinner in Princeton with Iowa GOP donors.
Democrats in the state legislature called the move an improper and even illegal use of state resources for Christie's personal convenience, not official business. Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) says Christie crossed an ethical line and perhaps even a legal one.
"Governor Christie's use of the State Police helicopter for personal and political fundraising purposes is a major breach of ethics, and possibly a violation of state and federal laws governing the use of taxpayer property and services," said Buono.
Buono called on Christie to release a full account of his use of the state helicopter and called for the attorney general to conduct an independent investigation.
"As U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie would have investigated any local official who used a taxpayer-funded helicopter to attend a political fundraising meeting," said Buono. "The same standard should apply to the governor. No one is above the law.”
Christie arrived by helicopter at St. Joseph's High School in Bergen County to watch his oldest son, Andrew, play catcher with his wife Mary Pat. The Christie's live in Morris County.
In a statement Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police said the use of the brand new state police helicopter by Gov. Chrsitie was totally proper and done at no additional cost to taxpayers. Ultimately Colonel Fuentes says it was his agency's prerogative to handle Christie's logistics as they saw fit.
"Governor Christie is on duty every hour of every day," said Fuentes. "His transportation, safety and security are my responsibility, and he therefore travels with the State Police Executive Protection Unit, whether on state or personal business."
"As part of our long-standing security protocol, the EPU provides secure, protected travel by vehicle in the overwhelming majority of the Governor's business and personal travel, except in those rare instances when the Governor's schedule warrants use of air travel," said Fuentes.
Fuentes said that Christie had used the helicopter on 35 occasions since taking office last year "including aerial surveys of flood and storm damage."
"Any flights transporting the governor would be subordinated to priority needs for our aircraft including rescue and emergent law enforcement missions," according to Fuentes.
Peter Woolley, executive director of Fairleigh Dickinson's Public Mind Poll says Christie's image as an no-frills fiscal conservative makes him especially vulnerable to charges of being self-serving.
"When voters see an executive or legislator who gives any sign that the public owes him something, that there is any sign of taking advantage of his office there is going to be some kind of blow back," said Woolley.
Use of the state police helicopter has been a hot-button issue for years. As a candidate, challenging Governor Jim Florio, Christie Whitman successfully used it as a campaign issue against the Democratic incumbent.
After a 2007 near fatal car crash involving former Governor Jon Corzine a state panel of experts raised the possibility that the state's chief executive should actually use the helicopter more frequently.
Christie's press office has yet to respond to a call for comment.