Gov. Chris Christie joined his family at a state-owned retreat in Island Beach State Park on Saturday night, less than 24 hours after ordering the closure of all state parks and beaches because of the budget impasse in Trenton.
The governor addressed members of the Legislature about the stalemate on Saturday and then left the capital for the park, a spokesman confirmed Sunday morning. The governor later said he took a State Police helicopter to the park and back to Trenton again on Sunday, and said he plans to do the same Sunday evening.
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“That’s where my family is sleeping, so that’s where I’ll sleep tonight,” Christie told reporters on Sunday afternoon. “When I have a choice between sleeping with my family and sleeping alone, I generally like to sleep where my family is.”
Christie, his wife, his children and their guests have the run of the 10-mile barrier island, where police are turning away all others visitors over the long holiday weekend.
During a news conference in Trenton on Saturday, Christie said it was his right to stay in the park even if no one else can visit.
“That’s because the governor has a residence at Island Beach. Others don’t,” Christie said. “It’s just the way it goes. Run for governor and then you can have the residence.”
The state has maintained a retreat for governors since the 1950s, when it purchased the 2,694-acre estate of Henry Phipps and created the park, a more-than-90-minute drive from the Statehouse. The “Governor’s Ocean House,” built in the 1920s, enjoys direct beach access. There’s also a guest house on Barnegat Bay.
Christie did not seem concerned about the optics, saying there was no reason for his family members to cancel their plans since they wouldn’t be using any of the “services” the park would ordinarily provide.
“I don’t know if it’s fair,” he said on Friday as a midnight budget deadline grew close. “But they’re not asking for any services. The houses are the governor’s houses, and they’re not asking for any services.”
He said he was referring to “all type of services that are provided” on the public portion of the beach, like lifeguarding “and other things.”
Asked again on Saturday about his family’s use of the facility, the governor turned his response into a joke.
“They’re still not requesting services,” he quipped. “And they will continue to not request services. I don’t know exactly what services we get, but they will not be requesting services.”
The property is guarded by state police, who are not subject to the shutdown order. The governor has a personal security detail that follows him everywhere he goes.
Last Monday, during his monthly radio show on New Jersey 101.5, the governor said he would have his “whole family” with him at the shore. His oldest son, Andrew, was expected to fly in from Milwaukee and had invited “a bunch of friends down.”
“We will be fully loaded,” the governor said on the show. “I don’t know how much sleep Mary Pat and I will be getting,” he added, referring to his wife.
— Additional reporting by Linh Tat
UPDATE: This story has been updated with comment from the governor about his use of a State Police helicopter.