Trenton Democrats’ continuing quest to turn Governor Christie’s strongest issue against him suffered a set back yesterday when AshBritt CEO Randall Perkins won over Democratic members of a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee and flummoxed presumed gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono by calling her on the political motivation of her questioning.
Facing four hours of questioning by the bi-partisan committee chaired by Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen), Perkins frequently praised the legislators for exercising their oversight duties, while combatively swatting back Democratic allegations of impropriety disguised as questions.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) praised Perkins as a “take charge type of guy” who performed well at the hearing and whose company did an excellent job cleaning up much of coastal New Jersey in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Buono and Senator Loretta Weinberg were the chief attack dogs for the Democrats. Republicans on the committee, lead by Senator Joe Kyrillos and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick frequently derided for the “campaign rally” type of rhetoric coming from Democratic questioners.
Buono gasped and became inaudible on the live internet feed of the proceeding when, towards the end of the hearing while attempting to rehash ground already covered, Perkins said, “with all due respect, you’re running for governor.” When Buono composed herself, she snapped back at Perkins denying political motivations and proclaiming how important the cost of shore clean up is to her 18th district constituents in the Middlesex County towns of East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Highland Park,
Metuchen, South Plainfield, and South River. Perkins smirked during Buono’s angry retort, according to a tweet by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Matt Katz.
The Democrats had hope to elicit testimony to demonstrate that the Christie administration was motivated by cronyism in awarding AshBritt the State’s post-Sandy clean up contract, that AshBritt overcharged municipalities that piggybacked on that contract and that FEMA reimbursement was at risk to the towns that used the contact because it was first negotiated by Connecticut in 2008.
Perkins retorted that there was “zero risk” that FEMA would not reimburse towns for his firm’s work. He said that FEMA “was at the table” and “blessed” the contract while it was being negotiated. He referred the committee to the Attorney General’s office for documentation of the “blessing.”
He said that New Jersey got “the best contractor at discount rates” by using the 2008 Connecticut contract. He said that he would have been willing to negotiate, but implied that his firms rates would have gone higher. “The Connecticut contract would have been my starting point.” He pointed the New York, whose clean up was managed by the Army Corp of Engineers, at higher rates. New York is still being cleaned up, with the Fire Island clean up just starting.
Perkins said there was only one New Jersey town that used outside contractors for Sandy clean up that got a better financial deal than his customers got.
State Senator Joe Kyrillos frequently chastised his Democratic colleagues for politicising the Sandy clean up efforts. “For those of you who don’t live in the areas affected, I don’t think you have any idea what was it like,” Kryillos said.
Following the hearing, Kryillos issued this statement:
The residents of my district, and so many others, were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. There is nothing that matters more to them than returning their homes and communities to normal, and that process began once the waters receded with cleanup.
Fortunately, that cleanup process was expedited by a sound decision by the Christie Administration to put an emergency contract in place with a firm that was tested under extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina.
Today’s hearing taught us that the Governor acted in the best interests of the people of this state and in a manner that will withstand scrutiny by the federal government and most importantly, secure the federal funding for reimbursement.
We also learned that there are some who, in their relentless campaign to criticize the governor, will even politicize a natural disaster. That is perhaps the most important lesson from today’s political theater, and it is disgraceful.
More hearings could be coming. Gordon told the Asbury Park Press that he would like to hear from AshBritt’s competitors, municipal officials and members of the Christie administration who decided on hiring the Florida firm.