#BeachGate: Christie tans as government shuts down

It was Fourth of July weekend in Seaside Park, New Jersey, home to beautiful beaches and plenty of local businesses. It is the busiest weekend of the summer, truly kicking off beach season as many folks wait until the fourth to get some sun.

But this year, the town of Seaside Park was more dead than alive, due to the closure of Island Beach State Park, a large stretch of undeveloped land which is operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry. Island Beach is a large tourist draw and popular beach vacation destination, with thousands of people entering the park every day to catch some rays. So it was a large blow to local economies when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shut down the park and other state-run tourist attractions due to the New Jersey government shutdown.

The shutdown began on Friday, June 30, when the NJ State Legislature failed to pass a budget. The Republican governor shutdown all government facilities for the state. According to CNN, it was estimated that this shutdown dismissed an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 state workers and closed 40 state parks.. On a busy holiday weekend, many families and friend groups had to cancel their plans. Campers staying in parks on Friday night were asked to leave early Saturday morning, costing them money out of their pockets.

The real issue that New Jersey residents had with the shutdown came on Sunday afternoon after NJ.com released images of Christie and his family enjoying the sun and sand on the same beach that Christie had closed that same day. NJ Advanced Media had flown a helicopter over the beach, capturing the governor and friends enjoying an empty stretch of sand and vacant ocean. Christie was sunning himself in a chair, wearing a t-shirt and swim trunks, as well as a hat and sunglasses. Just that Saturday, Christie had told reporters that the beach house is separate from the park, and that his family will not ask for any state services. When asked if this was a fair situation for the people of the state, Christie said, “Run for governor, and you can have a residence there.”

According to a poll on NJ.com, 85% of voters agreed that Christie’s use of the closed beach was “just wrong”, while 12% said that it counted as a “perk of being governor”. Later that day, Christie attended a news conference in Trenton, where he was asked if he had gotten any sun on Sunday. He replied, “I didn’t. I didn’t get any sun today.” While the pictures prove this to be clearly false, the governor’s spokesman, Brian Murray, defended Christie. “He did not get any sun,” Murray added. “He had a baseball hat on.”

Instead of spreading out in Island Beach State Park, beachgoers were forced to cram into the other beaches, many of which are more expensive to use than the state park. Vacationers were elbow-to-elbow on beaches like Berkeley, Seaside Park, and Midway Beach, among others. If the state park had been open, the beach going experience would have been much more pleasant for everyone involved.

Many local business owners and employees were upset with the loss of business that the government shutdown caused, only spurred even further by Christie’s use of the beach while their loyal customers could not. Lori Fitzgerald, Seaside Park resident and employee at Seaside staple Ebby’s Deli had this to say about display Christie’s: “What he should have said is ‘Hey, since my constituents can’t use the state beach, neither will I.’ Imagine how much more respect he would have gotten for sticking by his voters.” Usually, the deli is flooded with customers to the point where service can be overwhelming, but rewarding. On Fourth of July weekend, there is never a moment to breathe, but the tips are high and much more revenue is made. However, this year, there were plenty of moments where the deli was empty, a disappointing reality not only for Ebby’s, but for many local stores and restaurants such as Bum Roger’s Tavern and B&B Department store.

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One of the numerous memes generated mocking Governor Christie over the incident.  Courtesy of NY Daily News.

Moving beyond locals, Christie’s day at the beach has become an Internet sensation, spawning memes across Twitter. The most common are pictures of him in his beach chair, edited to be sitting in various places or movie scenes. Some of the common ones include Christie behind Julie Andrews dancing in the meadow in “The Sound of Music,” sitting on the bench next to Forrest Gump, or in the middle of the Oval Office while Kellyanne Conway kneeled on the sofa.

The shutdown ended on July 4, leaving vacationers just enough time to make it back to the state park for the holiday. However, this was only announced late on the night of July 3, and many residents had made other plans for Independence Day, still leaving Island Beach mostly empty.

Cover photo – The Christie family enjoying the closed state beach. Courtesy of Time.

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