Thursday, January 13, 2011

How not to handle a local crisis if elected

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took his lumps last week for going on vacation as a blizzard bore down on his state and for acting the callous clod. Some blogger responses are noteworthy:

The Conscience of a Liberal:
Maybe it’s just my bias that gives me the impression that there are more mean, self-centered whiners on one side of the aisle than on the other; but anyway, a spectacular performance by my governor:
When asked about the hundreds of people trapped in their homes for days, Christie said unless they lived on state roads, it’s not something his administration would have been able to change.

“If someone is snowed into their house, that’s not our responsibility,” Christie said.

When asked about mayors who said they were forced to divert their resources to unplowed state roads instead of clearing local roads Christie said, “I know who these mayors are and they should buck up and take responsibility for the fact that they didn’t do their job.”
Just brimming with generosity, he is.

Mr. Media Training:
Christie’s inaction was a stunning act of political tone deafness. He should have learned from the litany of other recent high-profile optical disasters, such as when:

  • President Bush was photographed looking out from his plane over New Orleans days after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the city
  • President Obama and Vice President Biden were criticized for playing golf during the B.P. oil spill
  • BP CEO Tony Hayward was filmed attending a yacht race as tarballs rushed ashore in Florida

In a crisis, people want to see their leaders at the scene, even if their presence doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Good examples of leaders in crisis include:

  • Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s walking with an oxygen mask at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of 9/11
  • President Bush visiting Ground Zero days after 9/11 and standing next to a rescue worker on a pile of rubble with a megaphone
  • President Clinton delivering a tone-perfect speech in Oklahoma City after the bombing of a federal building killed 168 people

... the lessons learned from them remain equally as valid for smaller crises. One of those lessons is this: good leaders are visible during a crisis. In all three of the “bad” examples above, the leaders were AWOL; in all three “good” examples, they were present.


  1. I certainly have no love for Mr Christie's policies, but having seen him on The Morning Joe yesterday, I have to say that the folks criticizing him for not being present are off the mark. As he explained: 1) He couldn't have gotten back from Florida if he wanted to given the closing of the airports; 2) life in the 21st century means that he was always in touch via phone and computer so as to be able to provide guidance as needed. However, most important was #3) that he had made a promise to his family about the trip that was "sacred" and that he felt an obligation to put his family first. Frankly the perceptual issue has been created by jerks who try to perpetuate the perception that the entire world will come to an end if they aren't present, and who sacrifice their families on the altar of political perception.

    I frankly appreciated his absolute sincerity in stating the value of his family and that he had made an informed decision that he would make again to put them first in spite of the perception issue, as that should be a primary priority for ALL of us. As one who is considered to be on-call 24/7 I have had to establish boundaries around family time, even when church members die, in order to keep my family sane, together, and non-resentful. Our politicians must have the right to do so as well.

    One other aside in his explanation. When asked about the Lt. Governor's absence he explained that her father has stage 4 cancer and had scheduled a family cruise for the same time as his family vacation. He wasn't (rightfully) about to tell her she couldn't go, and he couldn't cancel his family commitment either. He reiterated that in the future he and the Lt. Governor would work more closely in coordinating these schedules so that one or the other could remain in state.

    Frankly, while I disagree with many of his policy decision, I think we have to be careful to recognize that these guys are humans trying to balance the job with their families, and there are times when families must come first. His response resonated with me, and as such I walked away with greater respect for his position.

  2. I'm not a huge fan of Christie's either, but there is a sincerity and truth to what he says. His office, and the emergency management offices of New Jersey are not responsible if roads in Newark are blocked, those are city streets, not state roads. Those responsibilities fall upon the city leaders, not the Governor's office. It's refreshing to see someone do something like this, rather than do something that is politically expedient. What was he going to do anyway, dump his family in FLA, and fly where, to Philly, or DC? If he couldn't get to NJ, then he was where he needed to be, and as stated before, we're not living in the past, people are connected 24/7, and so was Christie.