Christie collects $1 million in Sandy aid from Bon Jovi

Sandy Donation
Gov. Christie gets a hug from rock legend Jon Bon Jovi while First Lady Mary Pat Christie gets a hug from Bon Jovi's wife, Dorothea, before announcing a $1 million dollar donation to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund on Monday. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

SAYREVILLE — The famous New Jersey rocker with liberal leanings put his arm around Republican Gov. Christie, walked down a Sandy-damaged street to meet residents, and then announced a $1 million donation for Sandy relief.

No, not that famous New Jersey rocker.

While Christie and his far more liberal musical idol, Bruce Springsteen, publicly reconciled their differences in the aftermath of Sandy, the storm also brought Christie together with another well-known rock ‘n roll name from the state: Jon Bon Jovi.

Bon Jovi, a philanthropist whose foundation has been active in Philadelphia, returned Monday to his hometown of Sayreville, which was ravaged by the storm, to announce that he and his band mates were donating $1 million to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.

To the unbelievably fitting Bon Jovi tune of "Who Says You Can't Go Home," the gov and the rock star walked out of the front doors of Sayreville Borough Hall to a cheering crowd of more than 100 residents standing in the street in the blazing sun. 

"Oh he's so cute, Bon Jovi," said a woman standing behind me. "I'm 70 years old, but I still love him." 

Introduced by the mayor as a "favorite son of Sayreville," Bon Jovi said "returning home is humbling." 

"My being here is noAt political, it's emotional, because I grew up here, I went to school here, I met my wife here," he said. "I know this $1 million sounds like a lot, but it's really just a drop in the bucket." 

Before the announcement, I was one of just a few reporters who tagged along with Christie and Bon Jovi as they walked down a nearby residential street for more than a half hour, greeting residents and taking pictures. 

Unlike Christie’s first visit to Sayreville just days after the storm, which involved several teary encounters, there was a happier mood among residents. Residents scrambled for pictures and several thanked him for coming back.

Sayreville, which sits off the Raritan River, was one of the hardest hit by Sandy. It has working-class homes, several of which had American flags flying out front.

Bon Jovi said he had been to Sayreville “a couple of times” since Sandy inflicted extensive property damage in town. He grew up about four miles away, his wife is his high school sweetheart and he said he once played a “block dance” across the street from the block he was walking down.

In a brief interview, Bon Jovi described Sayreville as “very blue collar.”

“These aren’t vacation homes, they aren’t second homes,” he said. “It’s the kind of community where both parents worked full time. This is the kind of place that’s middle class America, a hard-working community.” 

After greeting each other with a hug, the two men began walking down the street with arms around each other’s shoulders. Christie wore suit pants and a tie; Bon Jovi had on sunglasses, a sports jacket and jeans. Bon Jovi said his wife told him to wear the jacket despite the heat so his armpit stains wouldn’t show.

“What brings youse guys down the block?” one exceedingly excited woman asked.

“Come to check everything out, see how everything’s going,” Christie said. “Jon’s helping with things, so…”

The street they walked down saw water pour into basements and first floors, but didn’t suffer the same damage as nearby streets where properties are in line to be bought out by the state after several devastating floods.

Patton Drive homeowners, though, still may stand be benefit from grants funded through the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, which is chaired by Mary Pat Christie. Bon Jovi is an honorary advisory board member.

Mary Pat, who wore a sleeveless dress, was all smiles. When a woman ran over to get a picture, she said: “She’s a Jersey girl! I like that aggressiveness.”

The governor introduced himself as “Chris.” He heard stories about neighbors sleeping at neighbors’ homes after houses were damaged in the storm. He was told that neighbors shared generators to get power back, and helped each other get water out of homes.

“We’ll be back here a lot, we’ll definitely be back here a lot,” Christie said at one point.

To another resident, he said: “I’m going to continue to come back here…Don’t worry, I won’t forget.”

Christie told several residents that the first step in the town’s recovery process would be to buy out homes that sit right on the water, and eventually about 300 would be bought out. They’ve sustained heavy flooding during three storms in recent years. 

“Thank you for all you do,” Sharon Atkinson, 71, said. “You’re my governor.”

Edward Meszaros, 44, said to Christie: “Get to be the president, that’s what we want.” 

Later, after another resident asked him if he was going to run for president, Christie said: “Oh we’ll see. I gotta run for reelection in November first.”

Christie spread the credit around. “Everybody worked well together – the local folks, the citizens, the state folks and the federal guys, they really worked well together and that makes the difference,” he said.

Bill Nordling, 41, said to both Bon Jovi and Christie: “You two guys, your presence here certainly helps out.”

“We got no choice,” Christie said, “that’s what we gotta do.”

Residents had various personal connections to Bon Jovi. One man said he ran a “battle of the bands” competition that Bon Jovi won during high school. A woman told him he went to school with her aunt. He thought about the name for a moment and then said: “I knew her, sure. I actually did.”

Bon Jovi didn’t linger in conversations with adults but warmed up with children, kneeling down to ask a girl who had sought an autograph to draw a picture for him. He had an extended conversation about Pop Warner football with a boy who wore a Leprechauns jersey (Bon Jovi said he was a Panther as a kid).