For the second time, TIME magazine named the gov to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. (For the second time, I did not make the list.)
The twist this year, though, was TIME enlisted a fourth-grader from the down the Shore to write the accompanying article about Christie. The girl, Ginjer Doherty, has become something of a symbol of the pain and rebirth of Superstorm Sandy ever since Christie consoled her in front of the Port Monmouth firehouse on Nov. 5.
I was the only newspaper reporter along for the helicopter trip to this devastated part of the Shore, and not long after he arrived Ginjer's mom, Gail, introduced her to Christie. Ginjer was small and teary. Her home was destroyed. The governor bent down, put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
I re-listened to my recording of the exchange this morning:
“It’s bad stuff, but you know what? You have a bunch of adults right here who are going to take care of you, so you don't need to be nervous about anything. So you're going to be just fine. That's our job. Our job is to take care of you, alright? That's what happens when you get big. We're the big people, we're going to take care of the little people. So we'll take care you, don't you worry..."
Christie then turned his consolation into encouragement: "We're going to help you find a new place, alright? And ya know what, after a while in your new place...with your family around you, you're going to have new things to look at, you're going to be in school...you're OK, here's your mom, she's OK. Your dog's OK? Well, you've got a couple of days to get back on your feet...It’s a sad thing. I’m sad, too. But it’s okay to be sad for a little while...but we got to get back to work, right?"
Wiping tears from her eyes, Gail joked that she was going to become a Republican now. “That was so nice, wow," she said. "Amazing.”
Ginjer had her own cell phone. So Christie's aide, Dan, took the number and the governor promised to call in a day or two. He called -- again and again and again. And then at his State of the State speech in January, Christie talked about Ginjer, who was in the audience:
"Having a nine-year-old girl myself, her height and manner of speaking was immediately familiar and evocative. Having confronted so many crying adults at that point I felt ready to deal with anything. Then Ginjer looked at me, began to cry and told me she was scared. She told me she had lost everything; she had lost her home and her belongings. She asked me to help her. As my eyes filled with tears, I took a deep breath and thought about what I would say to my Bridget if she said the same thing to me. If she had the same look on her face. If she had the same tears in her eyes. I asked her where her mom was and she pointed right behind her. I asked her if her dad was ok. She told me he was. So I told Ginjer, you haven’t lost your home; you’ve just lost a house. A house we can replace, your home is with your mom and dad. I hugged her and told her not to cry—that the adults are in charge now and there was nothing to be afraid of anymore. Ginjer is here today—we’ve kept in touch—and I want to thank her for giving voice to New Jersey’s children during Sandy and helping to create a memory of humanity in a sea of despair."
This is Ginjer's essay in TIME:
Governor Christie came to the firehouse near my house after the big storm. Me and my mom were waiting to hear him talk. My house was all messed up, and people told us we couldn’t stay there anymore. The governor told me not to worry — that my parents would take care of everything — and he looked very serious and sad, and he cried. He said he would be back to help our town.
I see him on TV trying to fight for New Jersey and help out the people in need. He called me a few days after the storm and asked if we had found a place to live yet and if we were doing O.K. When I went to the statehouse in January to hear his speech, I met two of his kids, and I even got to meet the heroes from New Jersey who saved people. The governor’s friends high-fived me and said nobody makes the governor cry. They said I was the best.
Things are going O.K. for my family. We want to go back home, but rebuilding is going to take a long time. But we have a place to live for now. I even rescued a cat that was homeless after Sandy — I wanted him to be safe and loved like I feel.