By LAUREN WALCK
BILOXI – Locals lined the walls of Mary Mahoney’s restaurant Wednesday to shake the hand of New Jersey governor and GOP leader Chris Christie.
He stopped by to thank South Mississippi first responders who helped after Hurricane Sandy. The stop is one of many in a cross-country tour in support of GOP governors as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association.
“I heard some extraordinary stories about how wonderful the first responders from Mississippi were to our folks,” he said. “Particularly in Montiff County, N.J., which was one of our hardest-hit counties where they went and spoke to folks directly.”
Christie said he was glad to have support from people that had been through a similar situation.
“The biggest gift they brought was that our folks got to see people that had been through it and had gotten to the other side,” he said.
Recovery from the 2012 storm is going well, he said, especially for businesses. Rebuilding the 365,000 homes lost has been the biggest challenge, which is something he said Biloxians could surely relate to.
Harrison County fire chief Pat Sullivan led a team of first responders for two weeks after the storm and said he was impressed Christie expressed his gratitude.
“What’s most important to me is the governor was representing his people in coming and saying thank you,” he said. “That meant something.”
It’s not Christie’s first trip to the Coast. He supported Gov. Phil Bryant — who was also at the meet-and-greet — during the 2011 campaign and said he would return in 2015 if Bryant decides to run again.
Bryant said Mississippi was just returning the favor for all the help the state received after Hurricane Katrina.
“Chris Christie has done a remarkable job of leading his state through the challenges of Sandy,” he said.
When asked about the recent senate race between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel, the New Jersey governor said the competition was good for the party.
“It’s good for our party to have good, vital debates and discussions but when the voters speak it’s time for it to be over,” he said.
The person Christie seemed most excited to see was Biloxi native Barry Lyons, who led the New York Mets to their last championship in 1986.
“It’s been 28 years, Barry, we need you to come back,” he laughed.