“Gov. Christie, get the hell off the beach!”
That was the tongue-in-cheek response from Larry Manno of Ridgefield, Conn., when he learned Saturday that Christie and his family were spending the weekend at the governor’s official retreat in Island Beach State Park even though the 10-mile long park was off limits to everyone else.
Manno was turning the tables on Christie’s signature line from August 2011, when Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the Jersey Shore and the public seemed unconvinced of the potential danger.
Throughout the day Saturday, New Jersey State Park Police turned away one motor vehicle after another, one bicyclist after another, one pedestrian after another, who came up to the main gate of Island Beach State Park to find it looking as secure as a crime scene.
There, plastered over the wooded entrance sign to the park were two posters with the words, “CLOSED,” emblazoned over an unflattering photo of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Beneath the Democratic leader’s mustachioed visage were the words: “This Facility is CLOSED Because of this Man,” along with a telephone number for his office.
However, most of the anger on the Shore Saturday was directed not at the little-known speaker, but at the rumors that New Jersey’s first family and their friends were inside the park at the governor’s beach house — enjoying the surf and sun all for themselves — while the public was locked out.
Earlier in the day, Christie told reporters he understands that people may have a negative perception that his family gets to enjoy Island Beach State Park while the public cannot, but he pointed out that the governor also has a state-owned residence there.
“That’s just the way it goes,” Christie said when asked by a reporter about those concerns Saturday. “Run for governor and you can have a residence.”
Also, Christie said he approved the signs of Prieto and that they are “official government advise.”
Denise Wirth, 57, of Lavallette, was furious Saturday. A 30-year full-time resident of Ocean County’s northern barrier Island, she said her feelings no doubt represented those of many other residents.
“It's seems so hypocritical to me that Governor Christie orders a state government shutdown — which included Island Beach State Park — affecting the livelihoods of business along the northern barrier island and the Fourth of July weekend plans of thousands of folks,” Wirth said. “Meanwhile, Governor Christie ignores his own New Jersey state shutdown and continues his Fourth of July weekend plans, taking residence of the governor’s mansion in Island Beach State Park for the weekend.”
Perhaps the state budget would not be at an impasse if the governor was not spending $400 to $700 million on renovations to the Statehouse, she lamented.
Joe Nasso of Fair Lawn walked over to the main gate to chat with police and reporters. Nasso has a summer house at the Shore and had a different take on who was to blame.
Nasso made the point that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and therefore the state’s purse strings.
“Friends and family were planning on going into the park, so obviously, it’s affected them,” Nasso said.
Hopefully, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Prieto can still get together and end this crisis, he added.
Manno and his wife, Liz, were enjoying another state park on the beach — this one across Barnegat Inlet — Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Long Beach Island.
Although that park was also closed, there was no police presence enforcing the shutdown. While the gates were closed to prevent motor vehicles from entering the parking lot, this state park was full of visitors who had simply parked elsewhere and walked in through the open pedestrian entrance.
The Mannos were relaxing with their dog on a park bench in front of the 169-foot iconic red and white tower that for the past 158 years has come to symbolize the Shore. The lighthouse itself was locked, much to the disappointment of those around them.
“We had heard (about the budget impasse) peripherally through the New York (television) stations,” said Manno, 62, who has owned a summer house on the island for 14 years. “We knew they weren’t able to agree on the budget. I understand they were supposed to get back together at 11 this morning? Apparently, there was no progress?”
“It’s a shame though for people who have never been here before to come and find things closed,” said his wife, Liz Manno, 57. “There was a little kid looking up at the lighthouse, ‘Oh, the lighthouse is closed!’ This is the one weekend of the year when it should be open.”
Craig Aplaugh and his wife Angela Morgan Alpaugh, both 42, of Athens, N.Y., also have a summer house on LBI and had stopped by the lighthouse on the chance it might be open despite the shutdown.
Because the family rents out their island home to tourists for the rest of the summer, this was their last opportunity to visit the lighthouse.
They laughed when they heard Christie and his family were spending the weekend across the inlet during the shutdown.
“I’m not a New Jersey resident, so I don’t know who to blame,” said Craig Alpaugh. “It’s unfortunate that it’s on the Fourth of July weekend. You think they could pass appropriations bills for specific things as opposed to all or nothing. We knew the park was closed from the Internet, but we thought there might be a chance that the lighthouse was open so we could go up there. … It’s very disappointing.”
Contributing: Dustin Racioppi, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record. Follow Erik Larsen on Twitter: @Erik_Larsen