Hurricane Sandy Stresses Importance of Intergovernmental Cooperation

By Sam Williford, Associate Consultant

Starting last week, and into the forseeable future, every level of government was called upon to work together to prepare for and clean up after Hurricane Sandy, which struck the area this past week. The recent disagreements between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford highlight how important this cooperation must be, especially during a time of crisis.

Gov. Christie doesn’t exactly have a pleasant past with Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford. Gov. Christie said of the state of Atlantic City a few weeks ago that “The mayor there has failed, and he’s impossible to work with in any kind of significant way.” (Atlantic City Press)

Unfortunately, the latter quote rang all too true, and a major disagreement over disaster preparations between the two has turned into national news. The main issue at stake is the Mayor’s decision to open up shelters of last resort within the city itself, which was near the point of landfall from the storm.

Mayor Langford argues he did so because of how his residents felt mistreated by Gov. Christie and the state authorities last year when Hurricane Irene hit and would prefer to have some sort of shelter in place for those who decided to stay, instead of offering no choice. Gov. Christie felt that the creation of such shelters did the opposite and encouraged individuals to stay, because they had that choice. Gov. Christie made these statements during a major press conference on Sunday night when discussing the oncoming storm. Mayor Langford insists that his statements prior to the storm were to encourage residents to leave, and he certainly did not want to create an incentive to stay, but knew that some individuals would no matter what.

The acrimony is certain to continue with Mayor Langford saying that “I do not expect the governor to be victorious should he seek to be reelected. But I will be.” (Politico) Mayor Langford has been either a city councilman or mayor of Atlantic City since 1992, while Gov. Christie has an election next year, and is limited to two terms. Inequitable term limits between elected officials (as well as the unelected public administrators who are expected to carry out their proposals) means that one individual can “wait out” someone else instead of cooperating.

In Atlantic City’s case, misunderstandings and disagreements between the mayor and governor, while not as tragic as response to Hurricane Katrina that showed how a disaster can be magnified when officials aren’t in sync, cannot possibly be beneficial to the recovery of the city.

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