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Christie: 'I Am Not Going To Leave This Job Unfinished'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made headlines when he criticized his own Republican Party for delaying funding for Superstorm Sandy victims.

But the storm also revealed a softer side to the tough-talking governor. CBS 2's Kristine Johnson sat down with Christie last week for an update on the cleanup.

"There's a lot more work that we still need to do," Christie said.

The devastation is not what it once was, but six months after Superstorm Sandy battered the Garden State, Christie believes New Jersey is coming back strong.

"What we've seen is some progress that's really even amazed me, and we're going to have all the boardwalks open by Memorial Day weekend," Christie said. "I never thought that was going to be possible."

The progress is unexpected, given the damage that Christie saw streaming live from a New Jersey State Police helicopter during the storm.

"We were all gasping in the operations center – houses that had been moved to the middle of streets, water everywhere, sand everywhere," he said.

Christie said his first order of business was to get things as close to back to normal as possible, as soon as possible.

"Let's try and get people back to normal, which might get their kids back in school, get their power back on, get gasoline back in gas stations, and then they can deal with the other parts of the devastation," Christie said.

The priority now is to rebuild. New building codes will require significant elevation of structures in some areas, and billions of dollars will pay for a dune system to protect 130 miles of coastline from water damage.

As the plans move forward, Christie wants every dollar accounted for.

"We're going to do is try and do this smartly -- get people to agree to rebuild in New Jersey before we get money, and also have reputable builders that are approved by the government beforehand so that it lowers the incidents of people, you know, being exposed to potential rip off artists," Christie said.

Superstorm Sandy also publically revealed a softer side of the sometimes brash governor. Johnson asked him if it was a conscious effort.

"The conscious effort was being there," Christie said. "I don't know how you could walk around those streets and see those folks and not react that way."

One of the most noteworthy moments in the wake of the storm involved Christie warmly embracing President Barack Obama amid the devastation. That move angered some Republicans, who said it helped tip a close presidential election to the Democrat and away from Mitt Romney, who Christie endorsed and for whom he campaigned last fall.

But six months later, Christie continued to praise President Obama for being "a man of his word" when it came to his swift response to the storm.

"I don't have any regrets because anyone who's had the job that I have knows that your first job is to get the job done for the people who elected you and not to worry about politics, whether it's presidential politics or any other type of politics," Christie told WCBS 880's Steve Scott.

Christie Gives Obama 'High Marks' For Response To Superstorm Sandy

In the days after Sandy roared ashore, President Obama surveyed the damage with Christie.

"Secondly, I'd give the President high marks. Everything that we asked of him to do he's done, his administration has done. And while there were some blips in terms of the national flood insurance program that angered people, rightfully, the administration has worked on fixing that. So while I have broad areas of disagreement with the President on other issues, I cannot say anything other than the truth which is the President's been a man of his word on this and his administration has followed through," said Christie.

And of course, CBS 2's Johnson had to talk about the blue fleece Christie wore following the storm. He was never seen without it, and that was by choice

"I wore it during Irene, and Irene went well, and I'm a little bit superstitious," he said. "So when I went to grab something to wear, I said, 'Well, Irene went well, so I'll just grab this thing again,' not understanding at all the sensation that would come from it."

Rebuilding a state decimated by a superstorm has proven to be no easy task - but it's a task Christie vowed to see to the end.

"Being governor is no longer a job for me -- it's now my mission," he said. "It's the place where I was born and raised, and I am not going to leave this job unfinished."

Christie said in hindsight, he wished he put more pressure on the electric companies much sooner than he did, and mandate the odd-even gas rules much sooner as well.

Also Monday, Christie also announced more Sandy relief money is on its way from the federal government.

"We've gotten our first phase of our disaster recovery plan approved. It's going to be over $1.8 billion in aid, most of it focused on housing both for homeowners and renters," said Christie.

The funding will help people do whatever repairs are necessary to get them back in their houses, whether it involves elevating an existing home or rebuilding one that was destroyed in Sandy, said Christie.

The federal aid also includes a business grant program that will provide Sandy-impacted businesses with working capital grants so they can be up and running by the summer, Christie announced.

"You're going to see grants of up to $150,000 per homeowner on the housing side of things. On the business side of things, $50,000 working capital grant. The great thing is, one upside, these are grants not loans. So this is money you do not have to pay back that's going to be used just to try to get businesses and homeowners back up and running," said Christie.

Applications for the business grants will be accepted starting on Wednesday, May 1, said the governor.

Congress approved more than $60 billion in Sandy relief funds, most of it for New Jersey and New York, despite opposition from many Congressional Republicans who wanted to spend less.

Christie said hearing a rehash of the facts about Sandy on this six-month anniversary reminded him how surprised he was that Congress delayed approving federal aid.

"This storm was twice the size of Hurricane Katrina and that it was the second most expensive storm in terms of damage caused - over $75 billion," he told Scott. "But that's ancient history now. We've got the aid package, we're starting to get it moved through now and it's going to be out there to help businesses and individuals in my state."

Christie said most of the Jersey Shore is ready for summer and he's confident the tourists will be there.

"What we're going to be doing with this aid is we're going to start within the next three weeks a $25 million tourism advertising and marketing program to let people know we're back here at the shore ready for their business and ready for them to have fun with their families," said Christie.

The governor said hotels and rental houses are ready for beachgoers. And he added that tourists who flock to New Jersey's beaches will be doing something good for the people who've suffered over the past six months because of Sandy's devastation.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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