An election climate altered by Sandy

Opinion November 1, 2012 0 Comments

by Pete Mazzaccaro

The Undecided Voter (Art by Richard Anderson)

“I don’t give a damn about election day” – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when asked about voting next week during an interview after Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of his state’s coastline.

As I drove around Chestnut Hill early Tuesday to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy – a freak storm that took an uncharacteristic westward swing and damaged the entire northeast quarter of the country – I couldn’t help but feel we made out pretty well.

Perhaps if your power is still out when you read this, you won’t agree, but when the power comes back on and you start seeing pictures of the Jersey Shore, you’ll quickly make the same assessment. It won’t take us long to clean up the trees and restore power here. Some shore towns will to have to rebuild from scratch. Whole boardwalks, erected generations ago, were swept into the Atlantic Ocean.

Still, this morning, a representative from PECO said approximately half of the region’s 1.6 million power customers lost service. Half of that number had service restored in less than 24 hours, but another 450,000 still have no power. The PECO representative thought it might take a week to restore power to those customers.

Halloween was immediately cast in doubt. How would kids trick or treat in neighborhoods with no power? Would the holiday be postponed? Some communities did issue postponement announcements. But how would such announcements reach people?

More pressing is the future state of next Tuesday’s election. A lot, obviously is at stake next Tuesday. Locally, there are elections not only for President but also for the Senate, the House and State Attorney General.

There doesn’t appear to be any chance that the power outages will delay the election. Even in New Jersey, where communities will remain devastated for the foreseeable future, I have not heard or read of specific plans to postpone the election. I’m sure local officials will find ways to set up voting booths with temporary power to ensure that voting can happen.

The most interesting change wrought by Sandy is the sea change in last-minute politicking. Watching the television news, it’s clear that there has been no letup whatsoever in political ads, but the candidates are not out on the campaign trail at a time when the pitch usually reaches its feverish climax. As I write this Wednesday morning, President Obama is scheduled to tour the New Jersey shoreline with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican official who has done nothing but praise the Democratic president for the federal response to the disaster.

It’s a refreshing change. Honestly, I did not have faith that our politicians would resist any chance to cast current events in a simplistic political way. In fact, I was surprised to hear Christie tell a reporter that he was impressed with the federal response and credit the Obama Administration for taking a lead in providing support and promising funds for rebuilding.

It will be interesting to see if either side gets back to the campaign trail while the destruction of Sandy is fresh in the minds of Americans. Clearly, petty political arguments are not going to be on the minds of millions on the East Coast who will be busy cleaning up long past election day. For once, we may get a break and see what it’s like to vote in an environment not choked by hyperbole and angst.

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