TRENTON, N.J. — Criticism came in like fastballs Wednesday over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s use of a state helicopter to fly him and his wife to his son’s high school baseball game.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor who has been courted to run for president because of his get-tough approach to state spending, and wife Mary Pat arrived just before the game between Delbarton High School and St. Joseph’s of Montvale in Montvale on Tuesday night.
The pair stepped off the helicopter and into a car waiting nearby, which drove them 100 yards to the baseball field.
Flanked by state police troopers, the Christies watched the game from the stands until the fifth inning. Play was stopped briefly while the helicopter took off.
The governor’s oldest son, Andrew, attends Delbarton, a private Catholic prep school, where he plays catcher — a position Christie also played in high school.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said there was nothing inappropriate or illegal about the governor’s use of the helicopter, which he said is relied on only when Christie’s schedule demands it.
The Republican governor has heightened his national profile by fighting runaway spending by even the smallest state agencies and by calling for shared sacrifice by all public employees. He has issued nearly two dozen vetoes of spending by state authorities — some for less than $1,000.
On Wednesday, state police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said it costs $2,500 an hour to fly in the helicopter, but that ferrying Christie to the game didn’t cost taxpayers anything extra, because pilots need flight time.
“It is important to understand that state police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft,” Fuentes said.
He added that “any flights transporting the governor would be subordinated” if the aircraft were needed for rescue or time-sensitive police work.
Christie has been aboard state police helicopters 35 times since taking office, Fuentes said. He didn’t say which, if any, of the trips were personal or political in nature or whether the governor has ever reimbursed the state for a trip.