MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — Governor Chris Christie, at his first town hall-style meeting since a political payback plot engulfed his administration, heard complaints from residents still displaced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 but no gripes from commuters stuck in massive traffic jams manufactured by his aides.
The Republican returned to GOP-controlled Monmouth County for the meeting Thursday, six weeks after private e-mails revealed his associates ordered traffic lanes closed near the George Washington Bridge, creating gridlock in nearby Fort Lee, possibly to punish the town’s Democratic mayor. The involvement of close Christie aides has overshadowed the start of his second term and threatened to derail any ambitions to run for president in 2016.
The 500 or so constituents at the town hall — held about 45 miles from where the traffic jams occurred — had Sandy recovery on their minds. The topic gave Christie a little breathing room to court the crowd in the kind of forum that helped cement his first-term popularity. In past forums, he connected with constituents by relying on a mix of straight talk and humor.
Christie began by blaming Congress for being too slow to approve a multibillion-dollar aid package after New Jersey suffered the worst natural disaster in its history. When a resident complained about a paltry flood-insurance reimbursement, he had harsh words for the federal program.
When he called on a 3-year-old who told him, ‘‘my house is still broken,’’ he called her closer and promised that someone from his administration would see about helping her mom. Then they high-fived.