Presidential Campaigns Should Give Money for Hurricane Sandy Relief

There may be a big election in a few days, but here in the parts of New Jersey, New York and other areas that fell victim to the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, I’m not sure quite as many people remember or care.

As President Obama and Mitt Romney continue on the campaign trail, stumping for those last-minute votes, many are wondering if Obama’s response is going to give him a bump and whether Romney will reap the rewards if Obama’s administration falters in its disaster response. While President Obama visited New Jersey last week to survey the storm damage, some reports said Romney was also considering a trip to New Jersey soon to do the same, but we haven’t heard more reports along those lines.

I’m a journalist and political junkie. The first thing I do in the morning after making coffee is check my work email and check the cable news and Internet for the latest news from the campaign trail and beyond. Since Hurricane Sandy hit, however, I’m instead searching for the latest on where power has been restored, how many people have lost their homes and where the nearest functional gas station is.

I live in Jersey City, N.J., not far from the water. My husband, two-and-a-half-year-old son and I evacuated the night before Sandy hit to my brother-in-law’s house further inland and were there for three nights. The power only went off for a few hours one night -and we were able to come back to our apartment after three days and the power was back on at home. Our circumstances were extremely lucky. At this point, our biggest concern is not driving around too much because we’re not sure when we can fill up our tank, and keeping our son occupied since school has been out for a week.

Others, obviously, were far less lucky. I tear up watching the news of a mom whose two boys were torn from her arms by flood waters as the water rushed over their SUV in Staten Island. The bodies of the boys, age two and four, were found in a marsh last Thursday. Listening to people in Staten Island, the Jersey Shore, and other places talk about everything they’ve lost, one Sandy victim says it feels like the East Coast’s version of Hurricane Katrina. And don’t think for a minute that everybody who lives on the Jersey Shore is rich and living it up in their waterfront luxury homes. Many of the people whose losses have been spotlighted on TV live in very modest homes and they have literally lost everything. Some of those whose homes are still standing, but are badly damaged, have said they may not be able to afford to stay there and may have to walk away from their home forever.

My hairdresser, who is a young single mom, can’t stay at her apartment in Rockaway because the building is torn up, as is her mom’s house nearby. My New Jersey realtor just this weekend found a hotel for her 90-something-year-old mother and her home help aide to stay after being without power for almost a week. This weekend, I dropped off toiletries, baby wipes and diapers at a mom’s group organizer who is helping to get supplies to moms in flooded Hoboken who lost all their necessities, particularly those for young children. Some of these are stories of people with means, and some are of people without. But they’re all desperate for help.

The storm’s biggest victims are anxiously awaiting help in finding shelter, food and care for their children. I doubt they are waiting to hear if Romney will be coming to town anytime soon, or wondering what the latest poll numbers are. Perhaps some who are being helped by state and federal assistance programs are thankful and therefore, want to cast their vote for the candidate they think will most preserve such programs. Perhaps people hear the drumbeat to do more on climate change given that Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, Isabel and Katrina are more than just freak weather anomalies and they want to vote for the candidate who will do more to combat global warming. And that’s fantastic.

But perhaps for those hardest hit by Sandy, picking up the pieces of their lives is taking priority over finding a working polling place in their superstorm-struck towns. Though, Gov. Chris Christie announced that the state will allow displaced residents to vote by fax or e-mail, while the worst Sandy-hit areas will have National Guard trucks on the streets as temporary voting stations.

I’ve seen estimates for cleanup range anywhere from at least $20 billion to $30 billion. Yet Super PACs have spent more than $840 million so far on the 2012 election, and there are a few days left before Election Day — very crucial days when it comes to advertising, since polls put the President and Romney virtually neck-and-neck. Obama’s campaign has reportedly raised more than $632 million in this election, 62 percent more than Romney’s $398 million. While the campaigns and outside political groups take to the airwaves with negative ads pushing their candidate with that money, many people here on the East Coast won’t see them because they don’t have power, or they’re waiting in line for gas, or searching for a store that has milk for their baby.

What would be a much more effective use of that money would be to take what’s going to be spent on these campaigns the last few days and, instead, donate it to an organization helping with disaster relief. That, of course, won’t happen, but what a wonderful thought it is to think of that money going to actually helping people.

Guest contributor Liza Porteus Viana is a journalist with more than 12 years of experience covering politics. She also covers business, intellectual property and homeland security for a number of media outlets, and is editor of genConnect.com. Like many other moms, she is always trying to find that oh-so-elusive work-life balance as a full-time freelancer with a toddler at home in New Jersey. She previously worked at FOXNews.com as a national and political correspondent, and National Journal as a technology policy writer in Washington, D.C., and her work has appeared in publications such as Worth Magazine, Portfolio, Politics Daily, The Huffington Post and Forward Magazine. Liza tweets at @lizapviana and is on Facebook. She also blogs at lizapviana.com.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/VicPeters

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