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N.J. Gov. Chris Christie Pushes Back After Being Spotted on Beach Closed by Government Shutdown

Image: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie enjoys the beach with his family over the Fourth of July weekend.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enjoys the beach with his family over the Fourth of July weekend. Andrew Mills / NJ Advance Media

After a government shutdown left the state beaches of New Jersey closed for the start of the Fourth of July holiday, thousands of people had to find other ways to enjoy their long holiday break.

Except for one: Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie and his family were spotted on Sunday lounging on the sand at Island Beach State Park — one of the numerous parks and beaches closed by a government shutdown that ended Monday night after local lawmakers negotiated a budget deal.

In pictures published by The Star-Ledger of Newark, the Christie family appeared to have the sun and the sand — which would normally be packed with families enjoying the holiday weekend — all to themselves.

Many New Jerseyans — including his own lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate for governor in November — were not pleased when the images emerged.

Chris Christie Seen Lounging on Beach Closed by Government Shutdown 1:43

Guadagno publicly chastised Christie in a Facebook post on Monday morning.

"If I were governor, I sure wouldn't be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn't have access to state beaches. It's beyond words," Guadagno wrote. "We need to end the shutdown now. It's hurting small businesses and ordinary New Jerseyans."

After being spotted on the beach Sunday, Christie flew to Trenton to speak with reporters about the government shutdown.

The Christie family was using a state residence, which the governor mentioned he had been using for the weekend during the news conference.

Chris Christie Visits Beach as Public Turned Away Amid Government Shutdown 0:39

"That's where my family is sleeping, so that's where I'll sleep," Christie said during the news conference Sunday. "When I have a choice between sleeping with my family or sleeping alone, I generally like to sleep where my family is."

During the news conference, a tanner-looking Christie was asked whether he had gotten any sun, to which he responded that he hadn't.

Later Sunday, when the photos surfaced, the governor's spokesman, Brian Murray, reiterated that sentiment, saying Christie had not, in fact, gotten any sun — because he was wearing a hat while on the beach.

The photos show that Christie was, indeed, wearing a hat.

Murray later said on MSNBC that he was being a "smart aleck" when he made the hat comment and that Christie was on the beach for only 45 minutes before heading back to Trenton.

"They didn't ask, 'Are you on the beach?' They asked, 'Did you get some sun?'" Murray told MSNBC's Katy Tur. "So no, he didn't."

He added that the part of the beach Christie was photographed on is part of the governor's residence and is closed to the public year-round.

In the shots of the governor enjoying the beach, taken by NJ Advanced Media photojournalist Andrew Mills, Christie is seen with his toes in the sand, lounging back in a beach chair with his wife, Mary Pat.

"We have a residence in Princeton, as well. And that place is a place where people can go and tour, but they can't if the government is closed. Am I supposed to move out and stay in a hotel?'' Christie asked Monday during a phone interview with WTXF-TV of Philadelphia.

Mills said the newspaper originally planned to book a plane to photograph reveling beachgoers baking in the sun and enjoying a weekend off along the Jersey Shore in juxtaposition with empty stretches of beach.

Once at the airport, Mills spotted the governor's helicopter and knew that Christie was in the area, he said in a Star-Ledger article.

He decided to try the state residence where Christie could be staying, and in a moment of unparalleled luck, he spotted the governor and his family and took the shot.

"I really wonder about journalists who spend money flying planes to look for people where they actually said they'd be," Christie told WNYW-TV of New York.

Christie defended his use of the beach house, saying: "That's the way it goes. Run for governor, and you can have the residence."

The governor reiterated the sentiment to WTXF, telling those critical of his use of the closed beach: "Well, I'm sorry. ... They're not the governor.''

On Monday morning, Christie tweeted out a photo of a New Jersey beach and noted that a large percentage of the state's beaches were still open and could be enjoyed by the public.

"NJ beaches are open in 119 of our our [sic] 130 miles of coastline. Come and enjoy them — but use sunscreen and hydrate!" Christie tweeted.

Christie later tweeted again, saying, "Another beautiful day at the Jersey shore. Our beaches are open & full of people. Come & see for yourself! And you can hit the boardwalk!"

Ironically, the images accompanying Christie's tweets were taken by Mills on the same flight during which he snapped the picture of the governor on the closed beach. Christie did not attribute the images to Mills, but they appear as images 18 and 22 in a gallery on NJ.com.

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The shutdown hinged on the state's budget and legislation to overhaul the state's biggest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. Christie blamed the shutdown on Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who was blocking a vote on a bill to restructure Horizon because he believes it is a bad policy, according to NJ.com.

The bill has bipartisan support and was approved by the Senate.

N.J. Parks Closed, but Christie Still Hits the Beach 5:33

Christie said that without the Horizon legislation, he would veto about $350 million of the Democratic priorities. He ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services, like parks and motor vehicle offices, on Friday after he and lawmakers failed to agree on a state budget.

Monday night, near the end of the third official day of the shutdown, Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, an ally of Christie's, said at a news conference that he and Prieto had reached a deal. Immediately afterward, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced that state parks, forests and historic sites were set to reopen Tuesday.