LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is a long, hard slog for millions of residents of New York and New Jersey.
WERTHEIMER: It's also a leadership challenge for two of the biggest names in American politics.
INSKEEP: New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo was thrust onto the national stage that he'd carefully avoided.
WERTHEIMER: New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie was pushed even farther into the spotlight.
INSKEEP: Both now face a high-pressure challenge to help their states recover, as Anna Sale reports from member station WNYC.
ANNA SALE, BYLINE: The ongoing storm response has kept the governors of New York and New Jersey in the national spotlight for weeks now, so much so that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's post-Sandy uniform - a navy fleece with his name embroidered on the chest - has become a national punchline.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
SETH MEYERS: You have been wearing that fleece a lot.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Oh, yeah. It's basically fused to my skin at this point.
SALE: That "Saturday Night Live" cameo was a light moment, but Sandy's impact has been humbling for the governor known for his brashness.
CHRISTIE: The level of the devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable.
SALE: Governor Christie's praise for President Obama after the storm drew some grumbling from his fellow Republicans. And it overshadowed another shift, as Christie started emphasizing collective responsibility instead of shared sacrifice.
CHRISTIE: We in the government will be here to work with you to have New Jersey completely recover.
SALE: In the weeks since, Christie's admitted that will take lots of federal money. And the governor, who's been a champion of lowering property taxes, now says rates might have to go up in affected communities.
CHRISTIE: As long as they know that the money's being spent in a way that's helping to bring their town back to life, I think people will understand. It's got to be done.
SALE: When Christie talks about rebuilding, he emphasizes restoring what was lost along the Jersey Shore.
Across the Hudson River in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo's rebuilding plans are different. He says it's time to adapt to climate change. He made the link early, within a day of Sandy's landfall.
GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and we have old systems, and that is not a good combination.
SALE: This brought attention that's been rare during Cuomo's tenure. Despite his famous name, Cuomo has kept a low profile in his first two years. Unlike Christie, he avoids national political shows and stayed offstage during the Democratic convention. But deals he's brokered in a chronically dysfunctional state capital have stoked talk about his political future. Cuomo's rebuilding plans now rely on more than Albany lawmakers.
He wants comprehensive infrastructure upgrades to protect from fiercer storms. To pay for it, he's asked Congress for $30 billion. On an Albany AM 1300 radio show, Cuomo acknowledged his timing is bad.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)
CUOMO: They'd rather not deal with it, because of the fiscal cliff and everything else. But I'm the governor of the state of New York, and this state needs help, and it's my job to make sure they know this state needs help.
SALE: For both Cuomo and Christie, their reelection - and any larger political ambitions - hinge on how well they maneuver these post-storm politics.
PATRICK EGAN: Cuomo has an easier path to follow here.
SALE: New York University political scientist Patrick Egan says Cuomo's attention to climate change and infrastructure aligns with his party. Governor Christie, meanwhile, has to lobby for recovery funds without further alienating his Republican brethren.
EGAN: He doesn't want to sound like a taker, to use the language of some conservatives, and so he needs to think about how to - if he makes a request at all, to make a request that sounds justified and realistic.
SALE: So far, though, Christie's approach has earned him some new fans. A recent poll asked New York City voters which political leader performed best after Sandy. At the top of the list, over Democrats Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama, was Republican Governor Chris Christie.
For NPR News, I'm Anna Sale in New York.
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