Surveying damage left in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama pledged to work with Congress to fund recovery efforts and tapped a member of his cabinet to head rebuilding efforts during a trip to Staten Island Thursday.
"There's still a lot of clean-up to do … that's FEMA's primary task," Obama said. "What we've also already heard is that there is going to be some long-term building required."
According to the White House, about 7,700 FEMA employees have been working on facilitating recovery efforts in the affected region, including Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.
Obama placed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, a former New York housing official, in charge of coordinating the rebuilding efforts as soon as the recovery-focused FEMA transitions out of the region.
"It's going to require everybody focus on getting the job done," Obama said, referring to top officials in the New York/New Jersey region that was hardest hit by the October superstorm. New York officials have estimated recovery efforts could cost up to $30 billion, but their New Jersey counterparts have yet to outline a specific estimate.
"We're going to have to put some of the turf battles aside and make sure that everybody's focused on doing the job, as opposed to worrying about who's getting the credit or who's getting the contracts and all that stuff that sometimes goes into the rebuilding process," he said.
Obama was joined on Staten Island by Donovan, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as local officials. Bloomberg said 23 Staten Islans residents lost their lives, and it was the scene of the most discord in the storm's wake, as many complained they were left to fend for themselves while other areas, such as lower Manhattan, received more attention.
In his brief remarks, Obama highlighted a couple who had lost two young sons. He said they are still "shell-shocked," but asked everyone to thank a New York police officer who went out of his way to make sure they were able to find out what exactly happened to their sons and recover their bodies. The president said it was emblematic of all of the first responders who go "above and beyond" the call of duty.
"I'm very proud of you, New York," Obama said.
The event was largely devoid of politics, though Cuomo, a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, made sure to highlight how Sandy was the result of changing weather patterns, an opaque reference to climate change.
"We must re-knit the fabric of tattered communities," Cuomo said. "We must re-think and re-design for the long-term because extreme weather, as we have learned, is the new normal."
In a Wednesday press conference, Obama reaffirmed his position that climate change is "real" and impacted by humans, but suggested taking steps to control carbon emissions should take a backseat to reaching a deficit deal and rebuilding the still sputtering American economy.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.