- (Photo: REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky)
"There but for the grace of God go I," is the statement that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is making in response to his critics who condemn his recent decision to lower the flags in honor of the late Whitney Houston.
"I am disturbed by people who believe that because her ultimate demise – and we don't know what is the cause of her death yet but because of her history of substance abuse that somehow she's forfeited the good things that she did in her life," the former U.S. attorney said, according to The Associated Press.
"What I would say to everybody is, 'there but for the grace of God go I,'" he emphasized.
Christie's comments were made at the height of the controversy surrounding his executive order to fly flags at half-staff at all state government buildings on Friday in respect for Houston, which has drawn much criticism and backlash from residents.
Many opponents argued that a "drug addict" should not be honored in the same manner as members of the military or other "dignified" servicemen.
But the Republican governor stood by his decision and said that he would argue with anyone who spoke without knowing "what the real facts" were, such as people who accused him of not lowering the flags for fallen soldiers from the state.
"Every NJ soldier who has been killed in action during my Adm had the flags lowered in their memory," he tweeted in response to Jax@Jaxio, who wrote, "Shame on you for ordering our flag to be flown half-mass for a singer who od'd! What about our soldier and real Heros?"
He also clarified that his order was not meant to signify that Houston's cultural contributions were equivalent to the sacrifices of those in the service. To him, they were simply just two different honors.
"Many in the state are mourning the loss of a cultural icon in NJ's history. We are recognizing her for those contributions," he penned.
Houston was a native of New Jersey, born and raised in Newark and East Orange. She began her singing career at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where her mother led the music program for several years. The church will host her funeral on Saturday.
"I don't think anybody can argue with the fact that Whitney Houston made a significant cultural impact on the people of our state and our country," Christie said during an event in West New York. "And I believe she deserves to be honored for that cultural impact, the contribution she made as a daughter of New Jersey."
"[My] judgment is not based on anything other than my view that this woman made a significant contribution to the history of our state and she for that reason earned it."
Jonathan Capeheart, a member of The Washington Post editorial board and former policy adviser to Michael Bloomberg, gave "three cheers" to Gov. Christie for his decision and his ongoing defense of it.
"I'm not saying this because I'm a proud son of New Jersey, who, like Houston, was born in Newark –albeit four years later," Capeheart penned on the Post's blog. "Houston deserves this special recognition."
"Yes, ok, fine. The chanteuse's rocky personal life made her a questionable role model. And her destructive choices put a blemish the size of a Garden State tomato on Christie's honor. Still, the governor did the right thing," he noted.
"For the one thread that ties all of the tributes to the Jersey Girl's career together is the awe over her extraordinary voice. When Houston sang, you paid attention."
Talent was what motivated Christie to lower the flags, the former deputy editor of New York Daily News stressed. "On this he has my full support."
While some like Capeheart applauded the governor's order, a few wondered if his decision had a hidden agenda.
"Is Christie's move a political calculation, pandering to constituencies that are not in his camp?" asked Chris Freind, operator of FriendlyFireZone.com.
"And if so, is the governor's attempt at making inroads with the black community and young hipsters done to seem more 'moderate and compassionate,' both perceived necessities if Christie is running for president or vice-president?"
If that were the case, it was a "massive miscalculation" on several counts, Freind wrote on The Philly Post.
Though the move might not have anything to do with a political agenda, the commentator believed that regardless, Christie's decision was one devoid of common sense.
"Perception is reality, and the growing perception – from both the media's nonstop Whitney coverage and Chris Christie's stamping his imprimatur on her entire life – is that she should be emulated and admired as one of the nation's great role models."
Houston will not be the first musician to be honored by Christie and the state of New Jersey.
Last year, flags were lowered at half-staff when Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band otherwise known as "The Big Man," passed away.
The New Jersey governor was said to have been a big fan.
"When I heard about the Big Man's passing...I was struck with an overwhelming feeling that the days of my youth were now finally over," he previously said.