NEWARK, N.J. >> Gov. Chris Christie has strongly defended his decision to have flags flown at half-staff Saturday for Whitney Houston despite receiving emails and other messages disparaging the singer and criticizing him.
The Republican governor said Wednesday that he rejects complaints that Houston “forfeited the good things that she did” because of her struggles with substance abuse.
“What I would say to everybody is there but for the grace of God go I,” he said.
Christie ordered flags flown at half-staff at state government buildings Saturday, the day funeral services are held for Houston at the Newark church she sang at as a child.
Twitter was abuzz Wednesday with reaction to the decision by Christie, whose home is in Mendham, a wealthy town where Houston also had lived.
In online postings, there were two main arguments against the honor for the Grammy Award winner who died over the weekend in California at age 48: One was that it should be reserved for members of the military, first responders and elected officials. The other was that it’s wrong to honor a drug addict.
Heather Clause, a Richmond, Va.-based blogger who writes about teen moms and was tweeting critical comments, said in a telephone interview that she was appalled by the planned flag-lowering.
“It’s just such a bad example for people,” said 23-year-old Clause. She said the decision was like saying if someone sings well, drug use doesn’t matter and “you can still be an idol.”
In upstate New York, Rebecca Eppelmann, a newspaper copy editor, also tweeted her disgust at the Houston honor, then discussed her views.
“It should be for major events,” she said. “It’s horrible that she passed away. It’s not something that should warrant this.”
Christie said he was not saying that Houston, who was born in Newark and was raised in nearby East Orange, is a role model. Instead, he said, Houston deserves the honor because of her huge cultural impact and as “a daughter of New Jersey.”
“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,” said the governor during a briefing in northern New Jersey. “I just reject that on a human level.”
The cause of Houston’s death at a Beverly Hills hotel has not been determined, and the results of toxicology tests are pending. Investigators found several bottles of prescription medication in the hotel room where she died Saturday, but authorities said they weren’t an unusually large number.
The governor noted he has ordered flags flown at half-staff for all 31 fallen New Jersey soldiers and every fallen police officer during his time in office.
He also ordered flags lowered last year for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
In Newark, residents were irritated to hear of criticism of the governor’s decision to honor Houston, who acknowledged her drug abuse in interviews.
Resident Anna Simpson said she admires Christie for honoring Houston because “if it were Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, nobody would bat an eye.”
Simpson was at New Hope Baptist Church Wednesday, where Houston’s funeral will be held, to pay her respects on her way home from her airport job.
“She never forgot where she came from,” Simpson said. “She was real. We would see her and be like, ‘She’s one of ours,’ and she always made us proud, no matter what happened.”
After Houston became famous she continued to make regular trips to the public school she attended in East Orange and to which her family has directed donations be sent in lieu of flowers.
Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J., contributed to this report.