NEWARK, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday strongly defended his decision to have flags lowered to half-staff on Saturday for Whitney Houston, saying he rejects criticism that she "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.
The Republican governor said his office has been receiving emails and other messages disparaging Houston and attacking his decision to have flags flown at half-staff at state government buildings Saturday, the day of her funeral in the Newark church where she sang in the choir 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 "I Will Always Love You" singer, 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," she said.
Clause, 23, said the decision was like saying if someone sings well, drug use doesn't matter and "you can still be an idol."
Rebecca Eppelmann, a newspaper copy editor in upstate New York, 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."
The governor 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.
Christie said some people were being critical "without the facts," accusing him of treating Houston better than fallen soldiers.
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 was out Wednesday at New Hope Baptist Church, 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.
Simpson said she admires Christie for honoring Houston because "if it were Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, nobody would bat an eye."
"I don't agree with a lot of things that he does, but I admire him for that," she said. "Whoever don't agree, they will get over it."
Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J., contributed to this report.