N.J. mayor: Christie's staff held Sandy relief funds hostage

11:28 AM, Jan 19, 2014   |    comments
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In this Oct. 30, 2012 photo, residents walk through flood water and past a stalled ambulance in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy in Hoboken, NJ. Mayor Dawn Zimmer charged Saturday on MSNBC that Gov. Chris Christie's administration held Sandy relief funds hostage for approval of a private development project.



The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., says she was told by top officials in Gov. Chris Christie's administration that she would have to go along with a private development project the governor wanted in order for her city to receive Hurricane Sandy relief money.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat who had previously supported Christie, a Republican, made the allegation Saturday on MSNBC.

She named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie's community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of the governor, who has seen his 2016 GOP presidential prospects threatened by a growing scandal over allegations aides engineered a traffic tie-up on the George Washington Bridge to settle a score with the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.

"The bottom line is, it's not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer," she said on the program UP w/ Steve Kornacki. "... I know it's very complicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have a legal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development to Hoboken."

Spokespersons for Constable and Christie denied the claim, the cable network reported.

Zimmer said Guadagno pulled her aside during an event in Hoboken in May and made the connection explicit, NJ.com reported.

Zimmer's own recollection recorded in her diary was quoted on the program: "She pulls me aside and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It's very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it's not right. These things should not be connected. But they are, she says. 'If you tell anyone I said it, I will deny it.'"

The development project involves a 19-block area that is one of the city's last undeveloped properties.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak disputed Zimmer's claim: "Mayor Zimmer has been effusive in her public praise of the Governor's Office and the assistance we've provided in terms of economic development and Sandy aid," Drewniak said in a statement to MSNBC. "What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone's guess."

Zimmer stood by her charge, offering to take a lie-detector test.

"I'd be more than willing to testify under oath and - and answer any questions and provide any documents, take a lie detector test," Zimmer said. "And, you know, my question back to them is, 'Would all of you? Would all of you be willing do that same thing, to testify under oath, to take a lie detector test?'"

At the time, the Christie administration was distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. Zimmer had requested $100 million for Hoboken, which was devasted by the storm. The city received $342,000.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said on the same program that Zimmer's accusations suggest an "abuse of power" by the Christie administration. "This is something that the U.S. attorney should be looking at, and has to be further investigated," he said.

Zimmer said making the accusations was "one of the hardest things I've ever done," but said it was "not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken."

"I cannot give a windfall to one property owner because the governor wants me to in exchange for Sandy funds,' Zimmer said.

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