Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer met with federal investigators after she said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery grants unless she supported a development project.
Zimmer, a Democrat, said yesterday that Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno told her in May that more than $100 million in relief funding from the Republican administration was in jeopardy unless she approved the project. Zimmer said she kept silent about the incident, which happened during an event in the city of 52,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan, because “no one would believe her.” Guadagno, speaking today at a planned event in Union Beach, denied Zimmer’s account and called it “offensive.”
The fresh accusations deepen a crisis for Christie, a 51-year-old who has been spoken of as a possible presidential candidate. He has come under inquiry from state lawmakers and federal prosecutors in connection with politically motivated lane closings in September at the George Washington Bridge that tied up traffic in Fort Lee for four days.
Lawmakers are also looking into the possible involvement of a $1 billion luxury high-rise project a block from the bridge. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is auditing the governor’s use of hurricane recovery funds.
“I will learn things from this,” Christie told Yahoo News in an interview published today. “I know I will. I don’t know exactly what it is yet that I’ll learn from it.”
Yesterday, Zimmer said in a statement that she provided U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman her journal, in which she recorded the administration’s threat, and other documents. She said Guadagno told her it was a “direct message” from the governor. In a statement today, Zimmer said she met with the U.S. Attorney for more than two hours yesterday.
“As they pursue this investigation, I will provide any requested information and testify under oath about the facts of what happened when the lieutenant governor came to Hoboken and told me that Sandy aid would be contingent on moving forward with a private development project,” she said.
Fishman’s office “doesn’t make a habit of discussing whom we do or don’t meet with,” Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Zimmer has been among Christie’s Democratic allies, and Guadagno, whom the governor chose as his running mate, said today she thought the two had a good relationship.
“Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false,” Guadagno said. “Standing in Union Beach as we are today, with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated by Sandy and also being a Sandy victim myself, makes the mayor’s allegations particularly offensive to me.”
Between federal programs and flood insurance, $70 million has been promised to individuals and city government in Hoboken, said Marc Ferzan, whom Christie appointed in December 2012 to oversee the flow of federal aid. Ferzan said the state doesn’t have a tally of how much of that funding commitment residents and the city have received. About $43 million was in the form of federal flood insurance policies held by individuals, he said.
“I’m scratching my head a little bit about any community getting the short end of the stick,” he said today on a conference call with reporters. “That’s a bit of a mis-characterization.”
Zimmer’s request for $120 million in funding amounted to more than a third of the state-controlled aid pot of $300 million, Ferzan said.
The mayor said in a statement after Guadagno’s news conference that she was “disappointed” by the denial and said she’s willing to testify under oath and answer any questions in the investigation.