Christie Political Maneuvers Seen by N.J. Voters in Poll

A plurality of New Jerseyans say they think Governor Chris Christie withheld Hurricane Sandy aid from some towns as a political ploy and doubt his word on the George Washington Bridge scandal, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today.

Forty-five percent of voters surveyed say they think the 51-year-old Republican punished some mayors for not supporting his re-election by holding back Sandy recovery aid. Forty-four percent say they don’t believe Christie’s explanation that he was unaware of bridge traffic manipulation in Fort Lee, where the Democratic mayor declined to endorse him.

Only 54 percent approve of Christie’s performance on Sandy recovery, a drop of 15 percentage points since mid-January and 26 points since November, the poll showed.

“There is definitely a connection here,” David Redlawsk, director of the poll, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, saw his approval ratings soar to record levels on his Sandy response before plunging this year amid probes by state lawmakers and U.S. prosecutors into alleged dirty tricks by his administration. He staked his bid for a second term last year on how well he handled the worst natural disaster in state history, beating his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by 22 percentage points in November.

Details about the arranged jams “began to put questions in people’s minds about the governor’s claims to bipartisanship, since it was clearly a partisan effort, and it allowed these Sandy allegations to get a lot more play,” Redlawsk said.

Favorability Stable

Christie set aside campaign duties for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as the storm bore down in 2012, making landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29.

Two days later, Democratic President Barack Obama arrived for a tour of the damage, and he and Christie embraced. In May 2013, Christie welcomed Obama back for an update on recovery.

The governor’s favorability rating, 49 percent positive to 40 percent negative, is statistically the same as in January, when it was 46 percent to 43 percent. Public opinion on his job performance is stable, with 55 percent approval and 39 percent disapproval.

A majority, 45 percent to 41 percent, believe Christie’s administration withheld Sandy funding in towns where his campaign didn’t garner mayors’ support for his November re-election. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, alleged in January that her town’s disaster relief hinged on her endorsement of a redevelopment project supported by the governor.

Lane Closings

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, whom Zimmer said gave the ultimatum, have denied any such conversation. A Christie spokesman, Colin Reed, said in a Jan. 19 e-mail that Hoboken “has in no way” trailed other towns on rebuilding aid.

The lane closings were the topic of an Aug. 13 e-mail from Bridget Anne Kelly, a Christie deputy chief of staff, to David Wildstein, director of interstate capital project for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge to Manhattan.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote.

Wildstein replied: “Got it.”

On Jan. 9, a day after news organizations including Bloomberg obtained the e-mails, Christie presided over an almost two-hour news conference in Trenton, where he apologized and denied any knowledge of a plot.

The telephone poll of 729 registered voters was conducted Feb. 22 to 28 by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at New Brunswick-based Rutgers University. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

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