Friday, July 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Hoboken mayor: Christie aides held Sandy relief funds hostage

Spokesperson denies claims, calling MSNBC a 'partisan network'

On MSNBC's "Up With Steve" Saturday morning, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claimed top members of Gov. Chris Christie's administration threatened to hold Hurricane Sandy relief funds hostage if she didn't approve a favored development project.

Zimmer shared with Steve Kornacki a personal note written on May 17, when she claims Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at an event at a Shop-Rite in Hoboken and issued a warning. 

“She pulls me aside and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It’s very important to the governor," she wrote. "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.’ ” 

In an interview with WNYC last week, Zimmer questioned whether the Christie administration withheld Sandy funds because she didn't endorse his re-election campaign. 

More coverage
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  • Democratic lawmakers complain about Christie 'enablers'
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  • Christie is currently in Florida on a fundraising trip, but spokesman Michael Drewniak released a statement to MSNBC calling Zimmer's claims "outlandish."

    "What or who is asking her to say such outlandish things is anyone’s guess,” he wrote.

    In a statement released Saturday afternoon, Christie spokesman Colin Reed criticized MSNBC for their "gleeful" efforts to attack the governor.

    "MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him, even taking the unprecedented step of producing and airing a nearly three-minute attack ad against him this week," Reed wrote in the statement. "It’s very clear partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."

    Zimmer also alleged on the show that Richard Constable, Christie's community affairs commissioner, told her that once she moved forward on the development project, Sandy money would "start flowing to her.” In a separate statement to MSNBC, a spokesperson for Constable called the accusation "categorically false." 

    The proposed development project consists of three blocks of land owned by the Rockefeller Group, a client of the law firm Wolff & Samson. David Samson, the firm's founder, is the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, appointed by Christie in 2011.

    Rockefeller Group told "Up With Steve" in a statement the company has no knowledge of any political pressure exerted to speed up the proposed development, saying, "If it turns out to be true, it would be deplorable.

    Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 overwhelmed Hoboken with an estimated 500 million gallons of water, flooding about 80 percent of the city and crippling its public transportation system. The Hoboken PATH station for months remained closed, frustrating commuters and stripping businesses of much-needed revenue.

    Zimmer the night before Sandy hit ordered a citywide evacuation of all basement and street level residences. Still, days later, thousands of residents remained trapped in their homes, while still more were crowded into shelters.

    City officials a year later said Hoboken sustained more than $100 million in private property damage and $10 million in public property damage. Some estimates put the damages as high as $1 billion.

    Zimmer sought more that $100 million in Sandy relief aid, and according to Kornacki, just $342,000 went to the town, less than 1 percent of what they requested.

    Zimmer told Kornacki that taking these allegations public was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” Zimmer said on the show she was repeat her statement sunder oath, and offered to take a lie detector test, encouraging others to do the same.

    “The bottom line is, [Guadagno] said, it’s connected, the Sandy funding, it’s being held hostage for the city of Hoboken and it’s connected to the Rockefeller group project,” Zimmer said. “She said that very clearly, and she said if you don’t move ahead, we’re not going to be able to help you.”

    Christie's administration is currently facing a federal probe into the potential misuse of Sandy relief funds in the bidding and filming of a "Stronger than the Storm" tourism ad featuring Christie and his family.
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