The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., is accusing Gov. Chris Christie's administration of withholding Superstorm Sandy relief money from her city after she refused to approve a redevelopment project he favored.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer, appearing Saturday on MSNBC's "Up With Steve Kornacki,"
said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie's community affairs commissioner, delivered messages from the governor early last year to warn her that the relief money would be blocked if the project wasn't approved.
Zimmer, a Democrat who has been supportive of Republican Christie, did not approve the project.
And when she requested $127 million in hurricane relief to help in Hoboken's rebuilding efforts in the wake of Sandy, which left the city 80 percent under water in October 2012, the city got a mere $142,000 to cover a backup generator and $200,000 in recovery grants.
“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,” Zimmer said Saturday.
"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.”
Constable and Christie – through representatives — denied Zimmer’s claims, MSNBC said.
Christie’s office fired back at Zimmer's claims and blasted the network in a lengthy statement issued Saturday afternoon by spokesman Colin Reed, MSNBC reported
"MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Gov. Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him," the statement said.
"Gov. Christie and his entire administration have been helping Hoboken get the help they need after Sandy, with the city already having been approved for nearly $70 million in federal aid," the statement said, adding that" "it’s very clear partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political ax to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."
Zimmer said she would testify under oath and take a lie detector test, wondering if the Christie administration would be willing to do so as well.
The mayor's claims come as an investigation continues over whether members of Christie's inner circle ordered lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge
in retribution over Fort Lee's mayor's refusal to support his re-election campaign.
Zimmer, who kept diary entries during the time, said Christie and his staff leaned on her twice, and by the second encounter, she was "emotional" over the governor who she had thought was honest and moral.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said Zimmer's accusations point to an "abuse of power" that should be further investigated.
The development deal would have given the New York-based developer, the Rockefeller Group, a free hand in a redevelopment deal and to receive millions in subsidies.
Zimmer wasn't completely against the deal, but said could not approve the project without a professional study, which the city couldn't afford.
Eventually, she says, the Christie administration connected her with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the agency that operates the George Washington Bridge at the heart of bridge-gate — which provided a $75,000 grant for the study.
Incidentally, the Rockefeller Group is represented by Wolff & Samson, the powerful law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson, and has former top Christie aide Lori Grifa as a lobbyist.
But after the hurricane, the study firm, Clarke Caton Hintz, said in 2013 that only three of the 19 blocks under study were suitable for redevelopment, and the Hoboken Planning Board vetoed the project, calling for the entire 19 block area to undergo redevelopment.
While the planning board voted against the plan, Zimmer was applying for Sandy grant money, and Christie told residents in Hoboken they could count on him.
However, Christie's people came back with less than one percent of what the city had sought, and Zimmer said she got no response to her letter, dated on May 8 and the same day the Hoboken Planning Board would not adopt the redevelopment recommendation for the Rockefeller property.
Zimmer said she met with Guadagno on May 13, and the lieutenant governor told her, after the tour, she needed to move forward with the Rockefeller project, which was "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, and if you tell anyone, I will deny it.”
Zimmer said the second warning came four days later when Constable was seated with her during a public television special on Sandy recovery.
“We are mic’ed up with other panelists all around us and probably the sound team is listening. And he says “I hear you are against the Rockefeller project,'" Zimmer wrote in her diary.
"I reply, 'I am not against the Rockefeller project; in fact I want more commercial development in Hoboken.'”
“'Oh really? Everyone in the State House believes you are against it – the buzz is that you are against it. If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you,' he tells me."
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement that Zimmer's allegations would be pursued for veracity and any connection to practices behind the bridge lane closings.
A spokesman for Rockefeller Group said "we have no knowledge of any information pertaining to these allegations. Our Hoboken project is in the preliminary stages of planning and we have not filed any development applications for review or approval."
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