Hoboken mayor: Gov. Christie Sandy relief claims are ‘outrageous’ — but true
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A day after Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer rankled the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with allegations that his office withheld Superstorm Sandy relief funding over her refusal to push through a redevelopment project, Zimmer now says the threat was “a direct message from the governor.”
“It’s stunning. It’s outrageous. But it’s true,” Zimmer told CNN’s Candy Crowley in an interview Sunday morning.
Later in the day, she released a statement saying that she had met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for several hours at its request and provided the office with her journal and other documents.
“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.
Zimmer appeared on MSNBC on Saturday to level charges that members of Christie’s administration pressured her to approve a redevelopment project sought by The Rockefeller Group, a real estate developer with ties to the governor’s office. Zimmer said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno made the threat on behalf of Christie at a May 13 event they both attended in Hoboken. Later recording the conversation in a journal entry she shared with CNN, Zimmer recalled the lieutenant governor warned her she had “to move forward with the Rockefeller project” and labeled the demand “a direct message from the governor.”
“She came and made a direct threat to me,” Zimmer said of her conversation with Guadagno.
In light of Zimmer’s new claims, a spokesman for the Governor’s office, Colin Reed, stuck by his initial dismissal of the MSNBC report Saturday, saying the mayor’s allegations are nothing more than “partisan politics.”
“Mayor Zimmer’s categorization about her conversation in Hoboken is categorically false,” Reed told CNN.
The Hoboken mayor refuted that characterization.
“I haven’t been a part of the Democratic machine,” Zimmer said, citing her frequent praise of Christie and what she describes as a solid working relationship between the two executives. “I did have a really good relationship (with the governor), so I couldn’t believe they were doing this.”
“This is wrong. This is not fair to Hoboken,” Zimmer added.
Of her conversation with Guadagno, Zimmer told Crowley she sensed the lieutenant governor felt remorseful for relaying the message that no funds would be given to the city until The Rockefeller Group’s project was approved.
“She felt almost guilty about saying it,” Zimmer said. “She knows it’s wrong,”
Steadfastly clinging to her account, Zimmer predicted that if the matter ultimately gets folded into the ongoing investigation of the George Washington Bridge controversy, Guadagno would confirm her story.
“If she’s asked to testify under oath, I think we’re going to see the truth come out because I will she be truthful under oath,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer’s claims center around a property owned by The Rockefeller Group, which had its plan for “redevelopment” of a three-block area of Hoboken rejected by the city’s planning board. Instead, the panel voted to classify the area owned by the company as available for “rehabilitation.” The “redevelopment” tax incentives offered a much more lucrative deal for the development company.
In an e-mail to Zimmer, Lori Grifa, counsel for The Rockefeller Group, lobbied on behalf of the company, asking to speak directly with the mayor regarding the property.
Grifa was previously commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs for the Christie administration.
Asked by Crowley on Sunday why she had not come forward sooner, Zimmer said she was afraid her story — accusing an overwhelmingly popular governor of the same kind of political corruption he once targeted as a U.S. attorney — would have been ignored. In a June Quinnipiac University poll, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved of Christie’s job performance, 69% to 27%. He won re-election in November by a crushing margin over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” Zimmer said Sunday. “I probably should have come forward sooner, but I really didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
Zimmer was unequivocal in her allegations the Christie administration continues to hold relief funds hostage until she approves the redevelopment project.
Hoboken was one of the cities hit hardest by the 2012 hurricane, which ravaged the eastern seaboard, destroying an estimated $100 million worth of property. In its response to Zimmer’s charges, Christie’s office pointed to nearly $70 million in federal aid that was approved to help Hoboken in its recovery from the still-visible impact of Superstorm Sandy and said more funds are set to be earmarked for the city once the White House approves the next round of funding for the state.
Zimmer described this claim as a half-truth, telling Crowley that the $70 million Trenton says the city received is from the federal flood insurance program, not from the pool of cash Congress approved specifically to help New Jersey recover from the storm. Christie took some members of his own party to task when they threatened to deny the state the funds in the name of fiscal responsibility. The Hoboken mayor said the governor’s response, thus far, to her claims has danced around the central issue at stake.
“They did not respond to the No. 1 question: Are they linking Hoboken funding to the Rockefeller project?” Zimmer said. “The fact is, they are.”
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this report.