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Posted by on Jan 18, 2014 in Featured, Politics | 17 comments

Hoboken mayor says Christie camp used Sandy relief money as political hostage tool

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer

In yet another blow to his national image that could open a whole new can of political worms, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is now facing allegations from the mayor of Hoboken that his camp used federal Hurricane Sandy relief money as a kind of political bludgeon — to hold out giving it unless a political price was paid. Dawn Zimme is saying she asked for $127 million in hurricane relief, was told her city would have to approve a redevelopment project first, didn’t totally approve it — and got a shockingly tiny amount of what she had requested for her suffering residents.

She has offered to take a lie-detector test on her allegations.

What’s happening is that at the heart of the “Bridgegate” scandal is an action that undermined Christie’s image as a political tough guy who does what it takes for what he believes is the good of the people. Now comes this allegation that the Sandy relief money Christie demanded and fought for is allegedly being used as a political carrot with alleged conditions for giving it to a hurricane-impacted community. When the funds were issued, did those who approve it expect Hoboken would get $142,000 in stead of anywhere near the $127 million it requested. Details:

Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken – 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.

In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.
“It’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken” because he wants support for one private developer, she said Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki.

Constable and Christie – through spokespersons – deny Zimmer’s claims.

“Mayor Zimmer has been effusive in her public praise of the Governor’s Office and the assistance we’ve provided in terms of economic development and Sandy aid,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak wrote in a statement. “What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone’s guess.”

But Zimmer’s statements and documentation suggest that Christie’s administration – hailed for what seemed like a heroic response to Hurricane Sandy – in fact refused to help some of the neediest.

I’m sure some may say “well that’s MSNBC,” but in fact it’s irrelevant if this came from MSNBC, or Fox or CNN. This is the mayor of a major city coming forward, and not acting as a blind source but making the allegation with her name attached to it. Also: the piece is by Steve Kornacki, who is highly respected for his political reporting in Salon.

Christie’s big danger in coming months isn’t just the multi-pronged investigations into the initial source of the decision to slow down the George Washington Bridge’s traffic in an apparent move to get back at Fort Lee’s major for not endorsing Christie. It’s a series of stories and new allegations about how he used his power that could create a kind of political tapestry that gives a different view of him and his tenure in office than the one he has successfully projected so far.

In this account – supported by email, public records and Zimmer’s own diary entries – Christie’s inner circle was willing to cut off devastated constituents, muscle a friendly mayor and arrange public funds to finance a study for a project the governor supported.In a news conference last week, Christie rejected the notion that his administration engages in retribution or seeks political payback. Zimmer’s account paints a different portrait.

Zimmer claims they leaned on her twice to get their way. By the second encounter, Zimmer said – this time with Constable – the 45-year-old mayor and mother of two young children was despondent, according to her own notes.

“I was emotional about governor Christie,” she wrote in a diary entry she provided that is dated May 17, 2013. “I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different. This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.”

That’s Christie’s problem now: if more stories come out showing this kind of approach was commonplace or, worse, that Sandy emergency money was not allocated as those who allocated it expected. Voters could conclude that this tapestry is made out of defective, cheap cloth.

The question now isn’t so much whether this story about this may has “legs” — it may not.

The question now is whether the Christie “Bridgegate” story will generate a batch of negative stories that will have more legs than a centipede.

The bottom line of this latest allegation is this: did team Christie use money from the federal government as political payoff money, dishing it out with political strings attached?

Here’s how The Record puts it into context:

The bombshell accusations are the latest damaging development for Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which is racked by scandal over the politically-motivated toll lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

At issue is one of Hoboken’s last undeveloped patches – a 19 block area in the north end of town. Grifa, Zimmer told Kornacki, helped Hoboken up with a $75,000 grant through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to fund a study on its development when she was commissioner in 2010.

But Zimmer said she was baffled that when the study came out in January 2013, it only recommended developing 3 of the 19 blocks that were owned by the Rockefeller Group.

The Rockefeller Group was represented by Wolff & Samson, according to Kornacki – the law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson. And Grifa, after stepping down as commissioner in 2011, began to lobby for the firm.

Zimmer, however, did not support those development plans despite pressure from Grifa, who once tried to set up a conference call with her and Samson to push for it, according to emails Zimmer provided. And Hoboken’s planning board in April voted against designating those three blocks for development, pushing to develop all 19 instead.

At the same time, the Christie administration was distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. Hoboken had been devastated by the storm. Almost 80 percent had been flooded. There was more than $100 million in property damage, according to Zimmer’s office.

But even though Zimmer requested more than $100 million from Christie, she received only $342,000.

In May, Zimmer again took to her diary to recount an event she participated in with Constable.

“We are miked up with other panelists all around us, and probably the sound team is listening, and he says ‘I hear you’re against the Rockefeller project… If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you.”

Zimmer also wrote that she was “emotional” about Christie because ‘“This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.”

The Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman notes
what makes this different from how other hard-ball governments play the game:

This story gives me a bit of an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, this is North Jersey we are talking about, and Mayor Zimmer comes off as if she were literally “born yesterday.” On the other hand, she originally became mayor because her predecessor accepted a bribe in return for giving favorable treatment to a man posing as a real estate developer, and that sting operation was run by Christie’s U.S. Attorney’s office. The irony there is quite rich.

Finally, even though it’s nothing new for a New Jersey governor to throw his weight around to smooth a redevelopment project, holding up disaster relief funding is unconscionable, showing again that the Christie administration has taken traditional Jersey corruption to a whole new level.

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