(Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
A New Jersey Democrat mayor has accused Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration of threatening to withhold millions of dollars in hurricane relief if she did not approve a lucrative redevelopment plan.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer told MSNBC Saturday that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie's community affairs commissioner, warned her last May that her town would be denied money for Superstorm Sandy relief if she did not move forward with a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project.
"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."
Zimmer added that Guadango told her, "If you tell anyone I said it, I'll deny it."
Zimmer did not approve the project pitched by the New York-based Rockefeller Group to redevelop an area in the industrial north end of Hoboken.
While the mayor asked for $127 million in Sandy relief, she received $142,000 to defray the cost of a generator and $200,000 in recovery grants, MSNBC said.
Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the second-costliest hurricane in the country's history.
A Christie spokesperson denied the allegation.
"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 said in a statement. "What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone's guess."
Christie's office also criticized MSNBC. Spokesman Colin Reed said it 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."
Zimmer responded by saying she'd be "more than willing" to testify under oath, answer any questions, provide any documents and take a lie detector test. "And, you know, my question back to them is, 'Would all of you? Would all of you be willing do that same thing, to testify under oath, to take a lie detector test?'"
N.J. Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chair of the Select Committee on Investigations, issued a statement saying the committee has taken note of the allegations.
"The allegations discussed today by Mayor Zimmer are serious and yet again raise concern about abuse of government power. This certainly has attracted our attention. We need to obtain all relevant facts, confer with our special counsel and determine the committee's best course of action," Wisniewski said, according to CBS News.
Zimmer's claims came soon after some members of Christie's administration were asked to share with the legislative committee their knowledge of lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last September.
The closures, which were allegedly implemented for a "traffic study," lasted for four days. One of Christie's top aides was allegedly behind the closures as retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie in his 2013 re-election campaign.
While documents released last week by the committee showed that agencies officials overlooked public safety by closing the lanes, they did not point to Christie's involvement.
Christie, who was re-elected as governor two months ago, said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by his staff over the controversy.
"Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch, the good and the bad," Christie admitted at a press conference last week. "All I can do is apologize for the conduct of people who worked for me - I can't reverse time, but if I could, I would." He described himself as "heartbroken" by the lies of his staff and "humiliated."
However, the allegations are hurting Christie, who is seen as a potential contender for president in 2016.
Christie was likely to travel to South Carolina this spring to campaign for Sen. Lindsey Graham, who faces a conservative primary challenge. However, Graham doesn't want the governor to come any longer. "If you brought him in South Carolina today, what would we be talking about?" The New York Times quoted Graham as saying. "We'd be talking about him."
Kenneth G. Langone, one of Christie's main fundraisers, recently told the governor he needs to be more careful about who surrounds him. "I conveyed the importance of the decisions he makes about the people around him and their qualification and their competence, including common sense," Langone was quoted as saying. "It upset the hell out of me," he said, of the lanes closure.