Sokolich shifted away from that assertion Monday, saying in an interview at his law office that he did consider a request from the Christie campaign but ended up supporting the Democratic candidate. He declined to say why he changed his account or answer other questions about his interaction with the campaign.
The scandal has changed the tone of state politics.
Christie must figure out how to address it when he gives his State of the State address on Tuesday. His administration has not revealed what he might say, but certainly it will now have a bigger audience and announcements about tax cut plans will no longer be the most anticipated part. The same could be true at the governor’s inauguration for a second term next week, set to take place on Ellis Island, historically a gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants. The setting is meant to showcase Christie’s inclusiveness and ability to appeal to a broad swath of voters.
He also faces renewed interest in the state’s use of $25 million in federal money for an ad campaign to promote New Jersey tourism after Superstorm Sandy. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, announced Monday that the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will audit the campaign.
Christie and his family appeared in the ads. His administration chose a politically connected public relations company over another firm that had bid $2 million less. The winning bidder proposed using Christie in the ads, while the other did not.
Revelations about the contract caused a bit of a flap in New Jersey last year as Christie was seeking re-election.
Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie, derided the timing of Pallone’s announcement and noted that the ad campaign was part of a plan approved by the federal government.
“Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly,” Reed said in a statement. “We’re confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”
Reed also noted that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan praised the use of some money to promote a return to the state’s beaches, a major tourist attraction and economic driver for New Jersey.
Ian O’Connor, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, said the audit is being done at the request of Congress. He would not comment further. Pallone had requested an investigation in August.
(AP Photo: New Jersey Assemblymen John S. Wisniewski, right, D-Sayreville, N.J., and Loius D. Greenwald, left, D-Vorhees, N.J., listen as incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, N.J., address the media.)