TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Christie administration withheld millions of dollars in Superstorm Sandy recovery grants from a New Jersey city because its mayor refused to sign off on a politically connected commercial development, the mayor said Saturday.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow to her city if she allowed the project to move forward.
Zimmer said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at an event in May and told her Sandy aid was tied to the project — a proposal from the New York City-based Rockefeller Group aimed at prime real estate in the densely populated city across the river from New York City.
The mayor said the administration officials wanted Rockefeller’s plans for the property approved, while Zimmer said she preferred to go through normal channels and hear from all stakeholders, including the public and owners of adjacent property. Rockefeller Group owns about three blocks of the 19-block area.
“I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor — she made it very clear — that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn’t be able to help me,” Zimmer told The Associated Press.
“There is no way I could ethically do what the governor, through the lieutenant governor, is asking me to do,” she said.
Christie’s office denied Zimmer’s claims, calling her statements politically motivated. Spokesman Colin Reed said the administration has been helping Hoboken secure assistance since Sandy struck.” Christie himself was raising money Saturday for fellow Republicans in Florida. The fundraisers were closed to reporters.
Hoboken is hiring a planner to rehabilitate the area, and Rockefeller will have an opportunity to offer input along with others who have an interest in development of the property, said Juan Melli, a spokesman for Zimmer.
A state website that tracks the distribution of Sandy aid shows that Hoboken received a $200,000 post-storm planning grant in October out of a $1.8 billion pot of money controlled by the state. Hoboken also received a $142,000 state energy resilience grant.
Besides state money, Hoboken has received $70 million in recovery funds distributed by the federal government, according to the Christie administration. Zimmer said she has applied for $100 million to implement a comprehensive plan to help insulate her city from future floods.
Christie already is embroiled in another scandal involving traffic jams apparently manufactured to settle a political score. At a recent news conference to discuss the lane closures on the approach to the George Washington Bridge, Christie brushed aside questions about his aggressive governing style. “I am who I am,” said Christie, “I am not a bully.”
But Zimmer said Guadagno and Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, a member of Christie’s cabinet, both delivered messages about Sandy aid in no uncertain terms.
Zimmer, who first spoke with MSNBC on Saturday, told the cable network that at another event in May, Constable said “the money would start flowing to you” if she backed the project.