Christie administration held Sandy relief 'hostage' over project - mayor

Sat Jan 18, 2014 1:43pm EST

Jan 18 (Reuters) - Two members of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration warned a mayor that her town would not receive Superstorm Sandy relief funds unless she approved a redevelopment plan Christie favored, the mayor of Hoboken said on Saturday.

The claim by Mayor Dawn Zimmer comes as Christie, a Republican seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2016, faces investigations into a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge that was apparently politically motivated.

Christie has denied any involvement in the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal and a spokesman was reported as saying Zimmer's claims were false.

Zimmer, a Democrat, told MSNBC television that Hoboken had received only a small part of the $127 million requested after Sandy, which flooded much of the New Jersey town in October 2012.

She said Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie's community affairs commissioner, delivered messages in May 2013 on behalf of Christie, whom she had long supported.

They said that she needed to move ahead with plans for a redevelopment project backed by the city's former mayor. Zimmer had asked for a professional study of the plan.

In a diary entry provided to MSNBC, Zimmer said Constable told her: "If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you."

Guadagno had pulled her aside in a Hoboken parking lot and told her, "I know it's not right. I know these things should not be connected but they are," Zimmer said.

"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," she told MSNBC's "UP w/ Steve Kornacki."

ROCKEFELLER GROUP

The redevelopment project would have awarded the Rockefeller Group, a New York developer, the right to redevelop a stretch of Hoboken, which is across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The project would have been eligible for tax incentives and it would have given the Rockefeller Group a freer hand to build while asking for millions of dollars in subsidies, MSNBC said.

Asked why she had delayed in coming forward with her allegations, Zimmer, who was elected in 2009, said she probably should have done it when the officials spoke with her.

"I have to act in the best interests of Hoboken. And we are still at risk of not" getting Sandy funding, she said.

Hoboken has sought $127 million for Sandy recovery but received $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants, MSNBC said.

Spokesmen for Christie and Constable could not be reached for comment by Reuters. Christie is in Florida this weekend for fundraisers for Republican Governor Rick Scott.

In a statement on MSNBC, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said: "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.

"What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone's guess."

In a statement on MSNBC, Constable called Zimmer's comments "categorically false."

A spokesman for Rockefeller Group said the company was working to tell real estate and community leaders about the plans and to seek feedback from prospective tenants to move the planning process forward.

"We have no knowledge of any information pertaining to these allegations. Our Hoboken project is in the preliminary stages of planning and we have not filed any development applications for review or approval," he said.

Twenty New Jersey officials, including Drewniak, were served with subpoenas on Friday as state lawmakers began to investigate the massive traffic jam in September.

Emails between Christie aides and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, appeared to show the lane closures were orchestrated to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie in his re-election bid last year.

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