UPDATE 1-Christie administration held Sandy relief 'hostage' over project -mayor

Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:53pm EST

Jan 18 (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy relief funds from a flooded town unless a redevelopment plan Christie favored was quickly approved, 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 at the George Washington Bridge that was apparently politically motivated.

Christie has denied any involvement in the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal, and a spokesman dismissed Zimmer's claims, calling them "partisan politics."

Zimmer, a Democrat, told MSNBC television Hoboken received only a small part of the $127 million requested after Sandy, which flooded the town on the Hudson River in October 2012.

Zimmer 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."

Zimmer said Guadagno 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."

"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 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 river from Manhattan.

The project would have been eligible for tax incentives and 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 had sought $127 million for Sandy damage, but received just $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator, plus $200,000 in recovery grants, MSNBC said.

Colin Reed, a Christie spokesman, said in an email that Hoboken had been approved for nearly $70 million in federal aid. It will get more when the Obama administration approves more funding, he said.

"It's very clear partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television," Reed wrote.

Christie is in Florida this weekend for fundraisers for Republican Governor Rick Scott. It is Christie's first political trip since the bridge scandal and is viewed as a test of donor confidence in his potential presidential bid in 2016.

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement that Zimmer's allegations would be pursued for veracity and any connection to practices behind the bridge lane closings.

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 Christie spokesman Reed, 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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