The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., says she was told by top officialsin Gov. Chris Christie's administration that she would have to go alongwith a private development project the governor wanted in order for hercity to receive Hurricane Sandy relief money.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat who had previously supported Christie, a Republican, made the allegation Saturday on MSNBC.
Shenamed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie's communityaffairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages onbehalf of the governor, who has seen his 2016 GOP presidential prospectsthreatened by a growing scandal over allegations aides engineered atraffic tie-up on the George Washington Bridge to settle a score withthe Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
"The bottom line is, it's notfair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City ofHoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer," shesaid on the program UP w/ Steve Kornacki. "... I know it's verycomplicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have alegal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development toHoboken."
Spokespeople for Constable and Christie denied the claim, the cable network reported.
Theallegation comes as Christie heads to Florida this weekend to wooRepublican donors as well as test his own political resiliency to thescandal. Christie, the new chairman of the Republican GovernorsAssociation, is to appear at several fundraisers for Florida Gov. RickScott and the RGA, which will defend 20 GOP incumbents this year.
Zimmertold a somewhat different story to public radio earlier this month. Ina report Jan. 10, WNYC.org quoted Zimmer as saying she wondered if herdecision not to endorse Christie's re-election played a role in thesmall amount of Sandy aid her city received.
"With 20/20hindsight, in the context we're in right now, we can always look backand say, 'Okay, was it retribution?'" Zimmer said. "I think probably allmayors are reflecting right now and thinking about it, but I reallyhope that that's not the case."
On the MSNBC program Saturday,Zimmer said Guadagno pulled her aside during an event in Hoboken in Mayand made the connection explicit, NJ.com reported.
Zimmer's ownrecollection recorded in her diary was quoted on the program: "Shepulls me aside and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefellerproject. It's very important to the governor. The word is that you areagainst it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be ableto help you. I know it's not right. These things should not beconnected. But they are, she says. 'If you tell anyone I said it, I willdeny it.'"
The development project involves a 19-block area that is one of the city's last undeveloped properties.
Christiespokesman Michael Drewniak disputed Zimmer's claim: "Mayor Zimmer hasbeen effusive in her public praise of the Governor's Office and theassistance we've provided in terms of economic development and Sandyaid," Drewniak said in a statement to MSNBC. "What or who is drivingher only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone's guess."
Akey Democratic legislator investigating the Fort Lee traffic scandal,New Jersey Assembly Select Committee on Investigations Chairman JohnWisniewski, said in a statement that Zimmer's allegations "are seriousand yet again raise concern about abuse of government power'.''
Zimmer stood by her charge, offering to take a lie-detector test.
"I'dbe more than willing to testify under oath and - and answer anyquestions and provide any documents, take a lie detector test," Zimmersaid. "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?'"
At the time, the Christieadministration was distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. Zimmerhad requested $100 million for Hoboken, which was devasted by the storm.The city received $342,000.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. FrankPallone said on the same program that Zimmer's accusations suggest an"abuse of power" by the Christie administration. "This is something thatthe U.S. attorney should be looking at, and has to be furtherinvestigated," he said.
Zimmer said making the accusations was"one of the hardest things I've ever done," but said it was "not fairfor the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken."
"I cannot give a windfall to one property owner because the governor wants me to in exchange for Sandy funds," Zimmer said.
Christiespokesman Colin Reed denounced the report and called MSNBC "openlyhostile'' to Christie, the Asbury Park Press reported.
"GovernorChristie and his entire administration have been helping Hoboken get thehelp they need after Sandy, with the city already having been approvedfor nearly $70 million dollars in federal aid and is targeted to geteven more when the Obama administration approves the next rounds offunding," Reed said.
"It's very clear partisan politics are atplay here as Democratic mayors with a political ax to grind come out ofthe woodwork and try to get their faces on television," Reed said.
Contributing: Catalina Camia, Paul Singer, USA Today; John Schoonejongen, Asbury Park Press