Christie aides deny claims on Sandy funds for Hoboken

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says threat was made to relief funds.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says threat was made to relief funds. (AP)
Posted: January 22, 2014

Top officials in Gov. Christie's administration on Monday fought back against claims that they had threatened to withhold Sandy recovery funding from Hoboken, accusing the city's mayor, Dawn Zimmer, of "false" and "absurd" allegations.

Christie aides also arranged a conference call between reporters and the head of the Republican governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, Marc Ferzan, to detail $70 million in Sandy-related federal aid that has gone to Hoboken, largely to its residents.

Hoboken "has not in any way trailed similarly situated communities" in its receipt of Sandy money, said Christie spokesman Colin Reed.

The responses came two days after Zimmer, a Democrat, said on MSNBC that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pressured her in May 2013 to expedite a private redevelopment deal or risk losing Sandy money.

The allegations were the latest lodged against Christie's administration, which is facing a continuing investigation into an apparent politically motivated scheme to jam traffic near the George Washington Bridge in September.

Zimmer - who said Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable also had linked aid to the redevelopment - said Hoboken had "really virtually gotten no Sandy funding."

"We're at risk of not getting any more Sandy funding; we got our $300,000," Zimmer told MSNBC.

Both Guadagno and Constable rebutted Zimmer's allegations.

"Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false, but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined," Guadagno said at an event in Union Beach. Her remarks were circulated by Christie's office.

Guadagno denied she had placed any conditions on Sandy funding.

In the conference call, Ferzan said $70 million in federal aid had gone to rebuilding efforts in Hoboken - much in the form of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood insurance grants to homeowners and businesses, other FEMA grants to homeowners, and federal loans to small businesses.

The City of Hoboken received a $200,000 planning grant and a $142,000 grant from FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Program, Ferzan said.

Hoboken had requested more than $100 million in hazard mitigation grants. The state had $300 million to distribute from that program - and $14 billion worth of requests from municipalities, Ferzan said.

"Obviously, $300 million vs. $14 billion - that's a big delta," Ferzan said. The state used "objective criteria" to award the money, he said, and Hoboken received $142,000.

The state also gave Hudson County - where Hoboken is located - $50 million in hazard mitigation money to distribute to municipalities, Ferzan said.

"If you look at our recovery programs in totality, I'm scratching my head a little bit about any community that's getting the short end of the stick" except that limited resources prevent the state from meeting every request, Ferzan said.

A spokesman for Zimmer, Juan Melli, said in an e-mail Monday that Hoboken had "only received $342,000 in state-administered funds." Other funds, administered by FEMA, were not at the discretion of the state, Melli said.

Zimmer, in a statement issued through Melli, said Monday that she was "genuinely disappointed that Lt. Gov. Guadagno has lived up to her promise" by denying the allegations. She could not be reached for an interview.

In the MSNBC interview, Zimmer said Guadagno had pulled her aside in a parking lot during a visit to Hoboken and told her: "'I know it's not right, I know these things should not be connected, but they are. And if you tell anyone, I'll deny it.'"

Zimmer said she turned over a diary recounting the encounter during a two-hour meeting Sunday with representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark.

"I stand by my word [and] remain willing to testify under oath," Zimmer said.

Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Monday that the office "doesn't make a habit of discussing whom we do or don't meet with."

The office has said it is reviewing the decision to close access lanes from Fort Lee onto the bridge.

Like Guadagno, Constable denied Zimmer's claims Monday. Zimmer told MSNBC that Constable also had linked her approval of the redevelopment plan to Sandy funding - a message she said he delivered while the two were participants in a May 2013 panel discussion on Sandy recovery.

"Mayor Zimmer's allegations are patently false and absurd on their face," Constable said in a statement issued by a spokeswoman.

Zimmer said she had faced pressure to push through a deal that would benefit the Rockefeller Group. In a statement, the company said it had "no knowledge of any information pertaining to this allegation. If it turns out to be true, it would be deplorable."

The company, based in New York City, is represented by Wolff & Samson, a Rockefeller Group spokesman confirmed. The law firm was founded in part by David Samson, a Christie ally who serves as chairman of the board of commissioners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Samson was served a subpoena last week as part of the legislative investigation into the bridge scandal.

During the MSNBC interview, Zimmer said she "probably should have come forward" sooner.

Zimmer did not raise concerns about Sandy funds with the Hoboken City Council, one councilman said Monday.

"If the mayor was offered a bribe or is alleging criminal acts, why didn't she report them earlier? That's a major concern to me," Michael Russo said Monday. "The second concern: What about all the other dealings that the governor's office was a part of in the city of Hoboken?"

Another councilman, David Mello, said Zimmer had told him of the allegations.

"She had conveyed to me . . . at least as early as this past August that a sort of quid pro quo had been conveyed to her," Mello said.

He said Zimmer - who supported Christie on social media - confided in him in the context of "sharing my concerns about the governor." He said it was "ridiculous" to question why Zimmer didn't come forward sooner.

"This was a man who was definitely going to win the governorship again. We didn't want to hurt Hoboken," Mello said.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

Inquirer staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.

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