Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on Monday pushed back against a claim that Superstorm Sandy relief funding was withheld from a severely flooded city because its Democratic mayor wouldn’t sign off on a politically connected real estate venture.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno strongly denied Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims as “false” and “illogical” on Monday, the day before Christie’s second-term inauguration. And Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, told reporters in a conference call that Hoboken has been treated no differently than other cities with respect to storm relief funds.
Zimmer said on Saturday that Guadagno pulled her aside at a supermarket opening in May and said Hoboken’s storm recovery funds hinged on Zimmer’s approval of a commercial development whose lawyer and lobbyist are close to the governor. On Sunday, Zimmer told CNN the ultimatum was delivered on behalf of the governor.
Guadagno said the mayor’s description of the conversation “is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined.”
“Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false,” she said.
Zimmer met with investigators from the U.S. attorney’s office for several hours on Sunday and gave them journal entries she said were made at the time of the conversation. She also has offered to take a lie-detector test or testify under oath.
Ferzan, during his conference call, declined to comment on the “back and forth” regarding Zimmer’s claims. But he said claims that Hoboken received less than its fair share of disaster aid were a “mischaracterization.”
Superstorm Sandy, which developed in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, killed people in 10 states, but New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest. It’s New Jersey’s worst natural disaster.
Ferzan said the state has received more than $14 billion in requests statewide for Hazard Mitigation grants but has only about $300 million to disburse. Christie administration officials have said Hoboken has requested more than $100 million in such funding.
“Obviously $300 million versus $14 billion, that’s a big delta,” Ferzan said.
He said the state has tried to prioritize its funding and programs to address the “communities most in need” and purposely directed most of the recovery funding toward homeowners, business owners and renters.
Federal authorities and state legislators are already investigating allegations that Christie’s top aides orchestrated traffic jams in Fort Lee to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing his re-election.
In related news, athlete Carl Lewis claimed on Monday that Christie dropped a plan to appoint him the state’s first physical fitness ambassador when he launched a political campaign against a Christie friend.
Lewis said the governor called to dissuade him from running as a Democrat for state Senate in 2011 against Republican Sen. Dawn Addiego. He said he was told the fitness program wouldn’t materialize if he ran. Lewis says the governor felt the post “was a carrot he could pull away.”
Lewis withdrew after a court ruled he didn’t meet a residency rule. He now lives in Houston.