Sarah Gonzalez, Reporter, WNYC/NJPR
Sarah Gonzalez is the northern New Jersey enterprise reporter for WNYC and NJPR.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer offered explosive new evidence Saturday in the ongoing examination of Chris Christie administration's political and business practices, saying that Christie officials took away aid for her Sandy-ravaged town because she didn't support a redevelopment deal.
That redevelopment deal was being handled by David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority who has been implicated in subpoenaed documents as one of the close Christie confidantes involved in keeping the so-called Bridgegate scandal quiet.
Zimmer, who last week told WNYC's Sarah Gonzalez she got less than 1 percent of the aid she requested for Sandy relief, said at the time that she worried that the money was not being provided because she didn't endorse Christie for re-election. That's the same concern that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said he had when a mysterious lane closure last year at the George Washington Bridge caused traffic jams that endangered lives and inconvenienced thousands.
In a new interview and investigation that aired on MSNBC's "Up With Steve Kornacki" on Saturday morning, Zimmer alleged that Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, and his Department of Community Affairs commissioner, Richard Constable III, told Zimmer that she had to support a redevelopment project in her city in order to get aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The redevelopment would have been handled by the Rockefeller Group, a real estate developer. The deal was being shepherded by David Samson, an attorney for Rockefeller who runs Wolff & Samson, one of the most powerful firms in the state.
The redevelopment study that led to the project was paid for by the Port Authority. Pushing for passage of a redevelopment deal was Lori Grifa, a Wolff & Samson attorney who had been Christie's commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.
In a follow-up interview Saturday with WNYC, Zimmer said that when she last spoke with WNYC she was "in the process of deciding to come forward and I wasn't ready to talk about that then."
"Coming forward has been one of the hardest decisions I've made," she added.
Zimmer said she doesn't know whether her failure to endorse Christie also played a role in losing out on Sandy funds. But she does know that Guadagno had told her in no uncertain terms that the redevelopment deal and Sandy aid were connected. She says Guadagno told her, "I know it's not right, these things should not be connected, but they are." She says Guadagno added, "If you tell anyone, I will deny it."
The quotes came from her notepad, a diary entry that Zimmer wrote after she and Guadagno talked in a parking lot in Hoboken last spring. Guadagno told her that the redevelopment deal from the Rockefeller Group was really important to Christie.
The new allegations led Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is leading his chamber's investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane closures, to say that he would be conferring with his attorney to decide whether to explore Zimmer's accusations as part of the investigation.
Guadagno did not return a call to her cell phone, and Christie's spokesman said she would not talk to WNYC. Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for Constable, said he declined to talk to WNYC. But she denied the accusation that Constable told Zimmer to approve the deal in order to get Sandy funds.
“Mayor Zimmer’s allegation is categorically false,” she said. Ryan said that Constable and Zimmer were around hundreds of people at all times at the event where she claims the threat was made.
"It took her eight months to say something and then she decided to say something on a national news program, which we think is curious," Ryan said. She also noted that Constable is a former federal prosecutor who handled corruption cases.
In an emailed response, Colin Reed, a Christie spokesman, said, “MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him, even taking the unprecedented step of producing and airing a nearly three-minute attack ad against him this week. Governor Christie and his entire administration have been helping Hoboken get the help they need after Sandy, with the city already having been approved for nearly $70 million dollars in federal aid and is targeted to get even more when the Obama Administration approves the next rounds of funding. The Governor and Mayor Zimmer have had a productive relationship, with Mayor Zimmer even recently saying she’s ‘very glad’ he’s been our Governor. 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 said Hoboken has received other recovery aid, including money for residents who needed to resettle. In his email, he included a chart alleging that MSNBC has covered the Bridgegate scandal more than any other network, and copies of pro-Christie tweets from Zimmer from as recently as August 2013.