NY Times, Jan. 18, 2014
By Michael Barbaro and Kate Zernike
ORLANDO, Fla. — A swing through Florida proved no sunny retreat for Gov. Chris Christie on Saturday, as well-organized protesters hounded him outside a Republican fund-raiser here, a powerful ally in the New Jersey State House rebuked the governor’s office and new allegations emerged that his administration tried to intimidate a New Jersey elected official.
Mr. Christie’s trip, which was supposed to showcase his political resilience after the rockiest period of his governorship, was overshadowed by claims from the mayor of Hoboken, N.J., Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat.
In a television interview on Saturday, she said that two high-ranking aides to Mr. Christie had threatened to withhold money for Hurricane Sandy recovery to her hard-hit city if she did not support a real estate development that the governor wanted built in her jurisdiction.
Speaking on MSNBC, she produced journal entries that she said documented conversations in which Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard E. Constable, the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, told her that if she wanted the money, she had to approve the project. The financial assistance, Ms. Zimmer said, was held “hostage.”
She recalled documenting her disappointment in Mr. Christie the day of her meeting with Mr. Constable. “I thought he was something very different,” she wrote at the time. “This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.”
Despite being almost entirely submerged during the hurricane, Hoboken has received a small fraction of the recovery money it requested from the state, Ms. Zimmer said.
In a statement, Mr. Christie’s spokesman, Colin Reed, did not directly address the mayor’s claims of a threat, but said that she and the governor “had a productive relationship” that was delivering the relief money Hoboken needed.
Mr. Reed took the unusual step of denouncing MSNBC, on which Mr. Christie is a frequent guest, as “a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him.”
Attempting to cast doubt on the new allegations of political payback, which have always been a part of American politics, Mr. Christie’s aides pointed to Ms. Zimmer’s history of praising Mr. Christie, such as a Tweet last summer in which she wrote, “I am very glad that Gov. Christie has been our governor.”
On MSNBC, Ms. Zimmer hinted at the pressure many mayors felt not to speak out against the governor, saying, “This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Soon after Ms. Zimmer’s interview aired, Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat, the president of the New Jersey Senate and a key ally of Mr. Christie’s, issued an unexpected rebuke to the governor’s office.
Calling the latest allegations “extremely disturbing” and promising an investigation, Mr. Sweeney said that Ms. Zimmer’s experience, combined with the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, “suggest a pattern of behavior by the highest ranking members of this administration that is deeply offensive to the people of New Jersey.”
In Florida on Saturday, Democratic activists unleashed a partisan assault on Mr. Christie. Protesters waved placards calling him a “bully,” telling him to “go home” and, in a reference to the gridlock at the George Washington Bridge, declaring that their own “traffic is bad enough.”
Mr. Christie shunned public appearances in Florida, where he is raising money for Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican.
Instead, the New Jersey governor was whisked into an event at the Country Club of Orlando, and, later, a fund-raiser at a Palm Beach home owned by the heir to a sugar fortune.
Inside, Mr. Christie found what must pass, at this difficult moment, as an oasis for him: a group of Ferrari and Jaguar-driving Florida Republicans for whom traffic in New Jersey is a distant thought.
Getting into his Bentley after the fund-raiser, one guest, Geoffrey Leigh, called the controversy over the lane closures “little flies on the wall, quite frankly.”
Michael Barbaro reported from Florida and Kate Zernike from New Jersey. Nick Madigan contributed reporting from Palm Beach, Fla.