N.Y. Times, Jan. 20, 2014
The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., Dawn Zimmer, said that she met on Sunday afternoon with federal prosecutors who are investigating her allegation that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold federal funds that could have helped her city recover from Hurricane Sandy.
Ms. Zimmer said she met with lawyers from the United States attorney’s office in Newark and gave them diary entries and other documents that she said supported her allegations. In an interview after the meeting, Ms. Zimmer repeated her assertion that Ms. Guadagno told her in May that for the city to receive federal aid controlled by the state, she had to support a real estate project in Hoboken that was important to Gov. Chris Christie.
The United States attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, had already begun a review of allegations that associates of Mr. Christie sought to punish the mayor of Fort Lee in September by ordering the closing of lanes of traffic leading from his borough to the George Washington Bridge. Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Mr. Fishman, declined to comment on Ms. Zimmer’s assertions.
The explosive new allegations, which Ms. Zimmer first made on MSNBC on Saturday, spurred furious rebuttals from state officials on Sunday.
They argued that Hoboken, a small city on the Hudson River, had not been shortchanged on federal aid to help it recover from the widespread flooding it suffered after Hurricane Sandy struck. To buttress their point, they cited several types of funding that have flowed to Hoboken and emphasized that many other communities had received only a fraction of the amounts they sought.
If anything, they said, Hoboken has received special treatment. Just last week, some state and federal officials met to promote a flood-defense project that Hoboken wants the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for. A public hearing about the strategy for promoting that project is scheduled for Thursday.
“Hoboken has in no way trailed similarly situated communities in the receipt of rebuilding funds,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
About $1.8 billion in federal money was allocated to New Jersey, including about $290 million for hazard mitigation. State officials could not point to any large sums that they had decided to grant to Hoboken from that $290 million. The only discretionary grants the city has received so far amounted to $342,000, a spokesman for Ms. Zimmer said.
One of those grants was for $142,000 from a program aimed at preventing power failures in future storms. But many towns received much bigger allocations from that program and some towns far from the coast, like Upper Saddle River, received as much as Hoboken did.
The complexity and protracted nature of the process for dividing up the federal funding make it difficult to prove or disprove Ms. Zimmer’s contention that Hoboken has been penalized. Further confusing the issue, state officials repeatedly pointed to aid that was beyond their control to cast doubt on her assertion.
Colin Reed, a spokesman for the governor, said Hoboken had received nearly $70 million in funding since the storm inundated the city in October 2012. But most of that money — $43 million — was the settlement of claims on flood insurance policies. Those decisions are made by adjusters hired by insurance companies, not by state officials.
An additional $8.5 million of that total came in the form of loans from the federal Small Business Administration. Ms. Zimmer’s spokesman, Juan Melli, said that the decisions about $10.6 million of the rest of that total were made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But Ms. Zimmer continued on Sunday to contend that relief money her city deserved had been held hostage by state officials. She said Ms. Guadagno took her aside in a Hoboken parking lot in May and told her the aid was tied to her support of the development project, but that she would deny that she ever said so.
Ms. Zimmer said she came forward with the allegations eight months later because the scandal that erupted over the punitive traffic jams in nearby Fort Lee spurred her to talk.
“I probably should have come forward in May when this happened,” Ms. Zimmer said. But she said she feared Hoboken would not get its fair share of future aid for rebuilding and fortifying against storms. “This was a really hard thing to do,” she said. “My biggest concern is making sure that Hoboken gets the funding that we deserve.”
The project was proposed by the Rockefeller Group, a company represented by the law firm of one of Mr. Christie’s closest associates, David Samson. The company, which built Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, wanted to build an office tower that would have been taller than any existing building in Hoboken on a parcel in the northwest corner of the city that was marked for redevelopment. That area, which is home to a warehouse where Macy’s long kept the balloons for the Thanksgiving parade, is just about the last underdeveloped part of the mile-square city.
The planning board rejected the idea of slating the area for redevelopment, but later approved it for rehabilitation, which meant much smaller tax breaks.
The Rockefeller Group released a statement in response to Ms. Zimmer’s allegations: “We have no knowledge of any information pertaining to this allegation. If it turns out to be true, it would be deplorable.”
The lawyer at Mr. Samson’s firm, Wolff & Samson, who pressed Ms. Zimmer to meet with representatives of the Rockefeller Group was Lori Grifa. Before she sought those meetings, Ms. Grifa had left the firm to serve as the commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs as an appointee of Mr. Christie.
Ms. Zimmer has said that Ms. Grifa and her successor as commissioner, Richard E. Constable, as well Ms. Guadagno, played roles in a campaign to get her to change her mind about the developer’s proposal. The law firm issued a statement that said, in part, that “the firm’s and Ms. Grifa’s conduct in the representation of our client was appropriate in all respects.”
The mayor said Ms. Guadagno told her that the project was important to Mr. Christie and she would have to approve it for Hoboken to get the storm relief money it sought.
State officials have said that Ms. Zimmer’s allegations are false. But Ms. Zimmer said that neither Ms. Guadagno nor Mr. Christie has explicitly said that they did not link storm aid to the Rockefeller Group proposal.