When it rains, it really does pour — especially, it seems, for embattled Gov. Chris Christie. Fresh off of a meagre mea culpa for Bridgegate in his State of the State speech, and currently being investigated for allegedly misusing Sandy relief funds, the governor now faces an even bigger scandal that roles together the worst of both: Hurting civilians for political payback? Check. Playing around with Hurricane relief funds? Check. Incriminating emails? Check. On Saturday, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claimed that two of Christie's aides withheld significant disaster aid for Hurricane Sandy victims in retribution for the city's refusal to approve redevelopment project supported by the governor, according to a report by MSNBC.
During her appearance on MSNBC Saturday, Zimmer — using emails, diary entries and public records — accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, of holding aid funds hostage. Zimmer had apparently requested $127 million in hurricane relief for Hoboken, 80% of which was entirely submerged under water post-Hurricane Sandy. She got less than one percent of that — $142,000, to be exact, the cost of a single back-up generator — and the threat that no more aid money would be given unless she approved the redevelopment project led by the Rockefeller Group, a New York developer.
“The bottom line is, it’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer,” she said Saturday. “… I know it’s very complicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have a legal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development to Hoboken.”
On May 13, Guadagno and Zimmer met at the Hoboken ShopRite. That is where, Zimmer said, Guadagno delivered the first message about the relief aide ... Zimmer shared this diary entry which she said she wrote later that day. “At the end of a big tour of ShopRite and meeting, she pulls me aside with no one else around and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It is very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right – these things should not be connected – but they are, she says, and if you tell anyone, I will deny it.”
Zimmer's claims come as Christie fights an increasingly incensed constituency and a whole slew of bad press, sparked after documents revealed that his aides were behind the life-threatening traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. Soon after the office of the U.S. attorney announced it would be investigating the situation, CNN reported a federal audit into the governor's use of Hurricane Sandy relief funds in New Jersey.
“Mayor Zimmer has been effusive in her public praise of the Governor’s Office and the assistance we’ve provided in terms of economic development and Sandy aid,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak wrote in a statement in response to Zimmer's claims. “What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone’s guess.”
“I’d be more than willing to testify under oath and answer any questions and provide any documents, take a lie detector test,” Zimmer said. “And, you know, my question back to them is, ‘Would all of you? Would all of you be willing do that same thing, to testify under oath, to take a lie detector test?’”
Although it was very much Christie's leadership and ability to secure federal funds following the Hurricane Sandy disaster that threw him into the national spotlight, not everyone thinks that the recent scandals will hurt the governor's future presidential chances. “I think Chris has handling this in a very effective way,” former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told The Washington Post. On the contrary, he added, Christie would eventually be “seen as a stronger leader.”