New York (AFP) – Embattled New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s second-in-command Monday flatly denied allegations she and Christie threatened to withhold money for Hurricane Sandy relief as a political quid pro quo.
These latest allegations of political strong arm tactics add to the increasing scandal surrounding the governor, after aides were accused of manufacturing traffic jams as revenge against another mayor who refused to endorse the governor’s re-election bid.
Over the weekend, Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, said Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno told her Christie could withhold relief money for her city unless she approved a redevelopment plan he supported.
“The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said essentially, ‘you got to move forward with the Rockefeller project,'” Zimmer told CNN Sunday, referring to a planned 40-story office tower and commercial development in Hoboken.
But Guadagno said Zimmer’s recounting of their conversation was “not only false but it’s illogical.”
Speaking at a news conference related to a Martin Luther King Day event, Guadagno said the allegations do not stand up to “scrutiny, when all of the facts are examined” and flatly denied any relief funding was tied to approving a separate project.
“Standing in Union Beach as we are today, with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated by Sandy, and also being a Sandy victim myself, makes the mayor’s allegations particularly offensive to me. The suggestion that anyone would hold back Sandy relief funds for any reason is wholly and completely false,” she insisted.
A Christie spokesman, Colin Reed, issued a statement to various media outlets late Saturday denying Zimmer’s charges, accusing Zimmer of playing “partisan politics.”
The statement said $70 million in federal funds had already approved for Hoboken with more potentially to come.
Christie was credited with decisive leadership when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast in October 2012, hitting New York and New Jersey particularly hard.
He also had a reputation for being the kind of pragmatic Republican who could work across party lines, and could garner national support from Democrats, as he has in his majority blue state of New Jersey.
Christie was forced last week to admit his staff lied to him about their role in blocking commuter traffic onto a major bridge in an act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
The scandal is being investigated by federal prosecutors.
After the “bridgegate” scandal came to light, Christie fired a top aide, Bridget Kelly, and was seeking to put the matter behind him when the new allegations surfaced.
The larger-than-life Republican seen as a frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, said he had been “embarrassed and humiliated” by the alleged dirty tricks, which, he said at a marathon press conference last week, he had no knowledge of.
In an interview published by Yahoo Monday, the governor suggested his presidential ambitions had not been squelched by the scandal, saying he felt “readier” to be president than when the same question was asked in 2011.
He said his experience since the “bridgegate” accusations first broke had been “awful.”
“I’m trying to get my arms around an awful situation,” he told Yahoo, “and understand it, and then address it, and then resolve it.”
The interview was conducted Friday, before the latest accusations came to light, including a separate allegation by Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, who said he wants Christie investigated over claims he improperly used tax payers’ relief funds for personal political gain in the run-up to his 2013 re-election.
Polls show Christie with widespread support both in his state and across the nation, but some polls show him taking a hit in the wake of the bridgegate scandal.
AFP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky