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Hoboken, N.J., mayor claims Chris Christie camp held Sandy money hostage

Hoboken, N.J., Mayor Dawn Zimmer says that top officials in Chris Christie's administration have told her that her city will only receive critical Sandy relief funds if she expedites a redevelopment project in north Hoboken.

Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned that Hoboken, N.J., would be starved of Hurricane Sandy relief funds unless the mayor approved a redevelopment project favored by the governor, according to the city official and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

In an exclusive interview Saturday with “Up, with Steve Kornacki,” Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said the warning came from Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner.

Zimmer, a Democrat who hasn’t approved the project favored by Christie, said she requested $127 million in hurricane relief for her city, but has so far received only $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator, plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.

"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.

Constable and Christie both denied Zimmer’s claims.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed, in a statement provided to NBC News on Saturday afternoon, dismissed the report as the result of "partisan politics" and charged that the msnbc cable network "has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him."

The statement went on to say that Hoboken has 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."

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Read the entire statement from Christie's spokesman (pdf) 

Lisa M. Ryan, spokeswoman for Constable, said in a statement: “Mayor Zimmer’s allegation that on May 16, 2013, Commissioner Constable conditioned Hoboken’s receipt of Sandy aid on her moving forward with a development project is categorically false.”

Zimmer shot back: “I’d be more than willing to testify under oath and – and answer any questions and provide any documents, take a lie detector test. 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?’”

The developer of the project, the New York City-based Rockefeller Group, said in a statement to msnbc: “We have no knowledge of any information pertaining to this allegation. If it turns out to be true it would be deplorable.”

Zimmer’s allegations of pressure tactics from Christie’s administration come on the heels of “Bridgegate” – a scandal that erupted on Jan. 8 when emails surfaced showing that Christie aides ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in apparent retaliation for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., endorsing the governor’s opponent in last year’s election.  

Christie, the early front-runner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, has denied any knowledge of the lane closures, and fired a top aide who sent one of the emails.

A new charge of political retribution against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

The Hoboken project at the center of Zimmer's accusation was a 2008 deal that would have awarded the Rockefeller Group the right to redevelop a stretch of Hoboken. The project would have been eligible for tax incentives and it would have given the Rockefeller Group a free hand to build whatever they wanted while asking for millions in subsidies, msnbc reported.

Zimmer said she wasn’t against the deal but wanted a professional study done and felt that it should wait until her city was on sounder financial footing.The dispute became public and the Christie administration stepped in, according to Zimmer.

In 2010, the Christie administration connected Zimmer to the Port Authority – the same jointly run New Jersey-New York agency that operates the George Washington Bridge – which approved a $75,000 grant for the study.The Port Authority selected Clarke Caton Hintz to carry out the redevelopment study in February 2011.

Finally, in January 2013, the firm — which was tasked with evaluating a 19-block area — concluded that only the three blocks in which the Rockefeller Group had an ownership stake were fit for redevelopment.

Zimmer’s team was concerned and the landowners for the other 16 blocks were angry, msnbc reported. The owners hired a lawyer who called the study “curious, disturbing and suspect to the say the least,” it said.

After a series of back and forths, the Hoboken Planning Board voted 4-3 against the project on May 8 of last year, finding “insufficient evidence” to designate those three blocks for redevelopment. Instead, the board declared the entire 19-block area “in need of rehabilitation.” 

As the redevelopment dispute was unfolding, Zimmer was simultaneously applying for funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, money overseen by Christie to help communities hit hard by Sandy prepare themselves for the next storm. Hoboken officials submitted seven letters of intent for around $100 million, money that it intended to spend on storm surge coastal protection, buying properties to be used as open space and for backup generators.

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But Zimmer said the city received less than 1 percent of what it had sought. With $250 million to disburse statewide, the Christie administration gave $142,000 to Hoboken — enough to help defray the cost of one backup generator to power a flood pump. Out of another pool of money for recovery grants — $1.8 billion in all — Hoboken received $200,000.

 “Please governor,” Zimmer wrote in a letter following the decisions, “we need your help. I have tried to assure Hoboken residents that we would be treated fairly because you have always treated Hoboken fairly in the past.”

There was no response to that letter, dated May 8 of last year, the same day the Hoboken Planning Board did not adopt the redevelopment recommendation for the Rockefeller property, msnbc said.

In the statement given to NBC News, Reed, Christie's spokesman, said that Zimmer's request for $100 million from the program amounted to a third of the available funding.

"To put that in perspective, the city of Hoboken is 2 square miles, and there were $14 billion worth of requests for aid up and down New Jersey for that same pot of money," Reed said. "Since then, Hoboken has received approval for nearly $70 million dollars worth of funding, and has been identified … as  a pilot community to receive comprehensive future resiliency measures to prevent flooding – one of only four projects in New Jersey selected by the Obama Administration."