UNION BEACH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - New Jersey's lieutenant governor has defended herself against claims she tried to strong-arm a local official into approving a development project.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer is backing up her statements that she was pushed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to approve a deal or risk losing funding for superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.
As WCBS 880's Paul Murnane reported, the Democratic mayor said she met for two hours Sunday with representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office and turned over her journal and other materials.
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The assertion backs up her claim that Guadagno told her in May to support a development deal or risk losing Sandy recovery aid.
Speaking from the Jersey Shore on Monday morning, Guadagno flatly denied Zimmer's claim.
"Any suggestion, any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false," the lieutenant governor said. "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."
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Guadagno, who did not take questions Monday, added that the accusations are baffling to her because she considered Zimmer a friend, 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported.
"In fact, just three months after this conversation she said we had, I was walking on the streets with her in Hoboken talking to her about urban markets," Guadagno said. "Just three months after this conversation she said we had and five months before she went to MSNBC. I thought we had a good relationship."
Zimmer stayed in her home Monday, making no comments, while Guagadno helped volunteers at a Sandy recovery project in Union Beach.
But as CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez reported, Zimmer did appear with Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday night, and responded to Guadagno's comments.
"I did think that what I think what's interesting about what the lieutenant governor had to say today, as she says, is my illogical – what I said. And when you look at the documents, you look at the letters that I've written, you can see that it was not illogical at all," she said. "It's actually a progression, leading up to something they wanted to send me; give me a very direct message, because they felt like I wasn't getting the message clearly enough."
Zimmer claimed that following an exchange of letters about Sandy funding, she had a conversation Guadagno in a parking lot where she asked whether any town was asked to link development to Sandy aid.
"She did not dispute it," Zimmer said. "She restated the fact that, you know, it's not fair; that these things shouldn't be connected, but they are. So that's in the journal entry I gave to the U.S. Attorney."
And in an earlier a statement released by Zimmer Monday morning, the Hoboken mayor said she is disappointed Guadagno denied the allegations.
"I am genuinely disappointed that Lieutenant Governor Guadagno has lived up to her promise that she would deny linking Hoboken's application for Sandy hazard mitigation funding with expediting a private development project," Zimmer said. "I met with the U.S. Attorney for over two hours yesterday, answered all their questions and turned over my journal in which I described my conversation with the Lieutenant Governor and Commissioner Constable. I stand by my word, remain willing to testify under oath, and I will continue to answer any questions asked of me by the U.S. Attorney's office."
The development in question is a 19-block area on the north side of Hoboken. Zimmer first made the accusations over the weekend that she was strong-armed by Guadagno, CBS 2's Christine Sloan reported.
She said Guadagno made a "direct threat" to her.
"The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and she said essentially, you've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project," Zimmer said on CNN over the weekend. "This project is really important to the governor. And she said she had been with him on Friday night, and that this was a direct message from the governor."
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The Rockefeller Group owns three blocks on the site and is represented by the law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
Sources told CNN that Guadagno was prevented participating in Sandy aid discussions because she owns a Jersey Shore home that was damaged in the storm.
Meanwhile, Mark Ferzan, the executive director of the governor's office of recovery aid and rebuilding, defended the administration's approval process.
He told reporters, including WCBS 880's Jim Smith, when Hoboken requested more than a hundred million dollars for flood mitigation, so did basically every other town in the state.
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"What we received was more than $14 billion in requests," but they only had $300 million to distribute, resulting in just a two percent approval rate, Ferzan said.
Christie spokesman Colin Reid insisted, "Hoboken has not in any way trailed similarly situated communities in the receipt of their rebuilding funds."
Hoboken, a low-lying, mile-square city of 50,000, was nearly swallowed by the Hudson River during Sandy, with three of its electrical substations and most of its firehouses flooded, businesses and homes submerged, the train station inundated with water, and people trapped in high-rises because elevators didn't work and lobbies were underwater. Zimmer has proposed a comprehensive flood mitigation plan and has applied for $100 million in grants to help make it happen.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said the $100 million would come from of a $300 million pot of money, targeted mostly toward individuals, and for which 146 other towns had also applied.
The spokesman said the city stands to get $70 million in funding, and that FEMA has paid out $43 million to homeowners in the city.
But Zimmer said she didn't reveal the conversation with Guadagno until now because she feared no one would believe her. But, with Hoboken having received just $342,000 out of $1.8 billion in Sandy recovery aid from the state in the first funding round, she said, she is speaking out in hopes her city won't be shut out in a second funding wave, when the state is due to disperse $1.4 billion. Hoboken has also received millions in federal aid.
So far, the U.S. Attorney's office is not confirming nor denying that it met with Zimmer.
Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, a member of Christie's cabinet and a second official who Zimmer said repeated the Sandy threat at a separate event in May, also issued a statement denying the mayor's claims.
"Mayor Zimmer's allegations are patently false and absurd on their face," Constable said through spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. "I welcome a full and thorough law enforcement review of her libelous claims."
Meanwhile, some other New Jersey Democratic mayors said the Christie administration had been responsive and forthcoming with Sandy money.
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, a Democrat, defended the Christie administration's performance.
"The Christie administration has been great to work with, professional, and responsive to our concerns," said Doherty, who did not endorse Christie.
The mayor of Asbury Park, who has butted heads with Christie on other issues, said he has not had any problems with Sandy money either.
Federal authorities and state legislators are already investigating another scandal involving the Christie administration -- allegations that the governor's top aides orchestrated traffic jams in Fort Lee by blocking off lanes to the George Washington Bridge, possibly to punish the town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing the Republican governor for re-election.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party who is leading a legislative probe, said the new allegations may be part of a pattern of abuses of power in the Christie administration and would be treated seriously.
Republicans called the investigation partisan and called on Wisniewski to step down. Wisniewski said the investigation by his bipartisan panel would continue.
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