By Angela Delli Santi
TRENTON, N.J.: New Jersey’s lieutenant governor said Wednesday that allegations that she threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy aid to a city in need will be included in a report from Gov. Chris Christie’s own investigation on scandals rocking the administration.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told The Associated Press to “wait for the governor’s internal report,” when asked why the mayor of Hoboken accused her and another Cabinet official of making the threat. It’s the first indication the scope of the review will extend beyond a scandal surrounding lane closures near the George Washington Bridge.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused the governor’s office of threatening to withhold recovery aid to her city unless she approved a redevelopment project represented by the law firm of a powerful Christie ally. The administration denies the charges.
In a speech before dozens of municipal mayors at the New Jersey Statehouse on Wednesday, Guadagno mentioned Hoboken and nearby Jersey City as examples of successful economic redevelopment. Zimmer was not at the event, but Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was in the audience.
Both Democratic mayors have said their relationship with the Christie administration deteriorated after they declined to endorse the Republican’s re-election bid. Christie has also been dogged by allegations that his staff engineered traffic jams in Fort Lee to punish a Democratic mayor.
Christie, 51, was attempting to score as many Democratic endorsements as possible before last November’s election to burnish his bipartisan credentials ahead of a possible 2016 presidential bid. But the scandals that broke open in January have threatened to derail such a run.
Zimmer, who stood next to Christie in the days after Sandy flooded and battered her city, recounted a conversation in which Guadagno allegedly said the message to approve the redevelopment or lose out on untold millions in Sandy aid came from Christie.
Fulop, meanwhile, said meetings with Christie’s Cabinet were abruptly canceled — in successive phone calls to his office and with no offers to reschedule — after he declined to endorse the governor.
Those claims came after Christie’s administration found itself embroiled in a scandal over apparently politically motived traffic jams involving the George Washington Bridge.
In that case, a lawyer for Christie’s former campaign manager demanded that a state investigatory panel turn over emails referenced in a court hearing Tuesday. Former Christie political adviser Bill Stepien is attempting to quash a subpoena requiring him to turn over documents involving a plot to block traffic near the bridge.
Meanwhile, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson has asked to hear from both sides on whether the legislative panel has the power to grant immunity.
Christie said in December that no one in his office or on his political team was involved in the lane closings, a claim he was forced to retract in January when emails revealed that an aide appeared to set the scheme in motion with the message, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The aide, Bridget Kelly, whom Christie fired, is also seeking to have her subpoena withdrawn.
The governor then hired New York lawyer Randy Mastro to review the traffic scheme and help the governor’s office comply with document subpoenas. There is no word from Christie’s office how soon Mastro will be done with the review or whether his report will be released.
The U.S. attorney’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the lane closings, while a state legislative panel digs into how high up Christie’s chain of command the plot originated and why it was hatched.
Zimmer was contacted by Mastro, but replied in a letter that it would be inappropriate to be interviewed by someone working for the administration. She has been cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s investigation, her spokesman said.
Asked what she would say if Zimmer had attended the mayors’ legislative day session, Guadagno said she would tell the mayor to call if she has an issue regarding development in her town. Guadagno frequently gives out her cellphone number and invites municipal officials to call for help, especially regarding business retention or development.
Zimmer declined to comment Wednesday.