New Jersey Governor Chris Christie visited Florida this weekend, on a trip likely intended to boost his profile as a potential presidential candidate. Instead, the scandal-plagued Republican arrived in the Sunshine State under a cloud. On Saturday Dawn Zimmer, the Democrat mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, claimed in a television interview that two of Christie’s close aides had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief funds from her city if she continued to oppose a major property development plan backed by the Governor.
Ms Zimmer told MSNBC that the Christie administration had held the recovery money “hostage”, and offered emails, public records and even her own diary entries as evidence. Though her city was badly hit by the hurricane in 2012 and requested $127m (£77m) in aid, Zimmer said Hoboken has received less than $400,000 from the state.
The mayor claimed that in her communications with Christie’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Community Affairs commissioner Richard Constable, the Governor’s aides explicitly linked the relief funds to the proposed development project in Hoboken. Developer the Rockefeller Group is in line to receive millions of dollars’ worth of tax incentives for the scheme. In her journal, Zimmer wrote of her disappointment with Christie: “I thought he was something very different… This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting.”
Christie aides expressed shock at the allegations, insisting the mayor and the Governor had worked together well. “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,” said the Governor’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak. “What or who is driving her only now to say such outlandishly false things is anyone’s guess.”
Another spokesman for Christie later released a statement blaming MSNBC for the scandal, and describing the news channel as, “a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him.”
Governor Christie won re-election in a landslide last year, and until recently was considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He was also named chairman of the Republican Governors Association, giving him a platform to build further on his existing national reputation – not least by visiting his fellow governors, such as Florida’s Rick Scott.
Yet rather than a rehearsal for a future campaign, Christie’s weekend in Florida now looks more like a welcome break from the string of indignities that began earlier this month with the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal. On Friday several Christie aides were served with subpoenas as part of an investigation into Bridgegate, which saw members the Governor’s staff conspire to close road lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York last year, causing traffic chaos in revenge for another local mayor’s failure to endorse Christie for re-election.
There is no evidence to suggest that Christie himself had direct knowledge of the plot, and he has said he was “blindsided” by the revelations. Federal investigators are also looking into allegations that the Governor misused Hurricane Sandy relief funds to produce tourism ads for the state featuring himself.