Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration on Monday pushed back against a claim that it had tied Superstorm Sandy recovery funds to support for a prime real estate project in a severely flooded city.
New Jersey Lt.-Gov. Kim Guadagno said the allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer were "wholly and completely false."
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Last weekend, the Democratic mayor ratcheted up her allegation about the funding link and said that she had turned over documents to a federal prosecutor investigating his staff.
Guadagno pushed back unequivocally against the accusations, which are part of broader political trouble dogging possible presidential aspirant Christie since he fired two aides in a bridge-traffic scandal two weeks ago.
"Frankly, I'm surprised that Mayor Zimmer has chosen to miscategorize a conversation I had with her about a project in Hoboken," Guadagno said in a news conference carried on CNN.
Christie aide: Hoboken treated no differently
Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, calls the claim a "mischaracterization."
In a conference call with reporters, Ferzan said Hoboken has been treated no differently than other cities with respect to storm relief funds.
He said the state has received more than $14 billion US in requests statewide for hazard mitigation grants but has only about $300 million US to disburse.
"Obviously $300 million versus $14 billion, that's a big delta," Ferzan said.
Zimmer has proposed a comprehensive flood mitigation plan and has applied for $100 million in grants to help make it happen.
Ferzan added the state has tried to prioritize its funding and programs to address the "communities most in need" and purposely directed most of the recovery funding toward homeowners, business owners and renters.
Zimmer says she'll testify under oath
On Saturday, Zimmer said Guadagno and a top community development official separately told her that recovery funds would flow to her city if she expedited the commercial development project by the New York-based Rockefeller Group.
On Sunday, she went a step further and said on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley that Guadagno told her the request "was a direct message from the governor."
"The lieutenant-governor pulled me aside and said, essentially, 'You've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor.' And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor," Zimmer recalled Guadagno saying.
Christie spokesman Colin Reed issued a statement Sunday, saying, "Mayor Zimmer's categorization about her conversation in Hoboken is categorically false."
Zimmer said in a statement Sunday night that she will "provide any requested information and testify under oath about the facts of what happened when the lieutenant-governor came to Hoboken and told me that Sandy aid would be contingent on moving forward with a private development project."
Hoboken, a low-lying city of 50,000 across from Manhattan, 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 highrises because elevators didn't work and lobbies were under water.
The superstorm spawned in October 2012 is the worst natural disaster in New Jersey. It killed people in 10 states, but New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest.
Athlete alleges retribution
The Christie administration is currently being investigated by federal authorities and state legislators for allegations that the governor's aides orchestrated traffic jams between George Washington Bridge and Fort Lee, possibly to punish the town's mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
On Monday, nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis said he also had experienced retribution from the governor's office.
Lewis said Christie dropped a plan to appoint him the state's first physical fitness ambassador when he launched a political campaign against a Christie friend.
Lewis, a Democrat, said Christie called personally to dissuade him from entering the 2011 state Senate race.
Lewis withdrew from the Senate race after a court ruled he didn't meet a residency requirement.
"The governor put his people together to get me out of the race," said Lewis, who now lives in Houston.
The Christie administration didn't immediately return an email message from The Associated Press seeking comment on what Lewis said.