UNION BEACH, N.J. — As allegations of misuse of power by the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continue to surface, two of the governor's top officials are fighting back, calling accusations that they tried to strong-arm the mayor of Hoboken into approving a development both "illogical" and "libelous."
On Monday, it was Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno's turn to fend off Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claim that the lieutenant governor told her Sandy money would begin to flow to Hoboken once a project pitched by David Samson's law firm was approved.
Christie, a Republican, appointed and named Samson board chairman at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge. Zimmer said Guadagno told her that the development project was very important to Christie.
"Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined," Guadagno said during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance in Union Beach, N.J. "Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false."
Zimmer also said that state Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable had repeated the ultimatum. Constable, too, fired back.
"Mayor Zimmer's allegations are patently false and absurd on their face. I welcome a full and thorough law enforcement review of her libelous claims," Constable said.
The two responses were among the strongest yet in the administration's battle to deal with a series of scandals that have threatened to engulf the governor's second term, scheduled to begin at noon Tuesday with Christie's inauguration in Trenton.
Christie also is facing an investigation by the Legislature, as well as a possible probe by the U.S. Attorney and a U.S. Senate panel, into the closings of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge that caused massive traffic jams for four days in September before Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye ordered the access lanes reopened.
The administration's involvement surfaced in early January with the release of e-mails that indicated that at least one member of his staff had prior knowledge of the closing of access lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge.
Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the lane closings and fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who knew of the closings before they happened. Also fired was Christie's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who made derogatory remarks about Sokolich in e-mails after the closings began to attract media attention.
In addition, a federal audit is being conducted on how money was spent on a $25 million Sandy-recovery ad campaign that featured Christie. The governor's office has argued that the funds were spent responsibly and the advertising agency chosen to conduct the campaign provided the best value for the money.
The Hoboken allegations, however, have taken front stage the last several days, with Zimmer standing firm in her claims that Guadagno and Constable, at the behest of Christie, sought to link the approval of the development to the release of Sandy money, approaches she said were documented in a journal she kept.
"I am genuinely disappointed that Lt. 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 in a prepared statement.
The allegations, Guadagno said, surprised her because she had worked closely with Zimmer on several development projects and had visited Hoboken at least 13 times.
"I thought I had a good relationship with the mayor of Hoboken," Guadagno said. "In fact, just three months after this conversation she said we had occurred I was walking on the streets with her in Hoboken talking to her about urban markets — just three months after this conversation she said we had and five months before she went to MSNBC."
Local officials attending the Guadagno event in Union Beach defended Christie.
If the governor and his administration had any reason to hold a grudge, it would be against him, said Fred Rast, the Republican mayor of Atlantic Highlands. Rast backed Steve Lonegan for governor and continues to have a close relationship with the former gubernatorial candidate.
"Why wouldn't he take shots at me?" Rast said. As for the accusations made by Zimmer against Guadagno, "If for any reason, if I was ever threatened because I didn't do whatever, I would raise the issue immediately," Rast said.
Rast said the delay in bringing up the allegations makes even less sense when they could have had a much greater impact before the election.
Contributing: Michael Symons, Ken Serrano and Margaret F. Bonafide, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press