The Democratic mayor of a town severely flooded by Superstorm Sandy said Sunday that she was told an ultimatum tying recovery funds to her support for a prime real estate project came directly from Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a claim a Christie spokesman called "categorically false."
"I 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," she said in a statement Sunday night.
Earlier Sunday, Zimmer told CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" that the message pushing a commercial development by the New York-based Rockefeller Group was delivered by Kim Guadagno, Christie's lieutenant governor, when she and Guadagno were at an event in Hoboken in May to celebrate the opening of a new supermarket.
"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."
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 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.
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.
Zimmer said another member of Christie's administration, Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, approached her later in May to reiterate what the lieutenant governor had said. According to Zimmer, he told her Sandy aid "would start flowing" to Hoboken if she backed the development project.
Lisa Ryan, a spokesman for Constable, said Zimmer's claim was false and questioned why she waited eight months to come forward. Ryan also asked why Zimmer didn't take her concern to authorities "if she was so distraught."
Associated Press writer Katie Zezima contributed to this report.