MSNBC is lucky to have Steve Kornacki because his extensive experience covering New Jersey politics is paying off in spades now that its time to report on the intricate ways in which the governor’s office interacts with Democratic politicians, the Port Authority, real estate developers, and high-powered law firms. On his program Up With Steve this morning, Mr. Kornacki spent more than twenty minutes explaining how a mere four acres of land in the northern end of Hoboken became a hostage for the whole city’s Superstorm Sandy relief.
I can’t explain it any more concisely, but the barest-bone summary is that Governor Christie wanted Hoboken to approve a three block area for redevelopment, which is a technical term that would allow for huge subsidies. The three blocks are owned by the Rockefeller Group, a New York-based developer. When the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, would not go along with approving just those three blocks for redevelopment, Governor Christie sent two members of his administration to make a blunt demand, which was that Sandy relief would not be forthcoming until the real estate plan was approved. Importantly, Ms. Zimmer kept a journal in which she documented these threats at the time, and she provided that journal to MSNBC:
Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.
The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken – 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.
In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.
“It’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken” because he wants support for one private developer, she said Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki.
It’s significant that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is implicated in this scheme because she would succeed Chris Christie in the governor’s office if he felt it necessary to resign.
This story gives me a bit of an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, this is North Jersey we are talking about, and Mayor Zimmer comes off as if she were literally “born yesterday.” On the other hand, she originally became mayor because her predecessor accepted a bribe in return for giving favorable treatment to a man posing as a real estate developer, and that sting operation was run by Christie’s U.S. Attorney’s office. The irony there is quite rich.
Finally, even though it’s nothing new for a New Jersey governor to throw his weight around to smooth a redevelopment project, holding up disaster relief funding is unconscionable, showing again that the Christie administration has taken traditional Jersey corruption to a whole new level.