N.J. official denies playing politics with storm relief

TRENTON, N.J. — The lieutenant governor on Monday strongly denied a claim that Superstorm Sandy relief funding was withheld from a severely flooded city because the mayor wouldn’t sign off on a politically connected real estate venture.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno called Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims “false” and “illogical” at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration in Union City, the day before Gov. Chris Christie’s second-term inauguration.

Zimmer said Saturday that Guadagno pulled her aside at a supermarket opening in May and said Hoboken’s storm recovery funds hinged on Zimmer’s approval of a commercial development whose lawyer and lobbyist are close to the governor. On Sunday, Zimmer told CNN the ultimatum was delivered on behalf of the governor, a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

The mayor’s description of the conversation “is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined,” Guadagno said. “Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false.”

Zimmer, a Democrat, met with investigators from the U.S. attorney’s office for several hours Sunday afternoon and gave them journal entries she said were made at the time of the conversation. She has also offered to take a lie-detector test or testify under oath.

Federal authorities and state legislators are already investigating another scandal involving the Christie administration — allegations that the governor’s top aides orchestrated traffic jams in a northern New Jersey town by blocking off lanes to the George Washington Bridge, possibly to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing the Republican governor for re-election.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party who is leading a legislative probe, said the new allegations may be part of a pattern of abuses of power in the Christie administration and would be treated seriously.

Republicans called the investigation partisan and called on Wisniewski to step down. Wisniewski said the investigation by his bipartisan panel would continue.

Guadagno did not take questions Monday.

Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, a member of Christie’s cabinet and a second official who Zimmer said repeated the Sandy threat at a separate event in May, also issued a statement denying the mayor’s claims.

“Mayor Zimmer’s allegations are patently false and absurd on their face,” Constable said through spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. “I welcome a full and thorough law enforcement review of her libelous claims.”

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