According to Zimmer, it was Grifa who encouraged Zimmer to apply for a $75,000 grant from the Port Authority to conduct a study about what to do with a 19-acre tract being considered for redevelopment in northern Hoboken.
Zimmer met with Bill Baroni, the Port Authority deputy executive director whom Christie relied upon along with Samson and director of interstate capital projects David Wildstein to oversee New Jersey’s interests at the bistate agency. The Port Authority agreed to approve a Local Assistance Grant for the study and awarded it to the firm of Clarke Caton Hintz.
It was not until early 2013, while Hoboken was still recovering after being 80 percent flooded by superstorm Sandy, that the firm recommended that only the three acres owned by the Rockefeller Group were suitable for redevelopment.
By this time, Grifa had rejoined Wolff & Samson after a two-year stint in the Cabinet and, after refraining from participating in cases before state and local government agencies for the required year, she was now representing the Rockefeller Group in its application in Hoboken as the firm’s director of regulatory affairs.
Christie had lauded Grifa as a friend and trusted colleague when she left state government, but criticized her six months later after reporters forced his administration to acknowledge that nearly $300 million in federal aid to help homeowners avert foreclosure sat unclaimed for almost a year because the anti-fraud measures set by Grifa’s agency prevented virtually anyone from qualifying.
“Sometimes, I know it’s going to be shocking for everyone to hear, government doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to,” Christie said famously.
According to emails that presumably were among the documents Zimmer turned over to the U.S. Attorney, the city’s planning attorney felt pressured by Grifa’s request that he hold a conference call with her and the powerful Samson, and by her assumption that the project would be approved and fast-tracked for development. The planning attorney refused to take the call.
When the Hoboken Planning Board finally voted on May 8, it heeded the objections of the lawyer representing owners of the other 16 blocks in the redevelopment area and did not recommend approval of the Rockefeller Group project. However, the City Council would get to make the final decision.
It was five days later, on May 13, Zimmer alleged, that Guadagno told Zimmer she had met with Christie and he wanted the Rockefeller Group project approved or the administration would hold up needed Sandy aid. Three days later, on May 16, Zimmer said that Grifa’s successor, state Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, also told her that he had heard she was opposed to the Rockefeller Group project and should support it if she wanted to get aid money flowing.
Both Guadagno and Constable denied Zimmer’s account of their discussions in statements issued yesterday and over the weekend.
As to the Rockefeller Group proposal to build an office tower on the site, its redevelopment plan remains in limbo, as do the plans of those who own the other 16 acres of the 19-acre site. “We have no knowledge of any information pertaining to this allegation,” the Rockefeller Group said in a statement issued over the weekend. “If it turns out to be true it would be deplorable.”
Meanwhile, how Samson will end his public service career also remains in limbo. Wildstein, the Port Authority appointee who ordered the lane closures at the apparent direction of Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, has resigned, as has Baroni. Kelly was fired by Christie, who also severed ties with Bill Stepien, the campaign manager with whom Samson worked closely as campaign counsel in 2009.
Samson is definitely near the top of the list of Christie administration officials who will be called in to testify publicly by the Assembly Select Committee on Investigations chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and/or the Senate panel chaired by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), which meets tomorrow to discuss subpoenas. Samson’s colleague, Wildstein, the first to testify under oath, took the Fifth Amendment more than 30 times. That’s a prospect Samson, a former attorney general, would certainly like to avoid.
Scott Gurian contributed to this story.