Guadagno, Ferzan Dispute Hoboken Mayor’s Allegations About Sandy Funds

NJ Spotlight, WNYC | January 21, 2014 | More Issues, Politics, Sandy
In rare press conferences, lieutenant governor and Sandy ‘czar’ argue there was no quid pro quo for recovery funding

Marc Ferzan, New Jersey's Sandy relief 'czar,' refutes Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claim that storm relief funds were "held hostage" for political reasons.
The Christie administration moved quickly on Monday to dispute allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that they tied the release of Sandy recovery funds to her approval of a Hoboken real estate project proposed by the Rockefeller Group and represented by the law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson.

The administration rolled out two press conferences Monday, rare in that they featured two officials — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Sandy “czar” Marc Ferzan — who are not known to speak to the press.

Early Monday, Guadagno held a press conference in Union Beach, in which she said she was surprised that Mayor Dawn Zimmer would “mischaracterize a conversation” between them.

“Standing in Union Beach as we are today, with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated by Sandy and being a Sandy victim myself, makes these allegations particularly offensive to me,” she said.

“In short, 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 took no questions, beginning her comments warning the assembled media not to expect her to respond beyond her statement.

Zimmer yesterday stuck to her allegations and noted that Guadagno had warned her she would deny the threat if it were ever made public.

“I am genuinely disappointed that Lt. Gov. 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 written statement.

Zimmer says she “met with the U.S. Attorney for over two hours yesterday, answered all their questions and turned over my journal in which I described my conversation with the lieutenant governor and Commissioner Constable. I stand by my word, remain willing to testify under oath, and I will continue to answer any questions asked of me by the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

The redevelopment deal in Hoboken was being handled by Samson’s law firm. Samson has been named in subpoenaed documents as one of the close Christie confidantes involved in keeping the Bridgegate scandal quiet. The deal in question is a high-rise office tower where a warehouse now stands; the local planning board rejected the redevelopment plan.

Later in the day, Ferzan held a call-in phone conference to dispute the details of Zimmer’s account. Ferzan oversees the state’s Sandy recovery effort. It was the first time he’s broken his silence and spoken to reporters since being tapped over a year ago to head the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding.

Ferzan refuted Mayor Zimmer’s claim that state officials had held Sandy funding hostage, and he said any suggestion that Hoboken was shortchanged recovery dollars was a mischaracterization and an oversimplification of how the aid process works.

“There’s some suggestion out there that Hoboken has not received grant funding that other communities have,” he said, adding that, “We’ve tried to have an objective process. We’ve tried to design programs with application criteria that are objective, that prioritize the communities most in need with the least financial resources, and I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Hoboken applied for over $100 million dollars in aid through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and got just $342,000, but Ferzan said the city and its residents have received or been promised nearly $70 million through other sources. He also said that the reality is that there simply isn’t enough Sandy recovery money for everyone who would like it.

“If you look at our recovery programs in totality, I’m scratching my head a little bit about any community that’s [claiming they’re] getting the short end of the stick, other than to say that I understand we’ve got very limited resources at our disposal to date,” he said.

Ferzan declined to comment, however, on Zimmer’s allegation that top administration officials personally threatened to withhold aid if she didn’t support a real estate project. The Christie administration has issued several press releases over the past few days, saying that the contention that political considerations were a factor in the state’s decision about whom to help is simply untrue.

Scott Gurian, Sarah Gonzalez, and Matt Katz contributed to this report.