Sandy Czar, We Hardly Knew Ye

Matt Katz | July 8, 2014 | Katz on Christie

The czar in charge of New Jersey’s Sandy recovery is resigning in the very same manner in which he ran some 50 programs dispensing federal storm aid: Quietly.

Marc Ferzan’s tenure as Gov. Christie’s point person for Sandy began in 2012 when the governor still enjoyed bipartisan popularity for the way he handled the immediate aftermath of the storm. But delays in distributing aid, mistakes in calculating need and a damning accusation from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer hurt Christie’s reputation and clouded Ferzan’s tenure.

Zimmer had alleged that Ferzan was one of several Christie officials to threaten to take aid away from Hoboken if she didn’t support an unrelated development project. Ferzan denied the allegations in a conference call with reporters. That was one of just two times in nearly two years that he took questions from reporters; he also turned down four requests to testify to the Legislature about the status of the recovery from the worst storm in modern New Jersey history.

Likewise, a request today to talk to Ferzan about his resignation was not answered by Christie’s spokesman.

Ferzan was well-liked inside the administration, sources said, and he was not pushed out. Notably, all of the Jersey Shore’s boardwalks reopened on his watch.

Sources say his departure has been long planned — he is leaving to take a teaching position at the University of Virginia — but Christie didn’t mention it when he held a Sandy press conference on Monday. Instead the resignation was reported by the Star-Ledger this morning and given secondary mention in a subsequent press release from the governor’s office announcing Ferzan’s replacement, Terrence Brody. 

“The people of New Jersey are better off for Marc’s leadership and I thank him for his commitment and his service,” Christie said in the statement. 

The Sierra Club applauded Ferzan’s departure, noting that the state had to cut ties with the biggest Sandy contractor, HGI, over alleged mismanagement. The group also said the state has failed to take rising sea level into account as it rebuilt the coastline after the storm.

Like Ferzan, Brody is an alumnus of the state Attorney General’s Office who also had a run-in with Zimmer. Brody was interviewed by Christie’s lawyers as part of an internal review of scandals that hit the administration last January, and in a summary of those interviews, Brody described how Zimmer yelled at him on the streets of lower Manhattan. Zimmer was apparently upset that the governor wasn’t immediately endorsing her application for a federal grant to protect Hoboken from future flooding: 

“Mayor Zimmer got very upset. The Mayor was emotional and raised her voice, to the point that she was yelling at him. Brody did not recall the exact details of how she responded, but that her remarks generally were that she felt she was not getting enough money for Sandy recovery. Brody then attempted to explain to the Mayor that there were limited funds that could be distributed, that [the Governor’s Office of Rebuilding and Recovery] was happy to work with her to protect Hoboken, and that an example of this work was the university study commissioned by GORR to look into the flooding causes, but that he could not get a word in to tell her this information. Before Brody could fully respond, Mayor Zimmer walked away, ending the conversation.”

Zimmer hasn’t addressed these allegations from Brody, but she ultimately won that grant. And an investigation by NJ Spotlight and WNYC found that the formula used to award Hoboken Sandy aid was flawed and not calculated accurately.  Administration officials attributed any shortfall to data-entry mistakes, not political revenge.