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Christie’s Mastro Mistake: Report Backfires Politically, Legally

The Mastro report left out DiMaggio’s initial recollection that Guadagno said “if Mayor Zimmer didn’t play ball then there’s not much we can do,” and used the not “playing ball” or “playing well with others” line. It then concluded that “DiMaggio’s recollection is consistent with the lieutenant governor’s recollection of pushing back against the mayor’s insistence on getting more Sandy aid for Hoboken without regard to the profound needs of the entire state.”

That conclusion, of course, doesn’t fit nearly so well with DiMaggio’s initial recollection, which actually fits more neatly with Zimmer’s contention that if she didn’t support the Rockefeller Group high-rise, there wasn’t much the Christie administration would do about getting her city the Sandy aid to which it as entitled -- and which it was indeed shortchanged.

The Mastro report’s selective use of the DiMaggio interview memo in its final report pales in comparison to its failure to include key material from the interview memos with Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable and Belmar Democratic Mayor Matthew Doherty concerning Zimmer’s conversation with Constable at a Sandy aid forum at Monmouth University three days later.

The Mastro report went to great lengths to establish that Constable could not have repeated Guadagno’s threat to withhold Sandy aid if she did not support the Rockefeller Group project. “It strains credulity to think that a threat tying Sandy aid to a private development project would be made while on a public stage” with Doherty and Murray sitting on either side of them.

In a section cited “An Independent Witness Contradicts Mayor Zimmer’s Account,” the Mastro report cited Doherty, who has repeatedly expressed his appreciation for Christie’s support for rebuilding Belmar, as saying “he did not hear Commissioner Constable say anything about any quid pro quos or make any threats.”

That would be devastating to Zimmer’s case -- except that the Mastro report’s nine-page section declaring that “Mayor Zimmer’s Allegations About Commissioner Constable Do Not Withstand Scrutiny” completely left out the fact Doherty -- like Constable -- told his lawyer interviewer that Constable and Zimmer discussed both the Rockefeller project and Sandy aid on stage.

According to the Doherty interview memo, “Doherty explained that Constable and Zimmer had indeed discussed both economic development and Hoboken’s multimillion-dollar hazard mitigation proposal. Doherty stated that he remembered the cost of the mitigation project because it was so large in comparison to Belmar’s small request.”

Doherty, who was interviewed by phone by Mastro four times and spent considerable time discussing what he would be comfortable saying publicly, insisted that “Constable never implied that there was quid pro quo. “But his recollection of the conversation is much less detailed than Constable’s, showing he may have missed some of it.

“Constable recalled that Mayor Zimmer said something about moving forward with the Rockefeller project,” the Constable interview transcript noted. “Constable believed she used the word Rockefeller, but was not sure. In response, Constable recalled generally saying something to the effect that he did not think she was in favor of commercial development. Constable recalled generally that Mayor Zimmer responded that she was in favor of commercial development in Hoboken."

“Constable recalled that he offered to set up a meeting with Tony Marchetta, the executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and Michele Brown, the head of the Economic Development Authority, to discuss commercial development in Hoboken. Mayor Zimmer replied something along the lines of that would be great,” the memo noted.

Constable’s remark questioning whether Zimmer was “in favor of commercial development” -- which is Guadagno’s principal mission as lieutenant-governor -- may very well have been prompted by an earlier meeting Constable attended with Zimmer and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin in Trenton two months earlier to discuss the Hoboken flood mitigation plan that had been designed by the Rockefeller Group.

According to the Constable interview memo, “Following Constable’s March 5, 2013 meeting with Mayor Zimmer and DEP, Martin subsequently joked about the irony of Mayor Zimmer talking about development -- suggesting something along the lines of, in a joking manner, Mayor Zimmer was part of the ‘Birkenstock’ crowd of folks typically not in favor of development.”

The view of Zimmer as antidevelopment was widespread within the Christie administration. Chief Counsel Charles McKenna, who never even met Zimmer, understood from the weekly Sandy working group meetings in the governor’s office that “Mayor Zimmer was not necessarily the easiest person to deal with” and he “understood that there was some redevelopment project in Hoboken that Zimmer was on the fence about,” McKenna’s interview memo reported.

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