Saturday, January 18, 2014

The new Christie scandal...?

There's a lot to say about the President's NSA reforms -- a word some would put in quotes -- and we'll get to all of that very soon. Right now, let's look at the latest from Steve Kornacki, the reporter who brought us the "development deal" theory of the Christie bridge-gate scandal.

This could be bigger than the bridge...
Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken – 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.
Zimmer has, in fact, been making this claim for a while; see this WNYC interview with the mayor from eight days ago. Alas, we run into a conflict concerning motive. In the earlier interview, Zimmer felt that Hoboken was shortchanged because she did not endorse Christie in the governor's race.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says she had a face to face visit with Gov. Christie in the Spring, when he asked her to endorse him for re-election.

She told him she would be remaining neutral.

“He was quite disappointed, but I wouldn't say that he was angry. He was disappointed and said he would keep asking,” Zimmer said. "And I said, 'We can keep the conversation going but I don't expect to be changing my position.’ And I didn't.”
Now, she says she can't help but wonder if her decision not to endorse Christie played a role.
But in the new Zimmer/Kornacki interview, the story has shifted. It's no longer a tale of Christie becoming peeved over a non-endorsement; now, it's a story about a redevelopment deal gone weird.
In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.

“It’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken” because he wants support for one private developer, she said Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki.
The new story, we are told, is "supported by email, public records and Zimmer’s own diary entries." Okay. But the fact remains: This new story doesn't match Zimmer's previous story. That's a serious discrepancy, and Republicans will surely notice it.

Nevertheless, no-one can deny that giving a mere $300,000 in relief money to Hoboken is itself a scandal. And the tale of that redevelopment project is interesting in its own right.
The deal, as envisioned in 2008, would have awarded the Rockefeller Group – a New York developer – the right to redevelop a stretch of Hoboken. The project would have been eligible for tax incentives and it would have given the Rockefeller Group a much freer hand to build whatever they wanted while asking for millions in subsidies. If done right, it would have been an immensely lucrative deal in a town that has become a hip bedroom community of Manhattan.

Zimmer wasn’t against the deal but she wanted a professional study done on the projected development. The problem was that Hoboken’s finances were in disarray and she wanted to wait until the community was on sounder footing before spending the money for a study.
Christie arranged for the Port Authority (on which many a Christie crony sits) to give a grant of $75,000 to fund the study, conducted by the firm of Clarke Caton Hintz.
Finally, in January 2013, the firm – which was tasked with evaluating a 19-block area – concluded that only the three blocks in which the Rockefeller Group had an ownership stake were fit for redevelopment.

Zimmer’s team was concerned. The landowners for the other 16 blocks were angry. They hired a lawyer who called the study “curious, disturbing and suspect to the say the least.”
The Rockefeller group hired a powerful law firm run by David Samson, also of the Port Authority and close to Christie. They put a ton of pressure on the lawyer representing those other landowners...
Email obtained by msnbc shows a raft of exchanges between the town of Hoboken and the law firm until May 8 when the Hoboken Planning Board voted 4-3 against the project, finding “insufficient evidence” to designate those three blocks for redevelopment.

Instead, the board declared the entire 19 block area “in need of rehabilitation.” The designation didn’t make it impossible for the Rockefeller Group to get what it wanted but it was a strong signal that Zimmer’s team wasn’t going to roll over for them.
That's when Sandy hit.

Hoboken received only one percent of the relief money it asked for. Shortly thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno met with Zimmer at an event in Hoboken to spolight recovering businesses...
Zimmer shared this diary entry which she said she wrote later that day. “At the end of a big tour of ShopRite and meeting, she pulls me aside with no one else around and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It is very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right – these things should not be connected – but they are, she says, and if you tell anyone, I will deny it.”
A short time later, according to Zimmer, she met with Christie's Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable at another public ceremony.
“We are mic’ed up with other panelists all around us and probably the sound team is listening. And he says “I hear you are against the Rockefeller project”. I reply “I am not against the Rockefeller project; in fact I want more commercial development in Hoboken.” “Oh really? Everyone in the State House believes you are against it – the buzz is that you are against it. If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you” he tells me.
Constable denies that any such discussion took place. But if the mics really were hot, we may have objective proof.

If you want to do further research into what the Rockefeller Group has in mind, see this story from 2010:
The company that built New York’s famed Rockefeller Center says it is putting the finishing touches on plans to construct a skyline-altering project in Hoboken’s industrial northern end.

The Rockefeller Group has been talking with Hoboken city leaders for the better part of two years as the firm continued buying up land between Park Avenue and Clinton Street near the Weehawken Cove, according to the company.
Apparently, the big problem is that the area where the proposed skyscrapers are to go up is zoned industrial at present.
Last week, Julie Roginsky, a representative from Rockefeller Group, declined to say exactly what the company hopes to build.
"Declined to say"? Hm. You know what I'm thinking? Casinos. Less than ten minutes away from Times Square. Of course, that's just blue-sky conjecture on my part, backed by no hard evidence whatsoever. But the idea makes sense, doesn't it? 

Fun fact: The warehouses which store the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are located in this area.

Since the project will bring an economic boom to Hoboken, I'd like to know more about why Zimmer and the Planning Board have raised objections. That's the part of the story Kornacki leaves vague. $75,000 isn't that much money for a study, especially when you consider the millions in additional tax revenue this project will bring in. Does Zimmer have an angle here that she's not talking about?

It's New Jersey. We may be dealing with a situation in which the corruption extends to all parties.

Even so, nothing would excuse the use of Sandy relief money as a device to put pressure on a mayor who won't play ball.


Michael said...

"Even so, nothing would excuse the use of Sandy relief money as a device to put pressure on a mayor who won't play ball."

You can say that again. Furthermore, it would be a CRIMINAL case - extortion & racketeering - involving FEDERAL money. That's a new ball game.

Michael said...

There's more I'd like to say.

Read this piece by Brian Murphy, the reporter interviewed by Kornacki. It has a lot more details and timelines.

One thing that strikes me after reading it: It's smelling more and more like David Samson is the guy at the top of this thing, not Christie (who may be nothing more than a pol serving as Samson's flunkie).


Alessandro Machi said...

Casinos destabilize economies. Patrons lose money overall, and if any of that debt goes on a credit card, it is nothing more than a perpetual interest rate charge tax that the city will never see.

Plus, the mayor simply wanted the entire area designated for improvement rather than the top of the muffin.

Alessandro Machi said...

Using federal funds (aka taxpayer money) to force another political figure to do something, (and by force I mean not getting money to fix a natural disaster damage unless they greenlight a non relevant project) could be considered a federal hobbs act violation, extortion under the color of right.

That photo co-op of Obama and Christie looks more and more tarnished by the day, on Christie's side, not Obama's.

When does the investigation into the mysterious fire that destroyed 80% of the Coney Island rebuild commence? Although the rumor there is it might have been initiated by union people who were cut out of the rebuild.

Anonymous said...

This is all pretty hinky, certainly not the image Christie has been trying to capture for his future political ambitions. I've been reading for months that various cities and townships have been howling over the way Sandy funds were being distributed to storm damaged areas. Moderate to low-income residents have been largely left to fend for themselves. Many have been forced into foreclosure.

If anything, Zimmer's claim of being strong armed begins to cast a withering light on the Big Guy's way of doing things: give us what we want or you and your people are on your own. The shameful release of $300,000 to an area that was 80% underwater is evidence enough that something wasn't right. With Zimmer's comments we have an inkling as to why. It will be interesting to see if other mayors come forward complaining of similar treatment. Of course the irony here is Hoboken's mayor was a Christie enthusiast. If this is what they do to friends, we can only imagine what happens to enemies!

In both cases, Hoboken and Fort Lee, this appears to be all about development projects and Christie wanting to designate who and what gets the biggest piece of the pie. The Port Authority appears to be populated by a bunch of vultures.

Money and influence. Always comes down to the same thing. Country of Giants! Or Midgets depending on your point of view.


PS: Christie is in Florida now, beating the bushes for GOP donations. It will be interesting to see how far he gets. I read one article saying people we're coming out to functions because of morbid curiosity. That doesn't found good! :0)