updated 10:20 p.m.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, already embroiled in a scandal over his aides’ alleged political payback plan to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee, is being hit by a barrage of new inquiries about his use of Hurricane Sandy relief money.
According to The New York Times, a severe storm last May prompted Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer to write to Governor Christie's office, begging for help with flooding. She was scheduled to meet with officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection the following day about ways to protect her city from future storm damage.
Emails sent among the participants, obtained by the Times, show that the first topic of discussion was “review of concepts for flood control measures at Rockefeller property,” a reference to a proposed office complex for the north end of town. The project's developer, the Rockefeller Group, sent two executives, two lobbyists and an engineer to the meeting, reported the Times.
The mayor has said that she received a call the following day saying that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, would visit Hoboken the following week. Ms. Zimmer, a Democrat, says that during that visit Ms. Guadagno told her the Rockefeller project was important to the governor and that the project needed to “move forward” if Mayor Zimmer hoped to receive relief money for Hurricane Sandy damage.
The heightened scrutiny into the Christie administration's dealings is starting to take a toll on the Republican governor. Once considered a frontrunning contender for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination, Christie is now trailing in polls behind other GOP hopefuls. According to a Washington Post/ABC poll out Thursday, Democrat Hillary Clinton crushes Christie's standing in a hypothetical 2016 match-up by over 20 points.
Federal investigators are looking into Mayor Zimmer's charges. The Christie administration denies linking the Rockefeller project to hurricane relief.
Said the Times: "The emails and interviews make clear that the development-wary mayor was coming under increasing and repeated pressure from politically connected lawyers working for Rockefeller Group and from the Christie administration."
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell Jr. --both of New Jersey -- are calling for a federal probe into the state’s dealing with a New Orleans-based firm that was hired to oversee the divvying up of approximately $600 million in federal homeowner relief following Hurricane Sandy.
The $68 million deal, made in May with Hammerman & Gainer Inc., was “suddenly” cancelled Dec. 6 without any reason, the two congressman said in a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
The two congressmen also want an independent monitor to look into the state’s usage of disaster recovery fund, concerned it was being “recklessly mismanaged.”
Christie’s spokesperson referred all inquiries to the state’s Department of Community Affairs. Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman there, told msnbc that the decision to end the relationship with the firm was “mutual” and “coordinated and efficient with no interruption in services.” Ryan added: “We will continue to cooperate with HUD in any and all reviews of Sandy CDBG Disaster Recovery programs that are administered to help Sandy-impacted residents and communities recover and rebuild. We are confident any review will show the State continues to manage Sandy recovery funds in the best interests of the people of New Jersey.”
Christie is already being audited by HUD for the potential misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief money to produce tourism ads featuring his family during his bed for a second term in office. To make matters worse, a new report alleges Christie helped direct $6 million in Sandy aid to a senior center and housing project in Belleville, a community not hit particularly hard by the storm. According to the Star-Ledger, Christie helped shortly before the town’s Democratic mayor endorsed Christie.
Christie officials, according to the newspaper, claimed the construction would help those nearby who were hit by the storm, but the newspaper found when the project was unveiled, the hurricane itself was barely mentioned.
Christie is proceeding as if it’s business as usual in the lead up to Sunday’s Super Bowl in the Garden State. Christie and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who has criticized the lane closures as “immoral” -- made a joint appearance in Jersey City for a Super Bowl kick-off concert on Monday, where the two were seen joking and chatting with their arms around each other. And on Wednesday, the governor held a press conference to discuss his efforts to prevent sex trafficking at the Super Bowl. He did not take questions.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey shows Christie’s popularity has taken a beating since so-called Bridgegate. Christie has apologized, but denied involvement or knowledge about the scheme. According to the poll, 29% have a negative impression of the Republican, compared to 22% having a positive one. Back in October, before the allegations blew up, 33% had a positive view while 17% had a negative one. And compared to the NBC/Marist poll two weeks ago, the number of Americans who believe Christie is lying has gone up. Now 44% believe the governor is lying, compared to 33%. The poll was taken before the latest allegations.
At the time, Christie's handling of Hurricane Sandy won him praise from the public, press, and fellow politicians. But now the storm seems to have damaged not just his state but his own standing.