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New Jersey official denies new accusation of Chris Christie bullying

PoliticsElectionsChris ChristieBridgegateState of the Union AddressHurricane Sandy (2012)

New Jersey’s lieutenant governor told reporters Monday that she never used Hurricane Sandy relief money to strong-arm the mayor of Hoboken, the latest allegation of political bullying to enmesh Gov. Chris Christie.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer this weekend told reporters that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno had warned her in May to back a redevelopment project supported by Christie or risk losing out on Sandy recovery funds.

“'This project is really important to the governor,’” Zimmer said, recounting what she said was their conversation during an appearance on CNN’s "State of the Union." “And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.”

Guadagno, speaking at a Monday event at Union Beach, another town hard hit by the storm, said that was “illogical.”

“Any suggestion, any suggestion, that any Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false,” she said.

“I thought I had a good relationship with the mayor of Hoboken,” Guadagno added. “In fact three months after this conversation she says we had occurred, I was walking on the streets with her in Hoboken talking about urban markets.”

Guadagno, who has focused her job on business development, said she has visited Hoboken 13 times and that Zimmer enlisted her help for another waterfront development. She did not take questions.

By her account, Zimmer said Guadagno pulled her aside when they appeared at the reopening of a supermarket that was wrecked by the storm. She said the lieutenant governor was pushing her to support a stalled high-rise project that has ties to some top supporters of Christie. Zimmer met Sunday with the U.S. Attorney’s office, which has opened an inquiry into the allegations.

Until now, Zimmer has been effusive in her praise for Christie; three months after what she says was the shakedown, she tweeted that she was “so glad he is governor of New Jersey.”

CNN reported that Zimmer had changed her account from a statement she gave the network last week.

"I don't think it was retaliation, and I don't have any reason to think it's retaliation, but I'm not satisfied with the amount of money I've gotten so far," CNN quoted Zimmer as saying last week about the Sandy funds.

On Sunday, Zimmer said she was worried earlier that no one would believe her.

“It’s outrageous, but it’s true and I stand by my word,” she said. She said she would be willing to repeat her charges under oath.

Last week, a New Jersey legislative investigative committee issued 20 subpoenas for records to top officials in Christie’s administration, seeking a year’s worth of  documents related to the decision to shut down approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge last fall.  Emails already obtained show Christie aides reveling in the massive traffic jams in Fort Lee and the difficulty it was causing the borough’s mayor, who did not endorse Christie’s bid for reelection.

In the wake of the bridge scandal, other charges of political intimidation have surfaced. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat, said meetings with Christie staffers were abruptly canceled after he rebuffed overtures from the campaign.

Federal auditors also are looking into Christie’s use of federal funds for the state’s “Stronger Than the Storm” tourism sales campaign for ads that featured Christie and his family. A New Jersey congressman who asked for the investigation said the winning proposal was more expensive than others, but the firm, defending its work, said it offered more services and did not initially propose using Christie in the ads.

The latest controversy overshadowed Christie’s fundraising trip to Florida, where he met major GOP donors in his role as head of the Republican Governor’s Assn. Christie, whose landslide reelection propelled him to the top of 2016 Republican presidential polls, will be inaugurated on Tuesday.

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joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

Twitter: @jtanfani

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