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Who is Dawn Zimmer?

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 10:31 PM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's at the center of political controversy again
  • Zimmer claims Christie administration conditioned Sandy aid on support for project
  • Republicans say Zimmer is playing partisan politics, betraying Christie
  • Zimmer says she's just fighting for her water-logged town

(CNN) -- Hoboken, New Jersey, Mayor Dawn Zimmer is again embroiled in a controversy over redevelopment in her community. The first one helped get her elected mayor. The second has added fuel to the fire of scandal consuming the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential candidate.

The stakes are high and Zimmer's right in the middle of it with her allegations the administration conditioned Superstorm Sandy relief money for her town to her support for a redevelopment project proposed by a company with ties to Christie.

Zimmer was a little-known Hoboken City Council president when she stepped in as its first female mayor in 2009 after Peter Cammarano was arrested in a pay-to-play scheme. He was convicted on federal charges and jailed.

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She made her mark in local politics working to stop a high-rise redevelopment plan, a controversy that played out in court. A Democrat, the wife of a diamond manufacturing executive, and the mother of two children, Zimmer was reelected in November.

Republicans paint her as one of many partisan opportunists seeking to derail Christie, who appeals to both GOP and Democratic voters in traditionally "blue" New Jersey.

Her allegations have added a new dimension to allegations of hardball politics gone awry in New Jersey under the leadership of Christie, hailed by many in his own party, and some Democrats, as a straight-shooter and a refreshing change from scripted politics.

"It's stunning. It's outrageous. But it's true," Zimmer told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" Sunday of her claims that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told her in a parking lot in May that Sandy funds were conditioned on her support for the redevelopment project.

Guadango said her dispatch is "a direct message from the governor," Zimmer said.

The allegations, denied by Guandango, are the first time an official has connected Christie directly to recent controversies plaguing his administration.

Hoboken mayor: 'It's true' Christie administration withheld Sandy funds

The turn of events is quite something considering she once tweeted during the Sandy aftermath that she was "very glad Governor Christie has been our Gov."

After Sandy, Hoboken was about 80% underwater. As mayor, Zimmer pleaded for relief and was dismayed when her city received only about $300,000 of the roughly $100 million in state funds the city requested for flood prevention.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed told CNN that Zimmer asked for $100 million from a roughly $300 million pot of money for which there was $14 billion worth of requests.

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Since that request, Reed said Hoboken has been approved for nearly $70 million in aid.

The city has also been identified as a pilot community for a federal program to prevent flooding, one of only four such projects in New Jersey.

Zimmer, however, had a different account of allocated funds.

She said the $70 million given to Hoboken was through flood insurance and other mechanisms that did not need approval from the state. She received only $300,000 in Christie-approved funds, she said.

Zimmer's comments Saturday and Sunday are also a change from what she told CNN the previous week, when she said that while she wondered whether Sandy aid funds were being withheld because she didn't endorse the governor's re-election, she concluded that "I don't think that's the case."

"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," Zimmer told CNN at the time, not mentioning her concerns about the redevelopment project.

But Sunday morning, Zimmer told CNN's Crowley that she didn't speak out before because she didn't think anyone would believe her, adding that she is now "offering to testify under oath."

CNN's Leigh Ann Caldwell, Chris Frates, Steve Kastenbaum and Cassie Spodak contributed to this report.

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