Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations against Christie have evolved
Each time Zimmer told her story, the number of people implicated grew
Documents contradict Zimmer's account of meeting with Sandy funds point man
Zimmer is accused of same tactics she is now alleging against Christie
The Democratic mayor at the center of one of the controversies swirling around Republican Gov. Chris Christie is, to put it politely, a woman of contradictions.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says the New Jersey governor threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy relief funds unless she got behind a redevelopment project he favors. It’s a story that has changed with the telling.
The inconsistencies don’t stop there. Hundreds of pages of court documents reviewed by CNN raise questions about her allegations against Christie and whether she deals in the same pay-to-play politics she’s alleging against him.
Zimmer’s allegations against Christie have evolved over time. Early on, she said she had no reason to think Christie had retaliated against her. About a week later, she had implicated four senior administration officials, including Christie, in a pressure campaign.
On Thursday, January 9, Christie held a marathon news conference and announced that he had dismissed two top advisers for their suggested roles in tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge in what may have been an act of political retaliation.
The next day, Zimmer was quoted by a local public radio station saying she was disappointed with how much flood mitigation money she received from the state. But she said she hoped it wasn’t retribution for not endorsing the governor during last year’s re-election race.
“With 20/20 hindsight, in the context we’re in right now, you can always look back and say, ‘OK, was it retribution?’ ” Zimmer told WNYC on that Friday. “I think probably all mayors are reflecting right now and thinking about it, but I really hope that that’s not the case.”
On Saturday, Zimmer went even farther, telling CNN, “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.”
Turns out, that wasn’t exactly true.
Zimmer did, in fact, have some reason to believe it was retaliation, a case she laid out a week later on MSNBC.
On Saturday, January 18, she told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno “pulled me aside” at an event in Hoboken and told her that getting Sandy relief funds hinged on supporting the redevelopment project on land owned by The Rockefeller Group.
Questions about Zimmer’s diary
Zimmer said the conversation was recorded in her diary in which she wrote:
“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 it 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. And if you tell anyone I said that, I will deny it.”
Also in the diary, Zimmer’s allegation that state Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable also conditioned Sandy relief funds on moving the development forward.
The day after the MSNBC interview, Zimmer directly implicated Christie, telling CNN’s Candy Crowley that when Guadagno spoke to her last May she was relaying “a direct message from the governor.”
When Crowley asked why she was coming forward now, Zimmer said she didn’t think anyone would have believed her last May. And she worried that if she didn’t say something before the next round of Sandy funding was released, Hoboken would be hurt.
“I was really concerned that if I came forward, no one believed me, that we would really be cut out of the Sandy funding. But as I watched the coverage with ‘Bridgegate,’ you do see parallels,” she said that Sunday. “I just felt I had an obligation to come forward and as I look for the second tranche of funding (to) come through, I’m concerned we’re going to be cut out.”
The next day, January 20, Zimmer told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that another state official had tied Sandy recovery money to development; she said she felt pressured by Marc Ferzan, who heads up New Jersey’s storm recovery.
Each time she told the story, the number of people she implicated in the pressure campaign grew.
Spokesman: Information came out in stages
Zimmer spokesman Juan Melli said, “The information came out in stages because Mayor Zimmer was asked different questions in each interview by various reporters. She was not presenting a legal case, but was simply answering the questions that she was asked. The U.S. attorney has asked considerably more questions and she will continue to provide them with all the information that they believe is relevant to their investigation.”
Melli didn’t answer the question of why Zimmer originally said she had no reason to believe Christie had retaliated against her.
Christie’s office responded to Zimmer’s claims by saying Hoboken has gotten millions in federal aid and called the charges “partisan politics.” A spokeswoman for Constable said they were “categorically false” – the same language a Christie spokesman used to describe the allegation against Ferzan. And Guadagno called Zimmer’s version of events “not only false but … illogical.”
CNN has obtained documents that contradict Zimmer’s story about her meeting with Ferzan, the governor’s point man for Sandy recovery.
Zimmer said on “Anderson Cooper 360˚” that when she asked for the administration’s support of a flood mitigation project, Ferzan told her, “‘Well, mayor, you need to let me know how much development you’re willing to do.’ That was the answer that I got back. So, I mean, that pressure is there.”
But, according to notes from the November 25 meeting taken by a source in the room, Zimmer spoke twice during the Sandy recovery briefing that included about 20 state and local officials. And neither time Ferzan addressed Zimmer’s concerns did it appear he was pressuring her, according to the notes.
The mayor’s spokesman said Zimmer, “stands by her statement regarding the conversation.”
Much of Zimmer’s allegations are based on a diary in which she says she took contemporaneous notes of her conversations with Guadagno and Constable.
Note-taking habits in question
But court records reviewed by CNN show that, in some cases, Zimmer doesn’t take notes when talking about city business.
In a successful wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former Hoboken public safety director, Zimmer was asked by the former director’s attorney, Louis Zayas, if she took notes during her meeting with city department heads.
“Generally, when I meet with directors, they know what they need to follow up on and they’re writing it down and so I look to the directors to be writing those things down,” Zimmer said according to court documents.
“But you don’t,” Zayas asked Zimmer.
“No, I don’t,” Zimmer answered, according to the deposition taken in July, just a few months after the conversation with the lieutenant governor she said she recorded in her diary.
In a set of written questions, Zimmer was asked, “Do you keep a diary, calendar or other means of keeping appointments and notes? If yes, identify the method by which you maintain your calendar.”
The mayor answered, “My calendar is kept in a Google account. The Google account as preceded by an Outlook calendar,” according to court documents.
Zayas said that Zimmer lied.
“I don’t believe she was truthful in her deposition that she didn’t have a diary. My client observed her on numerous occasions writing things down in a diary,” Zayas told CNN.
Indeed, Zayas’ client, Angel Alicea, told CNN that Zimmer took notes at every meeting.
Zayas added, “If she lied about something like that why would you believe that she wrote something contemporaneously at a future occasion. So my question would be, if she lied then, why would you believe her now?”
Zimmer’s attorney, Gerald Krovatin, said in a statement to CNN that “the plain language of the deposition makes clear that (Zayas) was referring to calendars and scheduling and appointments for the mayor and whether she takes notes at meetings. Those things bear no relationship to a personal diary or journal.”
“This mischaracterization is not surprising coming from Mr. Zayas, who has four pending lawsuits against the city and/or the mayor in which he has demonstrated a clear personal animosity towards the mayor,” he said.
Zayas also accused Zimmer of perjury, charging that she lied about how she prepared for her testimony, but the judge in the case ignored his claim. In an interview, Krovatin called it a “stunt by Zayas to generate a headline.”
A jury found that the city’s decision to terminate Alicea was “especially egregious” and that “upper management” either participated in or was indifferent to the wrongdoing. They awarded Alicea more than $1 million in back pay and punitive damages. They city is appealing.
A bit of a Jersey twist
Another lawsuit featured a bit of a Jersey twist. It essentially accused Zimmer of making the same kinds of threats that she has alleged against Christie.
In this case, the executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority sued Zimmer, arguing she created “an unwritten policy of political patronage or ‘pay to play’ to reward … political supporters,” according to court documents.
The director, Carmelo Garcia, accused a Zimmer ally of threatening his job unless he appointed Zimmer’s choice for general counsel.
“Unless Director Garcia awarded the government contract to the Law Firm, in particular, and implement (sic) Mayor Zimmer’s policies, in general, there would be efforts to make his job difficult to perform and, in effect, his job was at risk,” according to court documents.
Garcia told CNN, “I’ve been subjected to political bullying, I have been harassed, intimidated and retaliated against, simply because I had blown the whistle and I did not want to partake in a scheme that would require the mayor using the housing authority, which is supposed to be an autonomous entity, to basically give out contracts to politically connected law firms.”
He called Zimmer’s claims against Christie “ironic … almost like the pot calling the kettle black.”
Zimmer’s spokesman did not speak to the charge that she or her allies threatened Garcia’s job unless he hired her choice of attorney. Instead, he said that one of the suit’s other charges, namely that Zimmer was engaged in an “ethnic cleansing” initiative, called into question Garcia’s credibility.
A judge essentially dismissed Garcia’s case, but allowed him to amend and refile it.