One week ago today, we covered in detail serious allegations from the Democratic Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey against Chris Christie's administration. Dawn Zimmer claimed that two high-ranking Christie officials -- including the Lieutenant Governor -- told her that aid for her city's recovery from the storm was contingent on her approval of a building development deal favored by the governor. I discussed several curious elements of this accusation at the time, noting the Mayor's unqualified praise of Christie several months after this alleged shakedown attempt took place, and citing a local reporter to whom Zimmer had floated a different version of her story the previous week. I also reported that MSNBC's coverage of the story they broke was deeply misleading in regards to funding. The original report led readers to believe that Hoboken had been starved of virtually any assistance, receiving a $350,000 pittance compared to the more than $100 million in requested funds. In truth, Hoboken has been approved for about $70 million in federal and state relief and recovery help, with more on the way, pending the approval of the Obama administration.
Over the course of the week, additional facts and accounts came to light that cast further doubt on Zimmer's claims, the only "evidence" of which are unverifiable scrawlings from a diary she said she wrote last May. CNN reported that Zimmer had explicitly denied any withheld Sandy funds were the result of any political machinations just one week prior to changing her story for MSNBC. In addition, a Democratic mayor of a different New Jersey town -- who, according to Zimmer's account, was present for one of the extortionary encounters -- stated for the record that his recollection does not coincide with hers. He went on to praise Team Christie for their professionalism and responsiveness in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Zimmer has since announced that she won't comment publicly on her allegations any further, in accordance with a supposed request from investigators. With her story unraveling, the Associated Press is out with a new analysis that strikes another blow against her credibility:
The city whose Democratic mayor said GOP Gov. Chris Christie's administration tied Superstorm Sandy aid to her support for a real estate project has, so far, received a level of aid from state-run programs that is similar to what other towns got, a review of grant data shows. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer is no longer discussing her allegations that New Jersey's second-largest city has been shortchanged on Sandy funds, that its aid is being held "hostage" as political leverage or that she feared further retribution in the next round of funding.
The empirical data:
Hoboken has so far received two state grants from pools of state-controlled money, according to a review by The Associated Press. The state awarded $25 million for energy projects to help deal with outages; Hoboken received $142,080 — the same amount as 39 other recipients. The state also provided money to communities hit by the storm to hire experts and come up with long-term recovery plans; Hoboken's $200,000 grant was the fourth-highest allocation among the 35 local governments in the program.
In other words, the alleged "harm" is a figment of Zimmer's imagination and is not supported by the cold, hard facts. Her city has received state relief aid that closely resembles the level of funds granted to similar municipalities. In response to this revelation, a Zimmer spokesman appears to be shifting the nature of the mayor's complaint yet again:
Her spokesman, Juan Melli, said the fact that Hoboken is about on par with other towns in getting a modest amount of aid from state-run programs doesn't mean the city has received what it deserves, given the damage it suffered when Sandy flooded virtually the entire city. The problem, he said in an interview last week, is that New Jersey hasn't created Sandy aid programs designed to help places like Hoboken, a city of 50,000 across the Hudson River from New York City. Most of the communities devastated by Sandy were towns on the Jersey shore. "We're a densely populated urban environment," Melli said. "(The programs) make sense in other places, but they don't make much sense here."
A gripe that the current system of allocating funds needs to be updated may be well-founded, but it's a far cry from "Governor Christie withheld our funds in furtherance of a corrupt scheme." The Christie administration forcefully and categorically denied Zimmer's contentions from the moment they were uttered on MSNBC. The vast preponderance of the evidence that has emerged since last Saturday is exculpatory towards Christie. In an email to reporters, Christie spokesman Colin Reed says the AP story quoted above further "discredits" Zimmer's statements, proving that they're "false." In certainly looks like Mayor Zimmer has some explaining to do -- but, conveniently, she now says won't be doing any more talking. More than ever, her complaint reeks of a Democratic politician seeking national recognition by fabricating an allegation to further harm an embattled, high-profile Republican governor on the heels of a separate controversy.