Current and past mayors in 13 Jersey Shore communities say disaster funds were pledged with no strings attached.
ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Current and past Democratic and Republican mayors in 13 Jersey Shore communities say they know of no instances where the Christie administration sought to use Sandy disaster aid as a political weapon, as the mayor of Hoboken has claimed.
The officials who sought that aid — including two Democrats who bucked their party by publicly endorsing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for re-election — insist the funds were pledged with no political strings attached.
"I never had, never wanted, never sought and was never offered any kind of quid pro quo for an endorsement," said Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider, one of the Democrats contacted in the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press' survey of the mayors Monday. "I made it clear I didn't want one, and they made it clear they weren't offering."
Together, the municipalities the mayors represent were allocated more than $68 million in federal public assistance funds administered by the state to cover the cost of removing debris and repairing or replacing public infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the storm, according to the latest tallies published on the administration's disaster relief website. That amount includes community development block grants and reimbursement funds.
Public records did not tally requests for funding by town.
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, who was one of the first Democratic mayors in the state to join the governor's so-called "Christiecrat" bandwagon, said she made the decision freely, without any pressure or promises from Christie or anyone in his administration.
"They've been very responsive, the same way they've been up and down the Jersey Shore," Long said of the Christie administration. "There's no quid pro quo here."
The officials' comments contrasted with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegation, on the heels of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold millions of dollars in Sandy aid if Zimmer didn't back the Rockefeller Group's commercial development in a three-block area that the administration supported.
The Rockefeller Group project was represented by Wolff & Samson. Partner David Samson is a political ally of the governor and chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is at the center of the "Bridgegate" scandal now being investigated by the New Jersey Legislature.
Christie fired his deputy chief of staff two weeks ago after a chain of e-mails suggested that closing three of the four lanes in September from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge was political when the Democratic mayor of that borough declined to endorse Christie for re-election. The shutdown led to traffic jams in Fort Lee for four days.
Guadagno and the administration have flatly denied the Hoboken mayor's claim.
Hoboken and the Shore municipalities are far from alike. There are no major commercial development projects in the towns of the mayors surveyed by the Press. The closest is Asbury Park, which is undergoing a long-term waterfront redevelopment. But former Asbury Park Mayor Ed Johnson, another Democrat, said Christie and his administration strongly have supported the city's recovery efforts.
"I don't know what happened in Hoboken and Fort Lee, but that has not been our experience," said Johnson, whose term expired in June. Johnson endorsed Christie's opponent, Barbara Buono, in the November election.
Johnson's sentiments were shared by current and former mayors in many communities along the Shore. Not all mayors in municipalities hard-hit by Sandy could be reached for comment Monday. Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph H. Mancini declined to comment.
The Republican mayor of Atlantic Highlands, Fred Rast, said if Christie would have wanted to get back at anyone it would have been him. Rast endorsed Christie's primary opponent in 2009. "I don't for a minute believe that politics would play a role" in holding back Sandy recovery money from Hoboken, Rast said.
Former Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, a Republican, said that he and Christie disagreed on some issues, "but I never felt he was tying aid to anything else." He said the timing of Zimmer's accusation makes him question her credibility.
"If anyone had come to me as an elected official and tried to blackmail me or extort me like (Zimmer is alleging), I would've gone to the prosecutor's office right away," Acropolis said.
"It was always him (Christie) asking what it was we needed, not what we could do for him," said Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero, a Republican.
Schneider, the Long Branch mayor, was quoted in the Washington Post over the weekend saying he received "enhanced" responsiveness from the Christie administration after he endorsed the governor for re-election.
On Monday, Schneider sought to clarify what he meant by that statement, explaining that in a single instance after his endorsement he felt the governor's office made an extra effort to help him obtain an emergency planning document he had been seeking from Jersey Central Power & Light.
"I felt I had been stonewalled for months," Schneider said. "I called my contact at the governor's office and said 'This is unacceptable.' Within 24 to 48 hours, I had someone's attention at the (Board of Public Utilities) who said, 'OK, we've got it.' "
"So that's my enhanced status," Schneider said.