They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and this picture is one that Republican Governor Chris Christie (N.J.) probably wishes had not been unearthed today. The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper was first in line to republish the photo (courtesy of Daytop NJ) of a September 26, 2013 meeting between the Governor, his wife, and Leslie Smith.
Smith is the executive vice president of the Rockefeller Group. The same Leslie Smith who has donated to Christie’s campaign and the same Rockefeller Group that is at the center of the allegations made by Mayor Dawn Zimmer, of Hoboken New Jersey.
But associations don’t translate to guilt. We leave that to the “pallin’ around with terrorists” types. The goal here should be the facts. To that end, Christopher Baxter of the Star Ledger reports, “The Rockefeller Group at the time was represented by Wolff & Samson, the law firm of David Samson, a former state attorney general and close Christie ally who also serves as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
Samson, a huge behind the scenes power broker, is a Christie appointee, in fact. Smith has donated to two of Christie’s campaigns and to his 2010 inaugural committee. Smith also leads the Rockefeller Group’s developments in New Jersey.
Why does this matter? Because last weekend, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer made stunning allegations on MSNBC that the Christie administration had threatened to make her town’s Sandy Aid contingent upon allowing the Rockefeller Group to develop a specific area that the residents had been objecting to.
Zimmer met with U.S. Attorney’s office last Sunday, at their request, just a day after her allegations. She provided them with documents to back up her claims, including her diary.
I noted at the time that if indeed Hoboken, one of the areas that got hit the hardest, had not gotten that aid, the Christie administration would have some explaining to do. It turns out that the not only did they not get the aid they should have, but Brian Murphy, a TPM reporter from New Jersey, explained that tremendous pressure was brought to down upon Hoboken to move forward with the Rockefeller Group’s development. He opined, “And the Hoboken story clearly demonstrates the Christie administration took steps to aid the material interest of a client of the chairman of that agency.”
Murphy did the math, “Hoboken received only 1% of the aid they had requested for Hurricane Sandy relief and planning funds even though it was one of the hardest-hit communities in the state during the storm. At one point, 80% of the 50,000 person city was flooded…. 50,000 people. 80% flooded. $6 a head.”
Those are horrific numbers. 1% of the aid requested for a city that was 80% flooded?
Murphy’s insight into the politics of the area, specifically the long charge the Rockefeller Group has been waging against the wishes of some of the town’s citizens, merits a close read. He also revealed that there may be more than a diary to back up Zimmer’s claims, as she says that another Christie appointee made the offer that Sandy Aid money would flow if she would move forward with the Rockefeller project while miked, with audio technicians able to hear. She recorded their conversation in her diary:
In a diary entry made the next day, May 17, Zimmer wrote that Constable (Richard Constable, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who worked in Chris Christie’s office when Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and who was subsequently named commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs) said, “I hear you are against the Rockefeller project.” The mayor said she was not. “Oh really?” Constable asked in reply. “Everyone in the State House believes you are against it – the buzz is that you are against it.”
According to Zimmer, he added: “If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you.”
If you’re counting, that’s two people from the Christie administration who dangled the Sandy Aid as a reward for going along with the Rockerfeller development plans, according to the Hoboken Mayor.
So with all of that history, you can imagine that the Christie administration doesn’t want Chris Christie associated in any way with the Rockefeller Group. This picture is not in and of itself damning, but it’s a bad visual for the embattled Governor, especially because it’s not just a picture. There’s history there. And Hoboken didn’t get its money. And the Mayor of Hoboken used to be a big Christie fan, so this isn’t easily dismissed as a political agenda.
The pieces of the puzzle are in the early stages of coming together, and it doesn’t look good for Chris Christie. Republicans want to paint this as a case of she said/he said, but the she in this case has a growing amount of evidence of wrongdoing by the Christie administration on her side.
The thing that might save Chris Christie is his willingness to throw everyone who worked for him under the bus. This character trait isn’t nearly as attractive to voters as it is to conservatives, however.
It’s hard to run for President as the guy who sold out all of his underlings, because eventually someone will ask him if he really knew nothing, what kind of leader is he?