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New Jersey official denies using disaster aid as political bait

NEW YORK--Embattled New Jersey governor Chris Christie's second-in-command Monday flatly denied allegations she and Christie threatened to withhold money for Hurricane Sandy relief as a political quid pro quo.

These latest allegations of political strong arm tactics add to the increasing scandal surrounding the governor, after aides were accused of manufacturing traffic jams as revenge against another mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election bid.

Over the weekend, Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, said Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno told her Christie could withhold relief money for her city unless she approved a redevelopment plan he supported.

“The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said essentially, 'you got to move forward with the Rockefeller project,'” Zimmer told CNN Sunday, referring to a planned 40-story office tower and commercial development in Hoboken.

But Guadagno said Zimmer's recounting of their conversation was “not only false but it's illogical.”

Speaking at a news conference related to a Martin Luther King Day event, Guadagno said the allegations do not stand up to “scrutiny, when all of the facts are examined” and flatly denied any relief funding was tied to approving a separate project.

“Standing in Union Beach as we are today, with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated by Sandy, and also being a Sandy victim myself, makes the mayor's allegations particularly offensive to me.

“The suggestion that anyone would hold back Sandy relief funds for any reason is wholly and completely false,” she insisted.

A Christie spokesman, Colin Reed, issued a statement to various U.S. media outlets late Saturday denying Zimmer's charges, accusing Zimmer of playing “partisan politics.”

The statement said US$70 million in federal funds had already approved for Hoboken with more potentially to come.

Christie was credited with decisive leadership when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast in October 2012, hitting New York and New Jersey particularly hard.

He also had a reputation for being the kind of pragmatic Republican who could work across party lines, and could garner national support from Democrats, as he has in his majority blue state of New Jersey.

Christie was forced last week to admit his staff lied to him about their role in blocking commuter traffic onto a major bridge in an act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.

The scandal is being investigated by federal prosecutors.

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