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New accusations may embroil New Jersey governor in second scandal

January 19, 2014 at 5:32 PM EDT
As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s starts his second term, new allegations have emerged about threats to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief funds from the town of Hoboken. What are the governor's prospects moving forward? Hari Sreenivasan talks to NJTV’s chief political correspondent, Michael Aron, about how Christie’s reputation is faring in the wake of these allegations.

HARI SREENIVASAN: New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, will be inaugurated for a second term Tuesday, but questions persist about his staff’s involvement in this so-called Bridgegate scandal. This weekend there were new allegations that members of his team threatened to hold relief funds to the town of Hoboken, unless its mayor supported a development plan favored by Christie aides. For more about all of this we are joined by Michael Aron, the chief political correspondent for NJTV. So, explain these new allegations and why they matter.

MICHAEL ARON: If you are Chris Christie this is like a second front in the war being opened against you. The mayor of Hoboken says that two, high-level members of the Christie Administration basically strong-armed her into approving a development project. She did not go along with it, but they said you are not getting your Sandy relief money in Hoboken – a town that was very hard hit by Sandy – unless you approve the Rockefeller Group’s development plan for a three-block area of Hoboken. The Rockefeller Group was represented by David Sampson, one of Christie’s closest confidants, the Chairman of the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey – this has nothing to do with the bridge other than this looks like another strong-arm tactic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, to put this in perspective for a national audience, how bad was Hoboken hit? How much was she asking for? How much did Hoboken get?

MICHAEL ARON: Eighty percent of Hoboken was underwater. Hoboken sits right on the Hudson River, right across from Manhattan. It is one mile square. 50,000 people within that one mile – it is very densely populated. It was really badly, badly flooded by Sandy. She claimed yesterday on television that she asked for $100 million dollars, that she got $342,000 dollars. The Christie Administration, which is sending out statements discrediting her and disputing everything she says, says Hoboken is in line to get $70 million dollars. Some reporting I’ve seen says that’s money from insurance companies to homeowners. That’s not the federal money that Chris Christie fought so hard to get a year ago, so that’s where we stand at the moment.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the reasons we are talking about him is because he is such a national figure, and on the short list for a possible presidential candidacy. He is the head of the Republican Governors Association. He is even in Florida this weekend raising money for fellow Republicans. How does this play? How do his supporters think about one scandal or another scandal after another?

MICHAEL ARON: They are worried. His brother was on Facebook this morning echoing what his press secretary said yesterday. This is Democratic, partisan game playing, and the media is buying into it. It is Democratic media piling on and they are really concerned. I think this second front – as much as it is just politics as usual; we are not going to give you this unless you do that – it does not look good because it plays into this notion that Chris Christie is a bully and uses strong-arm tactics.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This was almost supposed to be a victory lap, heading into his inauguration coming up on Tuesday. Instead, he has to start out his State of the State Address defending himself about this. Is his popularity in New Jersey suffering at all?

MICHAEL ARON: Not according to the polls. His poll numbers are still high, but I think everything about Chris Christie is hanging in the balance here. Depending on how this plays out – there are some who think he is toast already as a presidential candidate, I don’t. I think he can explain – if awareness of the bridge closures do not rise much above where it is right now, I think he can ride this out. There are some who even think he is looking strong, and firm, and tough in dealing with the crisis. But if that rises further, or if other mayors, like the Hoboken Mayor, started coming out of the woodwork saying, “he punished me in this fashion… he punished me in this fashion…” this could all be the end of Chris Christie’s national ambition.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michael Aron from NJTV. Thanks so much.

MICHAEL ARON: Thank you, Hari.