New Jersey governor faces fresh inquiry over use of Hurricane Sandy relief funds

Another Democrat may have been targeted for refusing to endorse Chris Christie re-election

Chris Christie’s troubles have continued to mount as New Jersey’s governor is being investigated for improperly using Hurricane Sandy relief funds to make tourism adverts featuring him and his family.

The governor, a frontrunner for Republican presidential candidate until last week's "Bridgegate" scandal over politically-motivated traffic jams near America's busiest bridge, is facing questions about a New Jersey marketing contract awarded to a firm that charged $2 million (€1.5 million) more than a comparable bid.

Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone from New Jersey said the inspector general of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development would undertake the inquiry into the use of Sandy relief funds to revive tourism in New Jersey following the October 2012 storm.

Pallone, an outspoken critic of Christie, said he had asked for the investigation and raised concerns that Christie and his family appeared in taxpayer-funded adverts during an election year.


Unfair advantage
Democrats criticised the use of government money to give the Republican governor an unfair advantage in the election race with the party's candidate Barbara Buono.

News channel CNN reported Pallone saying there was enough evidence to launch an investigation into the state’s use of federal funds after a winning bid to promote tourism starring the Christies cost $4.7 million while the next lowest bid of $2.5 million would not have featured the governor or his family.

Christie fired two senior aides last week after they appeared in emails and text messages to have orchestrated the closure of traffic lanes onto the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York in September resulting in traffic gridlock in an act of political revenge against a Democrat.

Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, and long-time campaign manager Bill Stepien were dismissed after they were shown to have instigated traffic chaos in Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the bridge after the town's mayor Mark Sokolich refused to back Christie's re-election campaign.

Christie said he was unaware of the vendetta waged by his staff and appointees on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, saying he was "embarrassed and humiliated."

Newly released documents show another Democrat, Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop, may also have been targeted by Christie's staff for refusing to endorse the New Jersey's governor's re-election, supporting his claim that he was shut out by the Republican governor's office over his decision.

Emails and text messages show that Christie’s office set up meetings between Fulop and senior New Jersey officials in June and July 2013, but that the meetings were cancelled around July 18th when the governor’s office was told of Fulop’s decision not to endorse Christie’s re-election in November.

Documents released late last week revealed the public anger over the lane closures to the bridge, which are being investigated by New Jersey’s US attorney.

One woman whose husband was late for a new job after being unemployed for a year complained that the Port Authority was “playing God with people’s jobs.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent