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NJ lt. governor denies mayor's claims on Sandy relief money

TRENTON, N.J. -- An irate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno labeled as "false" and "illogical" the claims of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that millions in superstorm Sandy relief money were withheld from the city because the mayor wouldn't sign off on a politically connected real estate venture.

"Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false," Guadagno said Monday at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration in Union City. She did not take questions.

The latest scrum involving members of Gov. Chris Christie's administration came as the governor himself pledged to learn from the George Washington Bridge scandal that led to his public embarrassment and dismissals of top-level staffers.

"I'm going to learn from this . . . I can't tell you yet what it is I'm going to learn," Christie said in an interview posted on Yahoo News Monday, the day before his second-term inauguration. "But I am intent on learning from this."

The Republican also said that while he didn't feel ready to be president in 2011, his recent experience has better prepared him for the position. Christie has been widely regarded as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

"Yeah. I'm readier, if that's a word," he said.

Much of the spotlight Monday turned to the controversy between the lieutenant governor and Zimmer, who met Sunday with federal prosecutors about her claims. She has offered to take a lie detector or testify under oath.

Zimmer on Saturday said Guadagno pulled her aside at a supermarket opening in May and said Hoboken's storm recovery funds hinged on Zimmer's approval of a commercial development whose lawyer and lobbyist are close to the governor. On Sunday, Zimmer went further, telling CNN the ultimatum was delivered on behalf of Christie.

Guadagno said the mayor's description of the conversation "is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined."

Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor's Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, told reporters later in a conference call that Hoboken has been treated no differently from other cities with respect to storm relief funds.

Claims that Hoboken received less than its fair share of disaster aid are a "mischaracterization," he said. He refused to directly address Zimmer's allegations of quid pro quo.Ferzan said the state has received more than $14 billion in requests statewide for Sandy-related mitigation grants but has only about $300 million to disburse. Christie administration officials have said Hoboken has requested more than $100 million in such funding.

"Obviously $300 million versus $14 billion, that's a big delta," Ferzan said.

The state has tried to prioritize its funding and programs to address the "communities most in need," Ferzan said, and purposely directed most of the recovery funding toward homeowners, business owners and renters.

Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, a member of Christie's cabinet and a second official who Zimmer said repeated the Sandy threat at a separate event in May, also said in a statement, "Mayor Zimmer's allegations are patently false and absurd on their face."

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