Sandy relief funding spurs New Jersey Occupy protest

Occupy protesters camp out at the New Jersey Statehouse as Gov. Chris Christie grapples with political scandals

A protester carries a sign near the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
Mel Evans/AP

Protesters in New Jersey upset over alleged misuse of relief funding for Superstorm Sandy victims have taken their complaints to the state's capital, adding further grief to beleagued governor Chris Christie.

Three demonstrators from Occupy Sandy New Jersey camped out across the street from the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., overnight Saturday, and were joined by about 17 fellow-Occupiers Sunday. Some 100 people had RSVP'd to join the demonstration Sunday. Group leaders said participants planned to stay there until Tuesday, when Gov. Chris Christie is due to be inaugurated for his second term.

It will come as another potential annoyance to Christie, whose assumed run at for the White House in 2016 has received recent blows in the form of growing scandals involving Sandy funds and a seemingly vindictive closing of a bridge to Manhattan.

Members of Occupy Sandy New Jersey claims middle class and poor people have not received their fair share of funding. It also claims black and Latino applicants have been disproportionately rejected for resettlement and construction grants and the needs of southern New Jersey have been overlooked.

Their grievances are echoed in a New Jersey mayor's claims that Christie's administration withheld millions of dollars in Sandy recovery grants from her city because she refused to sign off on a politically connected development project.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer told The Associated Press that Christie's lieutenant governor and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow if the commercial development went forward.

Zimmer says Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at a May event.

"I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor — she made it very clear — that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn't be able to help me," Zimmer told The Associated Press.

"There is no way I could ethically do what the governor, through the lieutenant governor, is asking me to do," she said.

Occupy participants said they were outraged at the allegations.

"We have no choice at this point," said Nate Kleinman, one of the Occupy organizers. 

"We've done everything to advocate for (Sandy) survivors. It's become clear last week that the biggest brickwall of all is the Christie administration and their blatant corruption," Kleinman added. 

There are hopes within Occupy Sandy that the protest will help revive the flagging movement across the nation and globe. 

"If we show we can stand up to bullies, it's going to embolden people around the world. I hope so, anyway," Kleinman said. 

Christie spokesman Colin Reed said the administration has been helping Hoboken secure assistance since Sandy struck, and that the governor and mayor have historically enjoyed a productive relationship.

Gov. Christie, who is rumored to be considering a 2016 presidential bid, is also embroiled in another scandal involving traffic jams which high-ranking aides in his administration apparently manufactured to settle a political score.

In what has been described as an apparent political payback scheme to possibly retaliate against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie's 2013 reelection, the governor's staff allegedly caused massive traffic jams last fall by closing local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, one of the world's busiest bridges.

Christie apologized, fired his deputy chief of staff, and told reporters he had "no knowledge or involvement" in the matter. Still, with investigations moving ahead, the issue could follow him for some time and cause consternation for his financial backers.

Former New York Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani told NBC's Meet the Press Sunday that the scandal mounting around Christie "clearly is a partisan witch hunt."

Christie headlined a series of fundraising events to help Florida's governor, Rick Scott, and the state party, this weekend. The events, closed to reporters, give Christie his first chance since the scandal escalated to reassure big financial donors that he remains a viable presidential contender for 2016.

Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP consultant, said donors he has spoken with feel Christie's rising star was tainted by the controversies.

"The jury is definitely now out," he said. "He's gone from an A-plus to a B. He's not going to be the presidential nominee in waiting. We're in a watch-and-see phase."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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