In what is the latest claim of possible political retaliation by Gov. Chris Christie's administration against an elected official, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop says a number of scheduled meetings with top state officials last July were abruptly cancelled after he informed Christie's team that he would not be endorsing the governor in his 2013 reelection bid.
Emails released Monday and obtained by NJBIZ speak to Fulop's claims, as on the afternoon of July 18 he received an email from his scheduler Nancy Warlikowski informing him that within an hour's time, she had received multiple phone calls from administration officials cancelling their appointments.
The cancelled meetings were all scheduled to take place on July 23 with the exception of a sit-down with the state's Business Action Center on July 29.
Within the next three days, anyone else who had been scheduled to meet Fulop also called to cancel. Among others, Fulop had been set to meet with Economic Development Authority CEO Michele Brown, state treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff and Port Authority deputy director Bill Baroni, who resigned last month amid the brewing George Washington Bridge scandal.
Fulop spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said Monday that Christie's team was informed on or before July 18, the same day of the majority of the cancellations, that the mayor would not be endorsing Christie in his reelection bid and instead supporting state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen).
"There never was a conversation between Mayor Fulop and Governor Christie directly," Morrill said. "There were, however, multiple conversations from Fulop allies to Christie allies stating no endorsement would be forthcoming prior to and on July 18."
According to the emails, no explanations for the cancellations were provided to the Fulop administration.
Included in the newly released messages are exchanges Fulop had with ex-Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former campaign manager Bill Stepien, both of whom the governor cut ties with last week after documents pointed to their involvement in the bridge scandal.
Stepien, according to the new documents, texted Fulop the morning after the Jersey City mayoral election results were in and congratulated him on the win.
"Needless to say, congratulations on a tremendous job," Stepien wrote to Fulop. "I know the Governor reached out last night to relay his own congratulations. Let me know if we
can help set up any meetings for you in Trenton as you enter transition with relevant commissioners, agency heads, etc."
Several emails then exchanged in June and July between Fulop, Kelly and Warlikowski arranged for the meetings to take place on July 23.
Stepien again texted Fulop on July 12 to acknowledge the volume of meetings that had been scheduled.
"I know the Gov is sending quite a contingent of his Cabinet up to you on the 23rd," Stepien wrote. "Let us know how we can continue to work closely together."
After all of the meetings were then cancelled in the days between July 18 and July 22, Fulop wrote an email to Baroni on Aug. 1 requesting a meeting and then again on Aug. 18 when no response was given.
In the Aug. 18 email to Baroni, Fulop questions whether political motivations led to the cancellation of the meetings.
"As a side note, I am not sure if it is a coincidence that your office cancelled a meeting several weeks back that seemed to be simultaneous to other political conversations elsewhere that were happening," Fulop wrote. "Prior to that you were always very responsive and I sincerely hope the two issues are not related as it wouldn't be in the PA, Jersey City, or the residents of the state's best interest."
In November, Fulop announced his plans to sue the agency for $400 million, citing "economic damages caused by the Port Authority's unfair and outdated tax agreements with the city."
Despite this, the email chain shows brief correspondence in December between Fulop and new deputy executive director Deb Gramiccioni, who replaced Baroni after his resignation, and talk of a meeting between the two resurfaced.
But another email dated Jan. 8 from Warlikowski to Fulop indicates a request for a meeting had fallen upon deaf ears.
In a statement Monday, Fulop said the emails "speak for themselves."
"Our administration has sought to operate in a professional and cooperative manner with the Christie Administration," Fulop said. "Whether cabinet officials meetings, Port Authority lease negotiations or reforming our municipal pension system; it is my hope that State decisions be based on the merits."
In his press conference last week on the bridge scandal, Christie did not give a specific reason for why the meetings were cancelled but added that with most political relationships in New Jersey, there's always some "back and forth."
On Monday, Christie spokesperson Colin Reed said that the governor's office has continued to work with Jersey City officials despite political differences and claimed that Fulop's claims "must be viewed through the lens of partisan politics and his attempt to advance his own personal agenda."
"Fulop's relationship over time with both the Governor and Democrats in the legislature has been inconsistent as he has made clear his future political aspirations," Reed said. "That doesn't change the fact that Governor Christie and everyone in his Administration will continue working on behalf of Jersey City and all its residents."
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