Christie reveals federal funding for Wynona House, squashing ‘retaliation’ accusation

NEWARK – Restoring what has been called his most politically-egregious budget cut, Gov. Chris Christie unveiled his administration’s “aggressive” acquisition of federal funds for operations of the Wynona Lipman Child Advocacy Center in Newark.

“I did this, at that time, because we knew line-iteming out that kind of money wasn’t going to do anything to interrupt the services (at Wynona House),” Christie said, and anyone who said otherwise was either “less-informed or ill-motivated.” Christie said he knew about the federal funding before he announced his line-item vetoes on June 30.

Christie said he didn’t go through the individual line-items in his press budget conference, but when asked why his administration didn’t reveal the funding when questions starting rolling in, he said, “We certainly weren’t trying to play hide the ball.”

“The Republican legislators knew that there wasn’t going to be any interruption in service,” he said when asked if the GOP knew when they voted against a veto override. “I think that’s why they felt so confident in (voting against the override).”

He announced this with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a cross-aisle partner with the governor, who reassured the center’s employees and constituents that the county would find funding if the state didn’t.

The state was planning to dedicate $537,000 toward operations of the center because of the disproportionate level of services it provides, but the center’s subsidy was cut by Christie after the Democratic budget volley. The center cares for abused children, among other at-risk youth, but other counties provide similar services without state funding.

The cut was widely criticized as politically motivated. Wynona’s House board chairwoman Nancy Erika Smith said the cut was “retaliation” because Smith had publicly called for Christie’s impeachment. Smith did so on behalf of her client, Public Defender Yvonne Segars, because Segars claimed Christie tried to force her out of her non-political role as public defender.

Smith also sits on the state’s Joint Legislative Commission on Ethical Standards, a board drafting charges against Christie lower-chamber ally, Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40), of Wayne.

Smith told PolitickerNJ that she would have resigned if it meant saving Wynona’ House, which she maintained would have closed as a result of the budget cut.

Christie mentioned a similar center in Morris County that he championed while serving as a freeholder, the Deirdre O’Brien Center. “My commitment,” he said, “has never been in question.”

He said his administration had been seeking “all along” the federal funding, and that the state funding “now goes back to the state coffers.”

Appearing at the press conference today with Christie and DiVincenzo were Democratic legislators from Essex: state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Assemblypersons Albert Coutinho, Grace Spencer, and Kevin Ryan.

The child advocacy center was named after former Democratic state Sen. Wynona Lipman, who was the first black woman elected to the upper house. Coincidently, another program bearing her name was also reduced in the budget process. Christie eliminated $100,000 for the Wynona Lipman Chair in Women’s Political Leadership at Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.