Street Art in Hoboken
Street Art in Hoboken
This Election Day Hoboken voters have a question to vote on that could shape our city’s future -- whether we should use runoff elections if a candidate for Mayor or City Council doesn’t win a majority of votes. The answer is, YES! Runoffs are used in most every similar NJ municipality and require a candidate to earn 50% of the vote to win office. Hoboken doesn't though, and as a result are the only city in the state that has a Mayor elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. You might recall last year's crowded and confusing mayoral race, where we had six people running with 68 percent of residents voting against the candidate who won.
It’s not really democracy if your vote doesn’t count.
Establishment politicians and special interests know this and use this broken system to divide our community and then pander to those smaller voting blocks, and win. Runoff elections would require candidates to create broader platforms and once elected, broader policies, which benefit the most number of residents as possible, not just the select few who elected them. Your support on this question would mean every vote counts -- making it harder for candidates to intentionally divide the community for political gain in future elections.
The question will be at the bottom of the ballot and I really hope you will support and spread the word to see fair elections in Hoboken!
Just last November, Hoboken had 6 candidates running for mayor and 14 running for City Council to fill 3 seats -- a political circus that confused and frustrated many voters. In response to residents concerns, an overwhelming majority (7-2) of the City Council approved a ballot referendum which would allow our community to collectively decide whether or not to re-institute runoff elections. Mayor Bhalla vetoed the ordinance, spreading half-truths and politicizing the issue, but the Council responded by overriding him (7-2) to let the people decide (click here to read the NJ.com article).
Without runoff elections, true independent candidates face an uphill battle and a nearly impossible task to run for office without institutional support as crowded races favor the person who can raise the most money, which is usually the incumbent. That wasn’t always the case though. In 2007, Dawn Zimmer lost her election to City Council in a four-way race to a long-time incumbent, but won head-to-head in a runoff. Without a runoff, Dawn Zimmer would never have sat on the City Council...she would have lost in the winner-take-all scenario we have today. A similar outcome also just occurred in the 2017 Jersey City Downtown Ward E runoff where the candidate backed by the establishment won in the general election, but lost to an upstart in the runoff. So, in trying to block runoffs, Mayor Bhalla is essentially limiting the viability for independents to run for political office in favor of himself and candidates that he supports.
Reinstating runoffs allows local candidates a chance to make their case on municipal issues without having them distracted by the polarizing partisan politics found at the state and national levels. I believe that we need to continue to challenge the status quo to ensure that new energy and new ideas are encouraged and elevated by Hoboken's electoral process, not thwarted by establishment politicians.
Keep in mind, Mayor Bhalla was not supported by 68% of voters, earning less than 1/3 of votes. Runoffs would return majority rule, and his opposition to runoffs calls into question his ability to actually win a majority vote. It is further disappointing to see Mayor Bhalla spreading misinformation and half-truths to make his point.
The Mayor has cited reduced voter turnout in the last Jersey City runoff where the mayoral candidate wasn't even in the runoff and fails to mention that the last time Hoboken held a runoff election for Mayor in 2009 turnout actually increased from the general election. Meanwhile, he suggests that he supports an instant runoff system that, while certainly worth exploring, is not currently allowable by state law and even if permitted, likely won't roll out before the next mayoral election. The mayor references “massive vote-buying” which although has significantly decreased over the years, is still sadly an issue but not unique to runoffs. Perhaps our mayor’s energies are best spent suppressing the referenced vote buying, not stopping the people’s right to decide whether or not they want a runoff election. Think about it, should we blame the voting process for Russian meddling, or should we aim to end Russian meddling?
Sadly, all of this is meant to distract from the fact that Mayor Bhalla is concerned that re-instituting runoff elections would hurt his own chances of re-election as he has not demonstrated the ability to secure majority support or to work collaboratively with his fellow elected officials. This is a deeply cynical ploy that puts politics over our city's values of transparency and openness.
Since I first challenged a long-time incumbent and ran for City Council three years ago, you've always known me as someone who’s willing to stand up against the patronage system and entrenched politicians that typify the political establishment in New Jersey.
Which is why I am concerned with the direction Hoboken is headed politically.
In June, Mayor Ravi Bhalla was censured by the NJ State Supreme Court for "unethical conduct" for failing to pay into his employee’s retirement account and being "nonchalant" about rectifying it for five years. That’s not just wrong, it’s heartless. In it's ruling, the Court opined that Bhalla had participated in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” yes....really. This comes on the heels of another scandal Mayor Bhalla caused when he broke a campaign promise and took a second job at a politically connected law firm.
And earlier this year, Hoboken paid $186k to settle two cases where Ravi Bhalla allegedly infringed on the first amendment rights of two residents who spoke out against him at City Council meetings.
But more recently, I uncovered that Hoboken taxpayers have unknowingly spent $10,000 over the past seven months funding the Mayor’s appeal of an ethics violation where he was reprimanded for voting on a business partner’s contract with the city. The City's continued funding of his defense wouldn't be an issue if Ravi Bhalla hadn't lied to our city’s legal team, which directly led the city to enter into this folly in the first place. Instead of acknowledging his clear mistake, Mayor Bhalla instead has doubled down and ordered a city attorney to quietly defend him, without any transparency towards residents or the City Council.
In response, last Wednesday the City Council voted overwhelmingly (7-2) to terminate the contract with the law firm retained by the administration to stop this taxpayer ripoff. Yet again, instead of doing what’s right and accepting fault, the Mayor refused to enforce the resolution, setting the Council on a collision course with his administration that could have serious consequences.
How has our Mayor responded to these continued scandals? By lashing out at me for leading the charge to hold him accountable and trying to distract from his own problems by making false claims against me.
To distract from the mounting controversy, this week a close friend of the mayor’s Chief of staff was sent to file a bogus ethics complaint against me. They're saying that a long-awaited improvement to the city’s zoning that I am sponsoring along with Councilwoman Fisher is being done to benefit a campaign donor and developers. The truth is that this common sense measure would simply allow homeowners to add staircases to their backyards without dealing with an oppressive city bureaucracy. The Mayor would have you believe that this small change would be the end of the world, so he vetoed it, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is something that the Zoning Board has urged the City Council to consider every year since 2012, and after half a decade of recommendations, it was approved by an overwhelming 7-2 vote.
Updating our outdated zoning isn’t exactly a front-page issue, but it’s essential to keeping families in town and one of the main reasons I ran for City Council in the first place. Read more about how out of date zoning hurts residents and forces them out of town.
The fact of the matter is that the donation was from a well-respected restaurateur in my district, not a developer or special interest as the mayor sensationalized and it had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to take up the zoning issue. On the date of the contribution, the donor didn’t even own the property that he would later bring to the Planning Board. As soon as I became aware that this donor was submitting an application, I recused myself from that meeting to avoid any appearance of a conflict. There is absolutely no merit to the mayor’s lies against me and worse, his attempt to defame a Hoboken-based small business for petty political gain.
Perhaps most telling, after concocting the story, Mayor Bhalla sent out a fake version of a news article to his supporters that intentionally removed crucial facts, such as editing the headline to change the meaning and mislead residents -- in doing so, trying to manipulate the local media to fit his own twisted and false narrative.
Despite this political side-show, I remain dedicated to elevating good and rational policy-based ideas that help Hoboken and all residents. The Mayor and his two allies on the Council are misrepresenting the goals and impacts of the proposed legislation and are attempting to turn a common sense policy decision to help homeowners into some kind of giveaway to developers. For a spot-on analysis of what this ordinance actually aims to achieve, my colleague Councilwoman Tiffany Fisher has expertly broken it down and countered the mayor's false narrative.
Over the past two weeks, I have had the chance to listen to more community feedback on this issue and I plan to re-introduce revised legislation next month with additional assurances that limit this to the smaller, family-friendly, homes most negatively impacted by the city's flood ordinance. Much like the original ordinance, the revised will continue to maintain the 60 percent principal lot coverage (30 percent rear yard) standard currently required by exisiting law, ensuring green space, light and air is preserved for all residents, while clarifying the code to allow them to safely access their backyards. This is an opportunity to make a small but important change to the way our city treats homeowners, and I’m not backing down from it.
Ravi Bhalla might think that this political hit job, a gross misuse of his office and taxpayer resources, would silence me. He could not be more mistaken. He might also believe that he can scare Hoboken with wild accusations about donors and developers that don’t have a grain of truth to them. But I'm not going to stop fighting to hold his scandal-plagued administration accountable, or to keep moving our city forward. I know that Hoboken won’t fall for this kind of misdirection and that residents want the City Council to continue putting the needs of our city over the personal interests of the Mayor.
With summer (finally) here, I wanted to quickly update you with what's going on around Hoboken and in City Hall. From a new dog park in the first ward and plans underway for Court Street to standing up for equality and good government, it's been a busy spring!
In May, the City Council approved a $118.6 million budget that was exactly the amount requested by the mayor, but we were able to tighten up spending and reallocate funds to secure needed funding for:
A new city engineer and construction manager for all our infrastructure projects.
Technology upgrades to help modernize our recreation and rent control departments
Safety at intersections to study and install more stop signs
Historic preservation design guidelines - a long overdue first step in preserving our historic architecture.
And though I advocate for all of Hoboken, I am specifically elected to represent my home district, the First Ward -- and fighting for the first, I was able to secure funding for two important neighborhood projects, a new First Ward dog park and improvements to Court Street....
For too long dog owners in the dense southeast have not had an adequate place for our K9 companions to play, and as a result we’ve seen an uptick in dog waste along our streets.
In this years budget I've advocated for and City Council approved money to turn currently underutilized city property on Hudson between 1st and 2nd and turn it into a much needed dog run. Unlike other municipal dog runs, this one will be covered in permeable turf and not gravel so our dogs won’t come home covered in mud. This combined with the rollout of new garbage cans should help the administration combat rogue dog waste.
More detail will be made available as planning gets underway, in the meantime -- please submit your thoughts on the project by clicking here.
After we earmarked money in last year’s budget, the City will finally begin fixing the sidewalks abutting court street this summer. The disrepair of the sidewalks has long been a detriment to seniors, families with strollers, the disabled...and just about everyone that walks by. Additionally, in this year’s budget, I secured funding for a complete engineering study of Court Street - a long overdue action plan on how to best repair and preserve our city's most historic street. I will keep you up to date as planning gets underway.
As I mentioned, the City Council approved the mayor's request of $118.6 million and you’ve always known me to be upfront and honest with you, so I’m going to say something you won’t hear from anyone else -- our taxes went up.
You won’t see any impact to your individual tax bill though and the reason is something you need to be aware of as we move forward -- the City added $1.6 million in new residential construction over the past year and for the first time in eight years, we dipped into our “rainy day fund” by $1.4 million. So the rise in taxes was covered by more residents using practically the same amount of city services while tapping into our emergency savings.
The biggest cost-driver was health insurance, which increased almost $3 million. In response, the Council passed a resolution urging the mayor to go to market and solicit competitive bids and see if our current broker remains the best deal for the City. Surprisingly, the last time we shopped around for a competitive insurance contract was over four years ago and if the mayor is interested in cutting costs, we should start here. Also of note, the mayor’s office substantially increased it’s operating line by 30 percent — the first major increase in almost eight years. Contrary to state hiring limits, the mayor onboarded a political supporter to act in the newly created and questionably needed roll of “deputy chief of staff”, even though he already had a “chief of staff”. Carving out city jobs for political patronage at the taxpayers expense is everything that’s wrong with local politics.
I endeavor to work with everyone, whether I agree with them politically or not, to ensure that policy always comes before politics. Though I prefer to keep my goals set on ideas and collaboration, sometimes the reality of Soprano-state politics confounds me and I simply refuse to stay quiet.
In April, I spoke out against Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s acceptance of a donation that wasn’t just over campaign finance limits, but also because he attempted to give that very same vendor a $50,000 City Contract -- which if approved, would have been a stunning breach of pay-to-play. The City’s legal department not only failed to catch the campaign finance violation, but the mayor himself didn’t disclose the information and acknowledged fault only after I spoke publicly about the conflict. The same department that failed to catch this violation are the same lawyers that are charged with acting as an oversight authority and ensuring the mayor’s second job at a politically connected zoning and land use law firm. Given the mayors unprecedented decision to hold this second job, I will be introducing an ordinance at tonight's meeting to create transparency and see what, if any, conflict Mayor Bhalla's very active legal career has with his position as our mayor.
Hoboken is planning to construct an eleven-foot tall industrial flood wall parallel to Observer Highway over the next two years. This levy will be funded by $230 million in federal grants with the goal of making our city more flood resilient. Though it is imperative that we remain committed to protecting Hoboken against future storm surges — the placement of the wall is ill conceived.
I am advocating to see this plan amended to simply set the wall back from the roadway and allow for a future pedestrian promenade and East-West waterfront connectivity. Placing the wall closer to Observer may also prevent Hoboken Terminal from being reimagined as a European-style market as the approved rail-yard redevelopment would literally be walled off. If we leave the plan as it is, all we’d get is, well...a wall. Please click
After helping countless neighbors who had been incorrectly written parking tickets with time left on their meter, the Council recently passed my ordinance to safeguard against this unsavory practice. The new law now requires the Parking Authority to wait two minutes from the time a meter expires before writing a ticket, thus ensuring that all data has been correctly relayed to and received by parking enforcement officers. It also is a signal to the administration that the City Council discourages what many like myself believe to be predatory parking enforcement. This is not by any means “free parking” rather a check on administrative authority to ensure all relevant information has been considered before writing a ticket.
When I first took my seat on City Council our Human Rights Campaign: Municipal Equality Index score was 51% -- second lowest in the state next to Patterson. After speaking out about this failing score and butting heads with the previous administration about it, I’m happy that we’re now at 92% and stand to score a perfect 100% this year.
In April the City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by myself and Councilwoman Jabbour requiring all single-user bathrooms to be gender neutral. Concurrently, I was proud to sponsor a resolution with Councilwoman Giattino for more city services geared towards LGBTQ senior citizens and the transgender community. I was also happy to see Mayor Bhalla do what the last administration failed to — show support to the transgender community and sign an executive order acknowledging that gender identity is not a choice.
I don’t play identity politics because there’s no gay, straight or trans way to fix a pothole. I may not agree with Mayor Bhalla politically and am deeply disappointed that he excluded me from speaking at the recent LGBTQ flag raising, but together we are products of Hoboken’s inclusive spirit and agree on equality....for everyone.
Dining alfresco is synonymous with summer in the city, but believe it or not the bureaucracy and dated zoning governing sidewalk cafes has prevented many from opening up. I am proud to have worked with Council President Ramos and the administration on a long overdue ordinance that now gives restaurants more flexibility in establishing outdoor service areas. Doing so helps small businesses succeed and gives us all more opportunities to enjoy our city’s streets this summer.
Have some fun in the sun!
With spring here and temperatures on the rise, I want to quickly update you with what’s been going on in City Hall and across Hoboken.
On the Southern waterfront, directly behind the U.S. Post Office at 89 River Street, is a surface parking lot which I've long advocated to become a world-class Hilton Hotel. Such a project would not only activate an underutilized portion of the southern waterfront, steps from mass transportation but also generate $1.7 million in yearly revenue for the City and create over 120 permanent jobs. With new costs like Union Dry Dock and the Northwest Resiliency Park on the horizon, we need smart revenue generators like this for the City.
With the proposed hotel site sitting squarely in the First Ward, my home district, I've worked for the past two years with the neighborhood and all stakeholders to design a plan that activates the waterfront with ground floor retail, meeting and event space, as well as a one of a kind rooftop restaurant. Additionally, working with my Council colleagues Jen Giattino and Peter Cunningham, we addressed core issues like parking, traffic congestion and pedestrian safety. Further, to protect neighborhood quality of life, I specifically required the plan to be set back along Newark Street to allow more light and air at street level while protecting views towards the Hudson River.
Interestingly, after voting against the redevelopment plan and publicly campaigning against the project last year, Mayor Bhalla has suddenly switched stances and joined the City Council in supporting the balanced project that we always knew it would be. The new plan advocated by the mayor reduces the height of the building by roughly 50 feet, but eliminates the setback -- creating a wider building with nearly identical square footage and bulk as the original plan. Though the mayor’s flip-flop on this will certainly be noteworthy to his supporters, I want to assure everyone that this is the right direction for Hoboken. I look forward to continued work with the administration, stakeholders and neighborhood to see the project forward. For more information, click here -- please let me know your thoughts.
Union Dry Dock is the last remaining industrial maritime use in Hoboken and the final piece to the puzzle of connecting our entire riverfront. Unfortunately, due to years of inaction to acquire the land at fair market value by the city, the Zimmer-Bhalla did not purchase the land when given the chance and the land was sold to ferry operator New York Waterway in November for $11.5 million. The intended use is now a repair and refueling facility for their ferry fleet, which in my opinion, and in the opinion of the entire City Council, is incongruent with the nearby neighborhood and antithetical to connecting our waterfront.
In response, the City Council authorized the purchase of the land for $11.63 million -- a fair market price which is over $100k more than what NY Waterway paid for the property less than five months ago. I have personally urged the administration to work with New York Waterway to ensure they find an adequate home and after similar pushback from Governor Murphy's office, Mayor Bhalla has vowed not to use eminent domain to acquire the property. After all, a protracted legal fight like the one we had to acquire the southwest plaza would adversely impact ferry schedules and fares while obligating our City to pay millions more in legal fees.
There has been much conversation about a meeting of New Jersey Transit's board to purchase the property, and what that means for the site. Both Governor Christie and now Governor Murphy have both seemingly viewed the sale of the property to the NJT as a way of protecting land essential for NYWW's operations and state-wide transportation infrastructure from being taken by eminent domain. Such an action was in response to both Mayor Zimmer and Mayor Bhalla's failing to have open and professional dialogue with New York Waterway. This breakdown in communication was never shared with City Council either when Mayor Zimmer originally asked for the tool of eminent domain, or when Mayor Bhalla made an offer to acquire the property; and in doing so, they each escalated an already tense situation. At the request of Governor Murphy, Mayor Bhalla requested the Council to rescind eminent domain power, we followed suit in a 9-0 vote and New Jersey Transit has canceled the meeting to purchase. Now we're back to square one.
Where this goes from here is uncertain -- but one thing remains clear, the City is unified in our desire to see the space become parkland and NY Waterways still owns the site and remains firm in their desire to use it for ferry fueling operations. There is a proposal to relocate refueling to Bayonne, at this juncture it is merely a proposal and beginning later this spring refueling will unfortunately commence until further notice at Union Dry Dock. For more on the back history visit the Fund for a Better Waterfront
While on the topic of broken campaign promises, you may recall when former Councilman Bhalla’s employment with one of the state’s most politically-connected law firms was a major topic of discussion during the mayoral campaign. As public concern mounted, he announced that if elected he would leave his firm to be a full-time mayor. But now, Mayor Bhalla has changed course and accepted a job as an attorney at the law firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen -- a real estate, land use and zoning law firm that’s just as much a part of the establishment political patronage network as his former firm.
Despite paying our mayor $116,100 -- the highest in Hudson County and one of the top mayoral salaries in the entire state, our mayor's second job will compensate him $60k base salary from his side job but more alarmingly, unlimited commissions on all new business he brings to the law firm.
In Jersey politics, this sadly only means one thing -- peddling and trading professional contracts for personal and political gain. In his own words, Mayor Bhalla “has no specific responsibilities” at the law firm and “is not expected to spend any time” at his second job. Why would any employer want a no-show employee without any specific responsibilities? The truth is that Ravi Bhalla has been hired to use his notoriety as our Mayor to benefit his new firm. If he secures a new client for his firm, maybe another entity that does business with Hoboken for example, he'll be compensated for it. And if a client needs a favor in Hudson County, they've got a Mayor on the payroll. It's the oldest play in the book for the political establishment, and the losers are taxpayers like us who get hit with the bill.
That's why it's so important for the City Council to act as a watchdog on this issue and ensure that Hoboken isn't for sale. I am currently in the process of drafting a comprehensive ethics ordinance to ensure that our mayor’s second job is transparent to all citizens and that he is held to the same standard as any other City employee.
As you may recall, on Election Day 2017, Hoboken saw 6 candidates running for mayor and 14 running for City Council to fill 3 seats -- a political circus that confused and frustrated many voters, resulting in a mayor who won with only 32% of the electorate. In response to residents’ concerns, an overwhelming majority (7-2) of the City Council approved a ballot referendum which would allow our community to collectively decide whether or not to re-institute runoff elections. Mayor Bhalla vetoed the ordinance, spreading half-truths and politicizing the issue, but City Council responded by overriding him (7-2) to let the people decide.
With the City Council's override of the mayor's veto, the question as to how our elections are run is now with you!
In opposing runoffs, Mayor Bhalla is essentially limiting the viability for independents to run for political office. Without runoff elections, upstart candidates for City Council and mayor face a nearly impossible task to run for elected office without institutional support as crowded races favor the person who can raise the most money -- the incumbent. Click here to read more about why runoff elections are important and be sure to mark your calendars to vote in the referendum on Tues. Nov. 6th. Together, I know we can continue to bring new energy and new ideas to Hoboken by encouraging the next generation of policy makers to get involved.
I know the question on everyone’s minds -- what’s going on with Washington Street? Many have expressed concern at the rate which businesses have been closing and I agree that it’s troubling. With the introduction of the city’s Master Plan Reexamination this spring, and as chairman of the zoning subcommittee, I intend to begin working with my colleagues to update our city’s 1980’s era zoning to help small businesses and mom and pops. In terms of the ongoing and frustrating resurfacing initiative, City Council recently hosted an open meeting with the contractor as the City is behind schedule and over $1 million over budget. The Council took that opportunity to remind the contractor and administration that the deadline for finishing work on the street is August 21. Further, now that the threat of frost has passed, paving along Washington from 1st through 5th Street will commence on Monday April 2.
Last but certainly not least, working with Councilwoman Fisher, I was proud to have supported the administration and sponsored a $5.2 million bond ordinance to aid in city-wide infrastructure repairs. Though I believe bonding should be used sparingly, I do believe that using long term bonds for long term improvements, like infrastructure, is necessary especially given no other funding mechanisms are readily available.
During last year’s mayoral election, Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s employment with one of the state’s most politically-connected law firms was a major topic of discussion due to the many conflicts of interest his employment could cause. His law firm counted among its clients Suez Water, the city’s water system operator, as well as NJ Transit which owns significant property in Hoboken and is in the process of being redeveloped.
During the course of the campaign, as public concern mounted about Ravi being connected with those statewide interests, he publicly announced that if elected he would, “be working full-time for the people of Hoboken, severing my employment with the firm.” As Mayor-elect he followed through on that and resigned from his position at the firm, Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt & Fader as he prepared to be the full-time mayor he promised voters he would be.
But in February, just over a month into office, Ravi Bhalla broke his promise and taken a job as an attorney at the law firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen -- a real estate, land use and zoning law firm that’s just as much a part of the establishment patronage network as his former firm.
Hoboken’s mayor is paid the most in Hudson County and one of the highest in the entire state. For reference, 9 of the 12 mayors in the County make less than $33,000. Of the other three, Bayonne pays $72,000, Jersey City pays $115,600 and Hoboken tops the list at $116,100. Additionally, the mayor receives a generous benefits package for him and his entire family which includes health coverage and retirement. The only other mayor who is in the six-figure club, Jersey City’s Steve Fulop, only holds one job - mayor - and Hoboken deserves the same.
Upon learning about the mayor’s second job, the City Council voted to pass a resolution urging the mayor to disclose details of the job. From that official inquiry, and only because the governing body publicly demanded transparency, it was disclosed that Mayor Bhalla would earn an annual salary of $60,000 for his new position, but more shockingly, unlimited commissions for all new business he brings to the firm (click here to read the agreement). So, let’s digest this. Our new Mayor who promised to work full time for the City is now in a business development role with a politically connected zoning and land use law firm with UNLIMITED earnings potential. That’s not the transparency voters were promised and deserve!
In response to the employment agreement, a majority of the City Council compelled the Mayor to respond to concerns we had over the potential conflict, and we received a short emailed response....
In his own words, Mayor Bhalla “has no specific responsibilities” at the law firm and “is not expected to spend any time” at his second job. Why would any employer want a no-show employee without any specific responsibilities? The truth is that Ravi Bhalla has been hired to use his notoriety as our Mayor to benefit his new firm. If he secures a new client for his firm, maybe another entity that does business with Hoboken for example, he'll be compensated for it. And if a client needs a favor in Hudson County, they've got a Mayor on the payroll. It's the oldest play in the book for the political establishment, and the losers are taxpayers like us who get hit with the bill. In Jersey politics, this sadly only means one thing -- peddling and trading professional contracts for personal and political gain. It's not illegal, just ethically corrupt.
From the City Council’s official inquiry, we also learned that in responses to questions about conflicts of interest, Mayor Bhalla has proposed that the city’s chief municipal lawyer, commonly referred to as Hoboken’s “Corporation Counsel” provide advice on potential conflicts. The person who fills this position not only reports to the mayor and serves at his pleasure, but has also contributed financially to the mayor’s election account. Will Corporation Counsel disclose his findings to the City Council? Who will pay for the legal staff reviewing Mayor Bhalla’s business dealings? Seeing that the City’s chief lawyer is vested in the status quo and since his ethical oversight is over his own boss — it’s like the ethical wild west.
The last time Ravi Bhalla confided in Corporation Council about a potential conflict, back in 2011, he failed to provide complete background of the case and was subsequently issued an ethics violation for voting on a business partners city contract. The notice was ironically handed down six days after he won the mayoral election...nearly six years after the violation initially took place. This just goes to show how long an ethics violation, once discovered and reported, takes to be properly heard.
To make matters even worse, the new law firm that Mayor Bhalla is working for has numerous political and financial ties to his previous firm. Both firms are major contributors to a Political Action Committee called “Leadership PAC for Better Government,” an organization that has made thousands of dollars in political donations for the purpose of securing more government contracts for its founders. The PAC donated $2,000 to Donald Trump and $3,500 to Kim Guadagno. In fact, one of the principles of the firm recently served as the Chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party -- and he was replaced recently as Chairman by a partner in Ravi’s previous firm! Considering Mayor Bhalla promise to “stand up to Trump,” it’s offensive for him to join a Republican-leaning law firm that actively supports candidates who fight harder than anyone to push Trump’s agenda in NJ. This is a clear betrayal of Hoboken’s progressive values.
Further, I am personally alarmed that Mr. Bhalla will be sharing the same title with a colleague at his new firm, former Congressman Jim Courter, who once ran as the Republican candidate for Governor, and called for limiting the rights of homosexuals to work as teachers, foster parents and camp counselors or in other jobs that put them in contact with children. Source: The New York Times.
The above is exactly why it's so important for the City Council to act as a watchdog on this issue and ensure that Hoboken isn't for sale. I am currently in the process of drafting a comprehensive ethics ordinance to ensure that our mayor’s second job is transparent to all citizens and that he is held to the same standard as any other City employee.
On Election Day 2017, Hoboken saw 6 candidates running for mayor and 14 running for City Council to fill 3 seats -- a political circus that confused and frustrated many voters. In response to residents concerns, an overwhelming majority (7-2) of the City Council approved a ballot referendum which would allow our community to collectively decide whether or not to re-institute runoff elections. Mayor Bhalla vetoed the ordinance, spreading half-truths and politicizing the issue, but the Council responded by overriding him (7-2) to let the people decide (click here to read the NJ.com article).
This issue will now be voted on by the people, this election day - November 6, 2019 - not decided by establishment politicians like Mayor Bhalla who benefit from a flawed current system.
Without runoff elections, true independent candidates face an uphill battle and a nearly impossible task to run for office without institutional support as crowded races favor the person who can raise the most money, the incumbent. That wasn’t always the case though. In 2007, Dawn Zimmer lost her election to City Council in a four-way race to a long-time incumbent, but won head-to-head in a runoff. Without a runoff, Dawn Zimmer would never have sat on the City Council...she would have lost in the winner-take-all scenario we have today. A similar outcome also just occurred in the 2017 Jersey City's Ward E runoff where the candidate backed by the establishment won in the general election, but lost to an upstart in the runoff. So, in blocking runoffs, Mayor Bhalla is essentially limiting the viability for independents to run for political office in favor of himself and candidates that he supports.
Reinstating runoffs allows local candidates a chance to make their case on municipal issues without having them distracted by the polarizing partisan politics found at the state and national levels. I believe that we need to continue to challenge the status quo to ensure that new energy and new ideas are encouraged and elevated by Hoboken's electoral process, not thwarted by establishment politicians.
Keep in mind, Mayor Bhalla was not supported by 67% of voters, earning less than 1/3 of votes and seeing runoffs would return majority rule, and his opposition to runoffs calls into question his ability to actually win a majority vote. It is further disappointing to see Mayor Bhalla not just deny Hoboken residents the opportunity to have their voices heard in a public referendum on our voting rights, but to also see him spread misinformation and half-truths while doing so.
The Mayor cites reduced voter turnout in a recent Jersey City runoff where the mayoral candidate wasn't even in the runoff and fails to mention that the last time Hoboken held a runoff election for Mayor in 2009 turnout actually increased from the general election. Meanwhile, he suggests that he supports an instant runoff system that, while certainly worth exploring, is not currently allowable by state law and even if permitted, likely won't roll out before the next mayoral election. The mayor references “massive vote-buying” which although has significantly decreased over the years, is still sadly an issue but not unique to runoffs. Perhaps our mayor’s energies are best spent suppressing the referenced vote buying, not stopping the people’s right to decide whether or not they want a runoff election. Think about it, should we blame the voting process for Russian meddling, or should we aim to end Russian meddling?
Sadly, all of this is meant to distract from the fact that Mayor Bhalla is concerned that re-instituting runoff elections would hurt his chances of re-election as he has not demonstrated the ability to secure majority support or to work collaboratively with his fellow elected officials. This is a deeply cynical ploy that puts politics over our city's values of transparency and openness.
Wasted potential is always a sad thing to see, but sometimes we have an opportunity to step up and do something about it -- that’s exactly the situation at Warrington Plaza.
This currently fenced-in, underutilized property is immediately adjacent to Hoboken Terminal, located just north of the NJT terminal and PATH entrance. Right now, it’s a place where vagrants congregate and a major waste of valuable waterfront space. Since taking office in the first ward, which comprises the terminal, I’ve worked and advocated for a plan that will return this unique and historic plaza to public use.
On January 17, I was proud to sponsor, and for the Hoboken City Council to unanimously pass, a resolution formally asking Mayor Bhalla to move the plan forward to meet the timeline of opening access to the waterfront and activating an outdoor marketplace and waterfront plaza, this year. It’s crucial that the city do its part to keep this project moving, especially when it meets the existing redevelopment plan for the site and when the conditionally designated developer has already expressed significant support for the idea.
The Warrington Plaza Market plan would transform the property into a retail and food service hub, a place where neighbors and commuters can walk to enjoy gourmet food and drink outside when the weather allows. It will create a prime opportunity for existing local businesses and new entrepreneurs to reach new customers and expand their businesses, adding much-needed revenue to our city.
In the 1980’s the plaza received state funding in the form of green acres money to enliven the space and turn it into a congregation point, steps from the second largest transit hub in the state. At that time new pavers, lights, trees and a water fountain were all installed...all of which are now broken and the plaza is in utter disrepair. After September 11th 2001, New Jersey Transit began using the space as a parking lot and much more recently, a fence was installed to completely shut out the public from a space that had been granted tax dollars.
This blatant misuse of public land was an issue so important to me that it inspired my run for City Council and after winning, I immediately began advocating for it. I worked with all stakeholders and lobbied, and continue to lobby, the concept and viability of an outdoor market and waterfront plaza. Aside from returning public access to the water, this plan proposes a market area, develops a lush tree grove featuring a central dining area, provides a space for potential art installation and seating along the waterfront. Though the 2016 planning document is preliminary in nature, it shows a vision that I believe is the correct step forward for Hoboken. What is equally as important is that the proposal is entirely within the scope of the 2014 "Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan" which calls for a “Terminal District” - a place where retail and cultural uses are encouraged. No updates to the existing redevelopment plan in terms of height or density will be required to activate the plaza, and costs would be covered by the operator via rents generated from the kiosks and vendors.
In April of 2017, LCOR drafted a letter to the City and affirmed a commitment to pursuing the rehabilitation and activation of Warrington Plaza for an interim outdoor market use, as part of their overall efforts to advance the Redevelopment Plan. In that same letter, LCOR indicated that due to the complexities associated with activating the plaza, that 2018 is a more realistic activation goal. It’s now 2018 and it’s time to move this forward in line with the deadline that was indicated as possible.
All along, LCOR has maintained an ongoing dialogue with a French market operator who would like to open a year-round outdoor market similar to their operation at Manhattan’s Bryant Park, right here in Hoboken at Warrington Plaza. You can read more about this potential operator here: http://www.bensidounusa.com/
The Warrington Plaza plan is a win-win all around, and all we need now is for Mayor Bhalla to do what’s needed to move the project forward, THIS YEAR!
Then, once we secure our outdoor waterfront plaza and activate an outdoor marketplace, I'll continue my advocacy for a permanent year-round indoor market at Hoboken Terminal -- a rent generating and privately operated business, similar to Chelsea Market in NYC or Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
*SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES TO THIS STORY*
Friday night, a disgusting, racist flier calling my colleague and opponent Ravi Bhalla a “terrorist” appeared in Hoboken, and it was made to look like it came from my campaign. The flier is a crude, photoshopped copy of a previous mailer with a racist epithet added. This is gutter politics at its worst -- we’re working with the Hoboken Police Department and all relevant authorities to find out who perpetrated this smear and who is trying to paint the campaign we’ve built together as racist.
Immediately, I spoke out not just about this vile attempt to divide our city, and also against several previous instances of hate that have been displayed, from an anonymous flier calling me a “crime boss” to Super PAC campaign lies blaming me for a tax increase that happened seven years before I was in office, to hate-fueled blogs and attacks on my sexuality and my partner. This campaign has shown the worst of Hoboken, but we won’t let hate win -- stand up and vote this Tuesday for the new energy our city needs by supporting Team DeFusco.
From the start, this campaign has been about shaking up the status quo and evidently we’ve made an impact, with powerful forces aligning to take us down. But we won’t let that happen. We’re working as hard as we can through the finish line, knocking on every door and meeting every resident we can to spread our message of positive change. Please help us spread the word by sharing the video above.
Thank you, and on to victory on Tuesday.
** UPDATE as of Monday, November 6th at 1pm **
Today the Hoboken Police Department confirmed an outside actor or actors with no connection to my campaign distributed a faked, altered version of my literature with a racist epithet. This is not only an attack on my colleague but also on my own integrity and on my campaign. This was a calculated criminal act designed to sway an election.
I urge all Hoboken residents to review this video footage and images and please contact Hoboken Police at 201-420-2131 or 201-420-2106 if you have any information about the person(s) seen here. We must all stand united against this kind of racism and interference in our democratic process, and not let fake news and misinformation change the outcome of this election.
A disgusting, racist flier was found on car windshields tonight that altered one of my campaign's mailers and added a racial epithet aimed at Ravi Bhalla. I condemn this piece of racist garbage in the strongest possible terms. Hoboken is far better than this and whoever made this flier is not only insulting one of my opponents in a despicable way, they are also painting me as a racist, which as the only openly gay elected official in Hudson County and a progressive Democrat simply could not be further from the truth.
I called Councilman Bhalla tonight to assure him that although we disagree on many issues, we can stand united against this kind of racism infecting our city. I’ve also submitted a copy of this flier to the Hoboken Police Department and will be sending it to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office to demand an investigation to determine who is intentionally misrepresenting my campaign. This injustice will not stand and we will do everything possible to get to the bottom of it.
Political stunts like this are everything that’s wrong with politics today and I’m horrified to see this happening in Hoboken.
A Super PAC that's backing Ravi Bhalla is trying to buy this election with a last-minute advertising blitz, spending over $50,000 to mislead Hoboken voters. This kind of interference from outside political interests is unprecedented in Hoboken elections and it is a clear sign that Bhalla is controlled by the special interests who are funding this shady campaign. This is especially troubling given the conflict of interest that was recently exposed related to Bhalla's vote on the NJ Transit Hoboken Yards redevelopment, because the law firm where he is a partner was paid $168,000 by NJ Transit in the same year that he voted in favor of the project.
The group funding these ads says on its own website: "ELEC works with developers to help win project approvals" and cites the very same Hoboken Yards project as a major win in its lobbying efforts.
Anyone who is concerned about over-development in Hoboken should take Ravi Bhalla's connection to this pro-development Super PAC extremely seriously and he needs to answer for this blatant attempt by outside political interests to take control of our city. Residential development has continued unchecked in the last eight years under Dawn Zimmer and Ravi Bhalla, with little to no community benefits or givebacks, more stress on our crumbling infrastructure and a lack of commercial development. With Ravi Bhalla as Mayor, this unbalanced development approach will no doubt continue.
Mike DeFusco believes in taking a smart, holistic approach to development that emphasizes attracting new businesses by modernizing outdated zoning laws and creating responsible public-private partnerships to build new schools and make major investments in the city. He has called for a dedicated infrastructure fund that would be mandatory on all new developments to make sure that needed improvements are not made solely on the backs of residents.
Hoboken can't let outside political interests take over our city -- stand up to the special interests and vote Team DeFusco on November 7.
Election Day is next week - Tuesday, November 7th. If you are still undecided, here is more information about the race via Hudson Reporter:
First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco grew up in Marlboro, N.J. He moved to Hoboken the day after graduating from the George Washington University and started his career as a marketing professional in New York City.
“I have spent the majority of my life post-college here in Hoboken, and that’s typical of a lot of people here,” said DeFusco. “I’ve come to love it here. As a guy born and raised in New Jersey, I had always heard of Hoboken as a fantastic city, a place where residents and culture thrive. Everyone growing up wanted to move to Hoboken.”
Now he is a homeowner and full-time marketing executive for a fortune 500 media broadcast company in New York City, where he oversees a multimillion dollar budget, employees, and projects. He said he will leave the job if he becomes mayor.
“I am the only candidate running who works in a field unrelated to state or Hoboken politics,” he added.
DeFusco said he first got involved in politics by volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2007.
“When Obama decided to come to Hoboken, I went to his rally and I was moved by the positive changes he wanted to make,” said DeFusco who then worked on his primary campaign.
He then got a seat on the Zoning Board in 2011, where he served for five years, before he ran for City Council in 2015, beating mainstay Theresa Castellano.
“Despite everyone telling me I wasn’t going to win, sure enough I beat a longtime incumbent by 14 percent,” said DeFusco.
He said his biggest accomplishments are work he did on the Zoning Board and City Council. He cited approving the building where Trader Joe’s is located, working to include affordable housing in new buildings, and the fight to improve traffic in southwest Hoboken. He also mentioned obtaining a commitment from the train terminal operators for an outdoor French market.
DeFusco was the only political official to announce his candidacy for mayor against Mayor Dawn Zimmer earlier this year, before she announced in June that she was not going to seek another term. He also had stood up to her on certain matters, such as zoning, whereas his opponents – Jennifer Giattino and Ravi Bhalla – rarely if ever publicly opposed her until this campaign. Giattino and Bhalla have both been on the council for more than one term.
“After working with the mayor, after disagreeing with the mayor, after having successes with the mayor, and after being frustrated with the mayor, I had an opportunity to decide again if I wanted to run for office,” he said. “And I decided to run against Dawn because I feel I can do a better job.”
DeFusco said his main issue is transparency.
“I don’t think we have had an administration that’s been transparent,” said DeFusco, citing the 8.5 million debt with the city’s water provider, the city budget funded by “unbridled haphazard residential development,” and the acquisition of park land using eminent domain which took the city 10 years to build.
He said one of his biggest frustrations is that “we had a master plan reexam in 2010 and during that time no one codified the recommendations the plan made.”
He said the masterplan is the “roadmap” that will help guide development and redevelopment zones instead of “zoning by variance.”
He said if elected he will turn the recommendations into law and that he will work with the Planning Board and City Council to update the city’s outdated zoning.
As for development, he said he would like to see a mix of residential and commercial space including tech incubators, urban wineries, co-working spaces, and mom-and-pop shops.
He said eminent domain is a last resort used for a greater public good but only after honest upfront negotiations have taken place with property owners.
He said rent control not only helps senior citizens or those who have been in town for 30 years but journalists, artist, musicians, and teachers.
Some residents have criticized DeFusco for running a negative campaign. He has pointed out problems with almost every other candidate.
“If the facts sound or seem negative, perhaps it because they actually are negative,” He said “When ever we state a fact, it is sourced with where we found it including news sources or council documents.”
DeFusco is the most highly funded candidate, collecting more than $300,000 in donations this year. This has led some residents to wonder if he will be beholden to some of his contributors if elected mayor. Residents have also said that he may be supported by the Hudson County Democratic political machine. For instance, his hired campaign spokesman is also the spokesman for North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, a leader of the countywide party.
“Independence to me is the heart and soul of why I ran in the first place,” said DeFusco. “Nobody asked me to run in the 1st Ward. Nobody put me up to run against Mayor Zimmer for the mayor’s office. I did this because I independently knew that my vision, my heart, and my integrity were going to serve the city well.”
“I’m honored to have the support of many in the building trades,” he said, “however they aren’t developers, they aren’t land owners. There are actually benefits in the long run in terms of our ability to find support in Trenton to find support in finding money in Washington. Having the support of trade unions is a good thing for leadership because we can work together with them to make sure we can find additional funding for resiliency or our water main infrastructure or our failing sewerage line.”
He added, “So in regards to independence, it’s a common political tactic that my opponents have used successfully in other races, but it’s not holding. It’s not sticking against me because I think people are smart enough to know that.”
Throughout this campaign, we’ve presented a lot of big ideas — modernized parking garages with real-time availability of spots, a seasonal dome over the field at 1600 Park and a European-style market at the train terminal, just to name a few. These are certainly exciting ideas but the question I hear a lot is “how are you going to pay for it — raise taxes?” Absolutely not. We’re going to stabilize taxes by creating new revenue sources for the city that aren’t on the backs of residential taxpayers, and without negative streams like the $6.5 million we generate from parking tickets.
This summer, it was revealed that Hoboken has racked up a previously unreported, completely unbudgeted debt of $8.3 million to Suez Water, our city's water provider, that has increased unchecked for the last two years. Residents are outraged and I’ve called for an independent DCA investigation to find out how this debt could have accumulated without public knowledge.
Only one major political figure in Hoboken was silent when this issue was brought to light -- Councilman Ravi Bhalla. The reason why is important to understanding why he’s not the right choice for Mayor.
Ravi Bhalla is a partner at one of New Jersey’s most politically-connected law firms, a firm that has $3.8 million in government contracts. He can’t speak out about the Suez debt, because Suez is one of his law firm’s clients. Suez Water paid Bhalla’s law firm $240,0000 in lobbying fees over the last two years, at a time when the city was negotiating the new contract. You can see the payments right here on official lobbying expense disclosure documents filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission:
Bhalla was forced to recuse himself from all votes and discussions on the water contract because of the potential for a major conflict of interest, but that doesn’t answer all the questions on this issue. The Zimmer administration began renegotiating the Suez contract two years ago, before Bhalla’s potential conflict was exposed. Mayor Zimmer has described Bhalla as “my partner from the beginning” in a recent letter she sent to voters endorsing him. Does that mean that Bhalla had a role in negotiating with Suez, even though he had the potential for a major conflict?
In 2014, the Hoboken City Council voted to approve a redevelopment plan for the NJ Transit Hoboken Yards property. Ravi Bhalla voted in favor of the plan, but during the same year the vote was cast the law firm where Bhalla is a partner was paid $168,630 by NJ Transit. This created a potential conflict of interest and possibly a serious violation of state ethics law. Bhalla’s law firm, which had $3.8 million in government contracts last year, continues to work for NJ Transit to this day according to its website.
Bhalla’s vote on the NJ Transit redevelopment plan appears to be a violation of the law given that his law firm has a long term business relationship with NJ Transit, billing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for personal injury defense work. Bhalla did not disclose any potential conflict prior to the vote and chose not to recuse himself.
New Jersey’s Local Government Ethics Law states:
No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment;
I believe that Hoboken needs a new perspective so we can solve our longstanding problems and create a better future. That's why I ran for First Ward Council and defeated a 21-year incumbent, because I think we should always challenge the status quo. I’m not a part of the political establishment and as a private sector media professional at a Fortune 500 company I have no ethical conflicts. I’ll work to reduce flooding in our neighborhoods by fixing our failing infrastructure, and I’ll also prioritize renegotiating the Suez debt to protect our taxpayers and our city. The same can’t be said of Ravi Bhalla.
Over the last few months, we’ve been talking about big ideas for Hoboken’s future together, as well as the necessary changes we can make right now to make our city work better. But now Election Day is almost here, and I think it’s time to take a look not just at what I’m proposing, but who I’m running against in this race.
All of my opponents have positive attributes, and this isn’t about personal attacks. But I think you deserve to know more about their backgrounds, because we can’t solve the problems in our city with the politicians who have helped cause many of them. This is why I think it’s important to check the facts about the candidates for Mayor.
Councilman Ravi Bhalla is a partner at one of the most politically connected law firms in the state, with over $3.8 million in government contracts last year. Although he initially denied a conflict, he was forced to recuse himself from voting on the city’s water contract when it was revealed that Suez had paid his firm $240,000 in lobbying fees over the last two years. He’s also been subject to two lawsuits for violating residents’ first amendment rights at city council meetings, one ongoing and one that the City settled at taxpayer expense.
Freeholder Anthony Romano is running for two offices at the same time, both Mayor and Freeholder. He’s a career politician who lives in subsidized housing, occupying an apartment that could be used by a family who needs it, even though he collects two government paychecks (a pension and Freeholder salary) worth over $160,000 per year and has substantial real estate investments in Hoboken. Romano has been a Hudson County Freeholder for over nine years, and during that time Hoboken’s county tax burden has increased by 86% to over $70 million.
As City Council President, Jennifer Giattino presided over city government during a time when we racked up an unreported, unbudgeted $8.3 million debt to our water provider. She also sponsored an ill-conceived flood ordinance which is now causing the destruction of historic brownstones, placing huge financial burdens on homeowners and displacing long-time residents from affordable garden level apartments. (Ordinance Z-263 2nd reading 11-6-2013 sponsored by Giattino, seconded by Mello). Now, she’s pointing fingers and asking for an explanation for something that happened on her watch.
I’m the only candidate for Mayor with no personal business interests in Hoboken and nothing politically to gain. As a private sector media executive in Manhattan, I’m not part of the political establishment. I ran for City Council because I saw that the longtime incumbent representing my neighborhood wasn’t getting the job done. I knew I could deliver more to my neighbors, and I’ve done that by reducing traffic congestion in the Southwest, improving pedestrian safety on Newark Street and securing a commitment from the operator of Hoboken Train Terminal to open an outdoor French market next year.
Now, I'm running for Mayor to be a problem solver for all of Hoboken, to make our city work for everyone -- I hope you'll help get us there on November 7.
Fourth Ward Councilman and former State Assemblyman Ruben Ramos is endorsing Mike DeFusco for Mayor along with the Team DeFusco Council slate in the November 7th city election. Ramos was elected decisively in 2015 and has partnered with DeFusco on numerous issues on the city council, from improving traffic conditions in the Southwest to pushing for better pedestrian safety on Newark Street and more.
“Mike DeFusco is the only candidate running for Mayor who truly understands what makes Hoboken so special -- the people who live here,” said Councilman Ramos. “Mike is a valued colleague of mine on the City Council and a tireless advocate for his constituents. As Mayor, I know he will fight hard for everyone. I'm proud to support Mike DeFusco and his entire team.”
“I’m honored to be endorsed by Councilman Ramos, someone I consider not just a colleague but a true friend who shares my vision for a more progressive and inclusive future for our city,” said DeFusco. “Our campaign isn’t about old Hoboken or new Hoboken, but about bridging the political divides that have held our community back for far too long. I look forward to working hard to earn every vote in this election and I thank Ruben Ramos for his strong support for our campaign.”
Hard truths are never easy to accept, especially when they come with long term consequences. When we began this campaign together four months ago, we talked about the need for change and for new energy and ideas in City Hall. Now, we’ve learned that Hoboken has rung up a debt of over $8 million to Suez Water that seems to come as a surprise to the very people who were in a position to do something about it. Need for change has never been more urgent.
Some time in 2014, for reasons we are not yet aware of, Mayor Zimmer’s administration stopped paying Suez for repair work the company had done on our city’s aging water infrastructure. These repairs cost the city millions of dollars each year, yet somehow these figures were never included in the city’s municipal budgets or annual audits. Now, with the administration pushing for a new contract with Suez seven years before the current deal expires, the truth about this $8.35 million liability is coming to light.
We don’t know what the ultimate impact will be yet, but if the city has to pay these bills in one year it would cause a 15% tax increase, which would hurt every homeowner and renter in Hoboken. I will do everything I can to help us avoid this outcome.
This all happened at a time when two of my opponents in the race for Mayor, Ravi Bhalla and Jen Giattino, served as Council President and had seats on the Council Infrastructure Committee. Now they are pointing fingers, but the truth is that they have been Mayor Zimmer’s closest allies on the Council and have always been in a position to do something about this unbudgeted liability. Councilman Bhalla has since had to recuse himself from any of these discussions due to a potential conflict of interest stemming from his law firm’s business relationship with Suez.
Yesterday, I sent a letter to the State Department of Community Affairs requesting an official investigation into these issues to find out the extent of the damage done to our finances. Only an independent analysis will reveal how deep a hole we’re in and the costs that could be eventually passed on to taxpayers before it gets any worse.
I'm running for mayor to bring new energy and new ideas to City Hall, but now it’s clear that we also need a fresh injection of transparency and sound fiscal judgement. As your mayor, I will work tirelessly to resolve any outstanding liability in an open and transparent manner while modernizing our aging infrastructure. Only an honest discussion will allow us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Now is the time for new leadership and a new direction for our city. I hope you will join me in making that a reality.
Mayoral candidate and Councilman Mike DeFusco is calling for an independent investigation into the recent revelations that the City of Hoboken is carrying an $8.35 million liability to Suez Water for infrastructure repairs over the past three years, a sum that was not accounted for in any recent city budget, or listed on the city’s audit. Speaking about the liability at last night's City Council meeting, the city's auditor claimed he just became aware of the sum “yesterday” while the City's Business Administrator, Steven Marks, first was alerted of the presence of the liability “a year ago” but claimed to have not realized the extent of the debt until “a few months ago.” The liability came to light due to the administration's push for a new long term contract with Suez, seven years before the current agreement is set to expire, and the questions raised by DeFusco and other members of the City Council.
“This unbudgeted, previously unknown liability is a shocking display of either incompetence or obfuscation by the Zimmer administration and its Council allies Ravi Bhalla, who is a member of the Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Council President Jen Giattino, who is also a member of that committee,” said DeFusco. “It's difficult to believe that a publicly traded company would allow a liability to get so large over many years and not say anything to the debtor. This could amount to a 15% tax increase to pay off this unfunded liability, which would be a harmful outcome for our city.”
DeFusco has sent a letter (attached) to the State Department of Community Affairs, which oversees local governments, outlining the situation and requesting an official investigation.
At a previous meeting Councilman DeFusco revealed that Councilman Ravi Bhalla had a potential conflict of interest due to his work as a partner for a law firm that Bhalla has now admitted counts Suez as a client. The firm’s business dealings with Suez date back at least to 2014, which was the year Hoboken began negotiating the proposed new contract. Ravi Bhalla has since recused himself from Suez related discussions and votes.
“As further details come to light, it is becoming more and more clear that the root of this mess was Mayor Zimmer’s intent to try and take this debt off the books through a hasty and ill-planned restructuring of the city’s contract with Suez so she could claim a tax cut for residents going into an election year,” said DeFusco. “It’s not yet clear exactly when Mayor Zimmer became aware of this mounting debt, but her decision, and the willingness of her Council allies, to try to sweep it under the rug rather than publicly acknowledge and address the problem flies in the face of open and responsible government. We need a full and impartial investigation into this matter to determine the extent of the damage that has been caused and the costs that will be eventually passed onto taxpayers thanks to the Zimmer administration's actions.”
Anthony Romano’s decision to simultaneously run for re-election as Freeholder and for Mayor of Hoboken is potentially against state election law and should not be allowed, said mayoral candidate Mike DeFusco, pointing to state statute that does not allow candidates to seek offices that the state constitution would not allow them to hold. DeFusco is confident that the Hudson County Clerk’s Office will advise Romano that he cannot run for both positions on the November ballot. Romano filed petitions with the city clerk today.
“Although I welcome all candidates to the race, the simple fact is that Freeholder Romano can't simultaneously serve as Freeholder and Mayor, and thus is prohibited from running for both at the same time according to state statute” said DeFusco. “Compelling legal questions aside, this decision sends a terrible message to voters by reinforcing old stereotypes about politicians cracking back room deals and thinking the rules don’t apply to them. I’m running for Mayor with no conflicts and nothing to personally gain, because I believe our city needs new ideas and new energy. The same can’t be said of my opponents, including Anthony Romano.”
DeFusco first voiced his objections to Romano’s candidacy last week after a letter filed on behalf of a concerned citizen challenging the legality of the decision was recently made public. The letter outlines specific sections of state law that Romano’s dual candidacy would violate, most notably NJ Revised Statute 19:3-5.1 which states that no candidate may appear twice on a ballot for offices which the state constitution would prohibit “the simultaneous holding” thereof. In addition, the letter lays out the possibility that the Freeholder seat could remain vacant for up to a year if Romano wins both elections.
In addition to the legal issues related directly to his potential candidacy, DeFusco is highlighting the clear possibility that Romano has intermingled funds from his Freeholder and Mayoral campaigns. Romano is using the same headquarters for both campaigns and much of the same campaign staff. His campaign did not file an official D-1 form with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission until late July, over a month after Romano mayoral materials were seen around Hoboken. All of this points strongly to a mixing of funds, an action that would violate election law, however given Romano’s history of failing to file campaign finance reports in the past, it is impossible to determine conclusively.
During his current term in office, Romano failed to file required ELEC reports for more than 31 consecutive months, with at least $31,300 of activity hidden during that time. Perhaps most troublingly, Romano has refused to file his 20 day post-primary ELEC report for this year and is refusing to file any mayoral ELEC report until October, denying voters the chance to see who is funding either of his simultaneous campaigns.
“Hoboken voters deserve to know who is funding all of the campaigns seeking their support, and candidates who hide behind loopholes or just ignore the law to shield their donors from public scrutiny are not promoting open government and transparency,” said DeFusco. “Anthony Romano has habitually failed to file mandatory campaign finance reports, leaving Hoboken completely in the dark about who is financing his campaign. This is unacceptable and yet another reason why his dual candidacy is problematic.”
After a letter filed on behalf of a concerned citizen was made public this week regarding the legality of Freeholder Anthony Romano running for both Freeholder and Mayor in this November’s election, Councilman and mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco is responding to the legal and ethical concerns raised by the situation. The DeFusco campaign obtained a copy of the letter by filing an Open Public Records Act request with the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, and a copy is attached.
Currently, Freeholder Romano is set to appear on the ballot for Freeholder by virtue of winning the primary election. He has also announced that he intends to run for Mayor at the same time. This action may be a violation of state election law, and is certainly a disservice to Hoboken residents who deserve elected leaders who put the community first, as well as appropriate representation at all levels of government.
“Compelling legal questions aside, what Freeholder Romano is apparently planning on doing is exactly why so many people are disillusioned with politics -- because he’s putting his own interests ahead of our community’s,” said DeFusco. “I’m running for Mayor because I believe that Hoboken needs new energy, new ideas and a new leader who will be focused only on giving back to our city and helping it reach its potential, not on taking from it.”
The letter outlines specific sections of state law that Romano’s dual candidacy would violate, most notably NJ Revised Statute 19:3-5.1 which states that no candidate may appear twice on a ballot for offices that which the state constitution would prohibit “the simultaneous holding” thereof. In addition, the letter lays out the possibility that the Freeholder seat could remain vacant for up to a year if Romano wins both elections.
“The possibility that Hoboken’s representative on the Freeholder Board could remain vacant for up to a year until a special election, or that our seat could be appointed by politicians, not elected by the voters, is a chance that we simply can not take,” said DeFusco. “Hoboken needs more representation, not less, and with so many pressing issues affecting our community at both the local and county level, it is shocking that Freeholder Romano would ask Hoboken residents to accept that outcome.”