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?
ANOTHER POTENTIAL 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.