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. This first passed in late-December of last year and then-Mayor Zimmer vetoed it as her last official act as Mayor -- on Friday afternoon before the holiday. The Council reintroduced the ordinance in the new year, as required due to the change in government, but Mayor Bhalla has now vetoed the ordinance for clear political advantage.
This issue should be decided by the people, not by entrenched, establishment politicians like Mayor Bhalla who benefit from a flawed current system.
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, this veto 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, but he 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. Further, 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 new 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.
Take a look at the video below. In it, former Councilman Dave Mello, a two-time running mate with both Dawn Zimmer and Ravi Bhalla explains how thanks to runoffs, independent candidates like then-citizen Dawn Zimmer, were able to lose a municipal election but win in the runoff election. Without a runoff in 2007, Dawn Zimmer would never have been elected since her opponent, the incumbent, won the four person race but lost head-to-head against her. A similar outcome also just occurred in the 2017 Jersey City Ward E runoff. So, in blocking runoffs, Mayor Bhalla is essentially limiting the viability for independents to run for political office. This push to reinstate the runoff is about good government -- it's about challenging the status quo and ensuring that new energy and new ideas are encouraged and elevated by Hoboken's electoral process, not thwarted by the establishment.
I will be working with my Council colleagues to determine what steps can be taken to ensure that Hoboken residents' voices are ultimately heard on this important issue. I will keep you all informed via this blog and social media.
Watch former Councilman Mello, who ran twice with Dawn Zimmer and Ravi Bhalla, explains why runoff elections help independent candidates get involved. Click the video above.