Councilman calls for full disclosure on Mayor’s new job, will introduce stricter new ethics rules for chief executive
Hoboken, NJ – Councilman Mike DeFusco is calling on Mayor Ravi Bhalla to disclose his full job description and employment agreement related to the new position he recently accepted as an “Of Counsel” attorney with the law firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen. DeFusco also plans to introduce an ordinance that will expand the city’s ethics code to hold the mayor’s office to a higher ethical standard and reduce the possibility of conflicts of interest. Hoboken’s mayor is paid the most of any mayor in Hudson County, with an annual salary of $116,100 as well as a generous benefits package.
“Ravi Bhalla promised that he would serve the City of Hoboken as a full time mayor when he was running for the position, but unfortunately that appears to have been nothing but a bait and switch tactic,” said Councilman DeFusco. “Mayor Bhalla claims this position is about mentoring young attorneys, but given his past ethical lapses including one violation recently affirmed by the Local Finance Board, that’s a tough pill to swallow. In reality, this is a financial boon for the mayor that creates the potential for significant conflicts of interest where he will be in a position to use his public office to create business development opportunities for his new employer. That’s why it’s so important that we fully understand Mayor Bhalla’s relationship with this firm and for the City Council to continue acting as a watchdog to prevent any abuses of the public trust.”
Mayor Bhalla was previously employed as a Partner at the firm Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt & Fader, a firm that had client relationships with entities involved in business with the city including Suez Water and NJ Transit. Responding to criticism that his employment represented the potential for a conflict of interest, Bhalla declared: “ … if I am elected Mayor, I will be working full-time for the people of Hoboken, severing my employment with the firm.” (Source: hMag Candidate Questionnaire)
“Obviously, Mayor Bhalla has broken his promise to be a full-time mayor for the people of Hoboken, but what’s even more troubling are the many ties between his old firm and his new one,” said Councilman DeFusco. “At a time when our city faces a litany of different issues and challenges, like finishing Washington Street, connecting our waterfront and reducing traffic, residents deserve a full-time mayor, not someone whose attention will be divided.”
Both Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt & Fader and Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen 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. The PAC donated $2,000 to Donald Trump and $3,500 to Kim Guadagno. In fact, one of the principles of Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen recently served as the Chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party -- and he was replaced recently as Chairman by a partner at Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt & Fader. This revolving door of politically-connected attorneys, contracts and PACs makes full disclosure of Mayor Bhalla’s new position even more crucial for transparency.
“It’s appalling to see a mayor who based much of his campaign on standing up to Donald Trump now working for a law firm that supported Trump,” said DeFusco. “This is the kind of hypocrisy that people hate about politics.”