Monday, April 23, 2018

Grist for the Mill: Team Conflicted: Team Ravi-Russo looks to insert itself on Church Towers PILOT evaluation

A new Church Towers PILOT currently in the evaluation stages by the Ravi Bhalla Administration is creating tensions as clear undeniable conflicts surface involving Team Ravi-Russo.

At the recent subcommittee meeting on Affordable Housing last week, the topic of a potential PILOT for Church Towers was presented by the Bhalla Administration. An email from the Bhalla Administration to the subcommittee prior to the meeting included one City Council member who is most certainly not a subcommittee member: Councilman Michael Russo.

Russo is a lifelong time resident of Church Towers, a complex of buildings in midtown Hoboken and the third ward base of the Russo Clan's decades-long political machine. MSV detailed aspects of Team Ravi-Russo since they formed an alliance last November when Ravi Bhalla attempted to find votes to see Russo elected City Council President. That plan failed with the council identifying a compromise candidate of its own naming Councilman Ruben Ramos.

The involvement of Michael Russo, let alone his presence on any aspect of a new PILOT for Church Towers is a bonafide conflict. Not only should Russo as a resident not be privy to any such discussions, written communications, or evaluations on the matter of a new PILOT for Church Towers; he should never be present in the Affordable Housing Subcommittee. Nor should Russo participate in City Council Chambers if the matter comes up in for discussion let alone a vote.

The Bhalla Administration refuses to admit Russo is conflicted from participation, saying it's up to Russo to decide. Team Ravi-Russo clearly intends to not only allow but encourage Michael Russo's participation. Councilwoman Jen Giattino, seeing Michael Russo on the Administration email switched Russo out and informed the Bhalla Administration prior to the meeting. It wasn't news but Giattino standing up for good government principle angers Mayor Ravi Bhalla who looked to pull a wooly conflict over council eyes. Dual-job Ravi Bhalla isn't pleased and will continue to target his former Reform-minded friends in 2019.

None of the other Affordable Housing subcommittee members protested the switch removing Russo. The good government trio of councilmembers: Jen Giattino, Peter Cunningham and Tiffanie Fisher will not allow participation by Michael Russo on a Church Towers Pilot evaluation or vote and the council itself is not likely to mount an objection leaving the Bhalla Administration's efforts at inserting him frustrated. Of course, nothing can stop Team Ravi-Russo from continuing to operate in happy conflicted fashion behind closed doors. No bets are being taken as local bookies declare "no line" on that issue.

Over in the Cave, the latest pathological Hoboken411-type lie attempted to lay the matter of a new Church Towers PILOT at the feet of Councilwoman Jen Giatinno. The pathetic fabrication failed to present even a morsel of a half-truth. A repeat of the last Church Towers PILOT will not see an easy ride as last.

Separately, a recent fine by NJELEC to Michael Russo for violations going back to 2009 was promptly paid by the third ward councilman but so too was that good governance issue ignored at Sybil's Cave. With Michael Russo clearly wallowing in bed with the Bhalla Administration, all basic good governance matters are persona non-grata in its murky subterranean paid political operative waters.

Team Ravi-Russo is busted in the latest conflict over Councilman Michael Russo's attempt to participate in a Church Towers PILOT under evaluation by the Ravi Bhalla Administration. Councilwoman Jen Giattino stood up for good governance and blocked his insertion into an Affordable Housing Subcommittee meeting by the Bhalla Administration. Russo isn't a member of the subcommittee and is conflicted up the gazoo.
Late Friday, almost 100 residents turned out for a rally on Union Dry Dock. NY Waterway the buyer of the location, is continuing a cleanup of the site and may begin boat maintenance and fueling operations around June 1st. Mayor Ravi Bhalla assumed control to emcee the citizens' event introducing a number of elected officials in attendance - except one. It's a councilmember notable for their efforts, both opposing NY Waterway's operations at the Union Dry Dock site and working for the second ward neighborhood.

Expect to learn more about the matter soon as its connected to Ravi Bhalla's two salaried mayoral aides who the new Hoboken mayor tried to pay an additional "stipend" for what he calls "overtime." Last week the City Council discovered the insertion into the bills and refused to approve it. The council has been trying to learn more about the budget plans of the Office of Mayor after he doubled the office's mayoral aides from one to two. Politics first!

Bhalla blew up goodwill in Trenton with the election of Governor Phil Murphy. Tensions flared after the Bhalla Administration urged the City Council to pass eminent domain proceedings against the Union Dry Dock site and the council honored the request by unanimous vote. Murphy's displeasure followed with Ravi Bhalla then announcing a full retreat asking the council to undo the action. The City Council again approved his request but the damage was done.

Hoboken is not in a good position with leverage against NY Waterway or influence with the NJ Governor. The local politics, however, is what Ravi Bhalla is focused on taking political advantage. The outcome of the Union Dry Dock issue will have to await what, if anything, Gov. Phil Murphy wishes to ponder in the way of a possible compromise should one become available.

Some Hoboken residents believe one may be found at the southern rail yards near the PATH. That real estate is held by LCORE on behalf of NJ Transit and one official attempted to open a dialogue but the response is that acreage is too valuable.

The bad feeling in the NJ Governor's Office is blowing against Hoboken on that front too. More on those ill winds against the Mile Square City in due course.

Grist for the Mill is MSV's rumor column. Got a tasty carrot for Horsey? Send it to smartyjones@me.com. All email is kept confidential and is protected by Da Horsey's proven Reporter Privilege upheld under the NJ Shield Law in Hudson County Superior Court. In farm animals we trust.