Monday, October 15, 2018

When the headlines go wrong

Lost in the buzz of ever-growing millions with the City Council taking a less than transparent Hilton Hotel process by its collar and shaking it; the finale of the downtown redevelopment took some late, unexpected turns.

The original plan intended to make Mayor Ravi Bhalla a hero and provide plenty of votes (and greenbacks to his campaign coffers) for his election... somewhere. The City Council will pass the finalized plan this Wednesday but not before some grandstanding at the mic. Public portion will be boring and/or entertaining depending on your patience.

Lost in the fine print, none of the ever-increasing millions courtesy of the City Council's late efforts entering the non-transparent and non-public process will be paid until after the Hilton Hotel opens.

That's three years of celebrating another "Ravi Bhalla accomplishment" in his never-ending election campaign but nary a nickel finding its way benefiting Hoboken up front. (There's but $75,000 obtained late by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher for a study up front replacing the Y uptown with a Hoboken Community Center.)

No one is unhappy with funds made available in givebacks for Hoboken but the process of where and how much connected to a higher Hilton Hotel illustrated how a plan hatched out of the mayor's office and conducted by the mayor's aides led to a media backfire and embarrassment.

How much money was left on the table in Ravi Bhalla's rush to officiate his union friends' unofficial announcement as a mainstay player in Hoboken's future? No one can say exactly but even with the City Council's late efforts working toward an improved financial outcome, observers state millions more was available.

One close political observer noted the mayor and his staff were frantic to grab headlines and lost sight of what was financially available for Hoboken. They noted the developer appeared quick to finalize even with late City Council input and sweeten the deal to more than four million as millions more were likely earmarked.

Pointing to the value in three additional floors being added to the Hilton Hotel in the neighborhood of $10 million annually, other local and industry related sources noted the developer would seek to arrive at an agreement quickly with the City Council as the budgeted givebacks were in the end lower than anticipated.

Adding to the less than transparent process, sources say Ravi Bhalla was more than a little angry to see his $3 million "gift" to two non-profits topped by the majority on the City Council for Hoboken's betterment.

At one point, upon hearing of the City Council efforts to further add to their efforts in obtaining $300,000 for the three charter schools, Bhalla exploded saying he would blow up the entire Hilton Hotel deal.

Not a day later, the mayor's office would find itself issuing public congratulations to the City Council for its winning efforts on behalf of Hoboken. The fait accompli completed without their input had been undone for the betterment of Hoboken and the headline-seeking mayor had his plate of crow returned.

Mayoral aides followed with tantrums of their own, airing behind the scenes how the mayor would go to war with the City Council for what they did in adding to monies for Hoboken and seek their destruction in council ward races next year. The City Council core working together with its subcommittee members Jen Giattino, Peter Cunningham, Tiffanie Fisher, and Mike DeFusco kept working with Council President Ruben Ramos to improve the plan unfazed. Not three months into office, Bhalla had already announced a war footing against the City Council at his first fundraiser.

According to well-placed sources, Councilwoman Jen Giattino led on the call for the charter schools who were left out entirely of the original seven figures for the school district. When the council efforts continued to seek greater givebacks from the developer for the three schools, Ravi Bhalla reportedly exploded in anger saying he would not stand for one dollar more for the charter schools. Then he later claimed that the increased charter school funding was all his doing.

Councilman Mike DeFusco pushed hard for more infrastructure especially in the area of the hotel in the first ward. Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher championed funding for the Affordable Housing Trust, an area of interest for Councilwoman Vanessa Falco as well. Councilman Peter Cunningham acted as the senior statesman to keep a positive dialog open with both the Hilton Hotel developer and Ravi Bhalla.

Four of the councilmembers executed over days and held firm with the full support of City Council President Ruben Ramos throughout. Councilwoman Jen Giattino kept a low-profile as she's worked diligently over years behind the scenes to come to a solution on a downtown Hoboken hotel. Unlike Ravi Bhalla, she kept working until the final plan was completed, seeking no personal glory for herself.

The City Council did a service to Hoboken working late toward a better outcome but Ravi Bhalla will seek payback for it all the more. The City Council did better for the Mile Square City but they messed up the mayor's headlines and showed whatever he does, they can do better.

Now Ravi, about that Washington St. reconstruction "accomplishment" to ninth street by mid-July...

Ravi Bhalla recasts himself as Ritchie Rich when he prematurely announced $3 million for two non-profits for the Hilton Hotel plan. The City Council having played no role in the process of allocating givebacks jumped in and got to work.  Their late efforts improved it to closer to $5 million depending on how you count it.