Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Councilman Peter Cunningham: "Mayor Bhalla takes on Second Job"

Official release:

Hoboken is a small yet very complicated City with urgent infrastructure and development needs requiring a full time Mayor.  At over $116K per year plus benefits, he or she is appropriately compensated to be a full time Mayor.  “The people of Hoboken expect it, and the job requires it,” said Councilman Cunningham.   

With not more than 50 days into Mayor Bhalla taking office, “I was shocked and disappointed to learn late on Friday that Mayor Bhalla has accepted paid job responsibilities at a politically connected law firm in Morristown, NJ,” said Councilman Cunningham.  “This not only breaks a campaign promise, but calls into serious question his judgement and commitment to Hoboken.” 

“Mayor Bhalla should be focused on many of the ongoing and developing issues of Hoboken like Washington Street, Rebuild by Design, redevelopment projects, Union Dry Dock and voter fraud,” said Councilman Cunningham. "Instead Mayor Bhalla has found it more important to “mentor” young lawyers?  The press release announcing his new position, however, stated that his requirements would instead involve 'strategic advice’.  The citizens of Hoboken expected that his strategic advice would be focused on Hoboken —not a law firm in Morristown.  This unfortunately leads to more questions and concerns about his time commitment and conflicts of interests to say the least." 

Peter H. Cunningham 
City of Hoboken
5th Ward Councilman

Bhalla campaign spokesman hits back on shellacking for new mayor taking employment at another law firm

Blasted by much of the Hoboken City Council this morning after the holiday weekend for breaking a campaign pledge to work full time as Hoboken mayor, Bhalla campaign spokesman Rob Horowitz hits back with jabs too.

It echoes faintly to an old Seinfeld episode morphed to "It's not me, it's you."

As reported on Hudson County View, an attempt to shift away from the Ravi Bhalla campaign promise leaving his old law firm and work full time is being reinterpreted with an attack on the City Council tossed in for good measure.

The original statement on Hudson County View appears below.

City Council President Ruben Ramos 'extremely concerned about potential conflicts of interest' with Mayor Bhalla's law firm employment

Official release:

As many Hoboken residents were, I was stunned to learn that Mayor Bhalla has taken an Of Counsel at a law firm. Mayor of Hoboken is a 24/7 responsibility and residents need to know how his new job factors into those responsibilities.

In my lifetime, every Hoboken mayor severed employment with their previous employer to avoid conflicts whether it be teacher, police office or firefighter so once again we have a Hoboken first with a Mayor having an employer outside the City of Hoboken while serving as Mayor.

I am extremely concerned about potential conflicts of interest and the public has a right to know what compensation arrangement the Mayor has with this prominent Republican leaning New Jersey law firm. We have major issues facing our city and this becomes another distraction that leaves us with more questions then answers as we work to move our city forward.

Councilman Mike DeFusco: Mayor Bhalla Broke Campaign Promise to be Full Time Mayor

Official release:

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.”

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher: 'How can we not feel bad about Mayor Bhalla's broken promise?'

Official release:

How can we all not feel bad about this?“ Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher responds to Mayor Bhalla’s new position as Of Counsel with politically connected firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen 

“How can we all not feel bad about this?  Both the message itself and how it was disclosed only on his personal Facebook page on a Friday evening before a long holiday weekend.   

His commitment to being a full-time mayor, his commitment to ending any conflicts or perceived conflicts with his politically connected law firm, and his commitment to putting Hoboken first and not using the platform of the mayor as a stepping-stone to higher office were all questioned during the election.  We relied upon his own words when he said to HMAG on November 2, 2017, just five days before Election Day, ‘if I am elected Mayor, I will be working full-time for the people of Hoboken.’   But now, we have to question all of these again.  

Am I surprised that he broke his promise to Hoboken residents?  I want to be.  We clearly need to know more about the overall structure, time commitment, financial incentives and potential conflicts that he has in this new arrangement and how it will be managed going forward to fully understand the implications to Hoboken.  But I can say that I have worked with many lawyers with this title in my professional career over the years and in all cases their primary role was client facing and revenue generating, not ‘mentoring and guiding young attorneys’.  This would be the first.”

City Council Vice-President Jen Giattino Calls on Mayor Bhalla to Fulfill His Promise to Hoboken Residents of ‘Working Full-Time for the People of Hoboken’.

Official release:

City Council Vice-President Jen Giattino Calls on Mayor Bhalla to Fulfill His Promise to Hoboken Residents of ‘Working Full-Time for the People of Hoboken’.

“During the election when asked how he would do a full-time job as mayor while working as a lawyer, and when asked how he would avoid conflicts of interest with his politically-connected law firm, he repeated the promise that he would quit his law job to work “full-time for the people of Hoboken.” Voters in Hoboken took him at his word and elected him Mayor.  Now we find that when he said he’d quit his job, he apparently thought he had a loophole to take a job with another firm that is as politically connected as the one he left.

The mayor of Hoboken gets a salary of $116,000 annually, the highest in Hudson County.  Only two towns in Hudson County - Hoboken and Jersey City - have full-time salaries at these levels for full-time mayors.  All other towns have part-time salaries for part-time mayors who have additional jobs.  

He knew what people believed when he promised to quit his job and work full time for Hoboken.  Hoboken pays for and needs a full-time mayor.   He should follow through with his promise.”

Ravi Bhalla on the brink

The stunning news of another back room deal, this one involving a new law firm announcing Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla as one of their own is creating shockwaves across the Mile Square City.

The new mayor will not be working full-time for Hoboken as promised after all.

Many Hoboken residents are concerned about the actual contract with the law firm Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C. and expect there will be an effort to obtain its actual terms. Will Mayor Ravi Bhalla cooperate and provide one for public transparency or declare it off limits?

Hudson County View broke the bombshell story over the holiday weekend. The Bhalla deal with the law firm comes merely a month after his term begins and after his promise to leave his former law firm, the politically statewide connected Florio Perrucci.

If the former law firm is feeling jilted, they aren't complaining publicly. During the League of Municipalities meetings in Atlantic City last November, representatives of the firm were rumored overheard bragging at events how no business goes through Hoboken without their approval.

The revelation of another Mayor Bhalla back room deal puts everyone on edge with the City Council meeting set for tomorrow.

An announcement of some kind today is expected from City Hall as the mayor's office desperately seeks to distract from Mayor Bhalla's broken promise.