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.

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher: "Happy Monday - Cracks, Cranes, and Mud"

Official release:

Dear friends and neighbors: 

A couple of minor quick updates for this gloomy Monday morning (remember all of you who were excited about cooler weather... I was not one of them....).
  • The crane that has been used for the construction of 1425 Hudson is being taken down today.  I have asked, but have not yet confirmed, for the street to be re-opened after construction hours and on the weekends once it is removed.  This would not involve restoring any street parking, but rather just to allow better street access throughout the remainder of the project.
  • The Harborside parks.  The mud is epic in both parks – children’s and dog - right now, in particular, the entrance to the new dog park.  Per the city when I enquired last week “The contractor will be on site to install the second gate early next week [this week]. We're going to replace the mulch with gravel at the entrance to solve the mud problem, which should also be installed next week.” In terms of the hedges [pruning them to a lower height] and overall maintenance, the City is getting proposals for both and will provide a better updating on timing shortly.  
  • The waterfront walkway near Maxwell Park.  If you walk in the area, you will notice a part of the walkway between 11th and 12th has been cordoned off.  A Maxwell neighbor alerted me this morning to what they described as a sinkhole, and because I only heard from one neighbor, I thought it might be small.  But when I walked over, I saw that in fact, it is an approximate 3’x4’ section that had collapsed.  I reached out to the many officials within the City who immediately responded, blocked off the area and will be bringing in marine engineers to review.  
I’m providing this narrative as much to inform you about what occurred and to ask that you respect the barriers that have been put up but also to say thank you to our neighbor who reached out to me this morning about this safety hazard.  This type of our own informal Hoboken neighborhood watch system is what helps us contain potentially dangerous situations quickly.  So please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, to the City via Hoboken 311, to any councilmember or to call either 911 or the Hoboken Police Departments non-emergency line at 201/420-2100.  We are better working together.
Top picture, left to right: Jennifer Gonzalez, Director of Environmental Services, Leo Pelligrini, Director of Health and Human Services, Kimberli Craft, City Engineer, Joe Lupo, Office of Emergency Management, Sgt. William Montanez, Head of Office of Emergency Management.  Bottom picture how I found it this morning before OEM et al came.
  • The proposed new Hilton Hotel - the City Council subcommittee and the Mayor reached an agreement.  You can read THE PRESS STATEMENT sent out late Friday to learn more.  We are still hammering out some of the details in the agreement, but this means that we are confident going into the City Council meeting on 10/17 that we have sufficient votes for it to be approved.  
  • Tomorrow – October 16 - is the deadline for registering to vote or changing your address to vote in Hoboken! 
    • If you have never voted in Hoboken in recent elections – so not registered, just moved to town, and/or registered but not voted recently – then click on THIS LINK – to check if your registration is updated and will allow you to vote in Hoboken in the upcoming election.  
    • And then click HERE to see where you vote.  So if you moved within Hoboken, for example, you may want to update your address so you are voting in the district that you live. 
    • And if you need to register or change your address, you can download the VOTER REGISTRATION FORM (click here for SPANISH) and drop it off at City Hall.  Or let me know and I will come pick it up and bring it to City Hall for you.
I have more updates, but these had some time sensitivity to them.  I am working on a second update that will send out separately.  As always, feel free to reach out if you want to discuss this further, or anything else, by email or by phone 201/208-1674.  And please forward this to anyone you think would benefit from hearing about this.  
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”