Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ravi Bhalla prepares more dirt for the Reform Movement's grave

BOMBSHELL: Mayor Ravi Bhalla is undoing Dawn Zimmer's landmark 2011 Pay-to-Play ordinance in a bid for Special Interest - Dark Money

Councilman Mike DeFusco launches atomic attack alleging Ravi Bhalla coordinating with a Hoboken vendor for Dark Money and a Super PAC in upcoming Hoboken election

In 2011, former mayor Dawn Zimmer pressed forward with an update to Hoboken's pay-to-play ordinance seeking to limit the amount of money from outside special interests impeding Hoboken sovereignty.

Eight years later, Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his administration are seen undermining that signature Reform legislation in the Mile Square City, one he co-authored at the time, as alleged Dark Money and City vendor conflicts emerge from the shadows in bombshell allegations.

Last August, obtained a public letter sent by Joel Mestre, President of the Municipal Supervisors Association union. The letter, published for the first time here, oddly sought to undo the landmark 2011 Hoboken ordinance.

The letter from Hoboken's small union complained about Hoboken's limitations on political contributions being far below those of the State of New Jersey claiming it was a handicap and a "potential liability" for a lawsuit.

In over eight years, there's never been any Constitutional challenge to the ordinance in Hoboken. Other municipalities of New Jersey implemented similar pay-to-play restrictions prior to Hoboken and have seen no successful legal challenge since.

On August 1st, in a telephone interview with Mestre, he claimed to author the letter. In a discussion of the ramifications with far larger special interests outside Hoboken, Mestre asked for additional time to review the situation and promised to follow-up.

Hours later, Mestre phoned and stated, "we rescinded the letter" saying the City Council was notified in writing the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association was reversing course and would not be pursuing the matter. 

Asked to explain the sudden reversal in a single week, Mestre pointed to an unwillingness to see opened a "Pandora's Box" of far larger and more powerful NJ special interest groups and Dark Money entities enter Hoboken.

Other sources within City Hall point to the mayor's office and a recent move with Ravi Bhalla's Chief of Staff John Allen moving into the Hoboken Law Department as prompting ongoing efforts to undo the Dawn Zimmer reform.

"It is counterproductive to a small municipal union to have Dark Money and statewide special interests invited in to push Hoboken around," said one who asked not to be named to avoid retaliation from the mayor's office. 

Dark Money Alliances and a PAC to invade Hoboken?

Then this week, the Hudson County View published a story identifying one potential PAC (Political Action Committee), NJ Community Initiativesas preparing to throw money into Hoboken's upcoming council ward races. The PAC reportedly hired Stephanie Wohlrab, a professional fundraiser.

According to that exclusive Hudson County View report, Wohlrab counts among her clients, former mayor Dawn Zimmer and Ravi Bhalla. 

On September 3rd, an 18-page letter to Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia from a lawyer, Raymond Hamlin of Hunt, Hamlin, and Ridley stated it had been "tasked" to write on the constitutional basis of Hoboken's 2011 Pay-to-Play ordinance.

Hamlin's letter to Aloia concluded, "I trust this is responsive to your inquiry." (emphasis added).

In a follow-up interview by phone with Joel Mestre yesterday afternoon, he said he doesn't know Raymond Hamlin and had no involvement in having him "tasked" to prepare an 18-page letter challenging the 2011 Hoboken Pay-to-Play ordinance.

"I never got a call from this guy," Mestre stated. 

Who's driving this train against Pay-to-Play?

Yesterday, Mestre reiterated he had rescinded the late July letter. On August 1st, hours after the first contact from, Mestre indicated a reversal, in writing, was sent to the City Clerk's Office and City Council President Jen Giattino. The letter was also received shortly thereafter by the City of Hoboken Law Department.

Why did the City of Hoboken Legal Department "task" an outside attorney to undertake a lengthy analysis and 18-page letter dismissive of Hoboken's Pay-to-Play ordinance?

In an email late yesterday to Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia, this website asked several questions with one restated below:

What role and when did the Hoboken Law Department initiate communication with them (Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley) and why?

At the time of this story's publication, there's been no response from Hoboken Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia. Back in 2017 however, Aloia, a carryover from the Zimmer Administration is seen as a $600 contributor to Ravi Bhalla's mayoral campaign. That amount is within legal limits.

Yesterday, Councilman Mike DeFusco in an interview with John Heinis, editor, and publisher of the Hudson County View launched bombshell allegations at Ravi Bhalla saying he was coordinating with a SuperPAC connected to a Hoboken insurance vendor, Fairview, to work in tandem against him and others in the November council races. Ravi Bhalla has previously announced his own council ticket.

Any coordination, however, between Ravi Bhalla, the Hoboken insurance vendor, Fairview Insurance Agency Associates in Hoboken's council elections would be illegal under NJ law.

In the interview, DeFusco was asked about his accepting excessive campaign funds in excess of the 2011 Hoboken Pay to Play Ordinance. He's previously accepted tens of thousands in excess campaign contributions in Hoboken's 2017 mayoral election and continues to do so in 2019. 

The councilman up for re-election ignored the heart of the question stating more than once he would comply with the State of NJ and Federal campaign requirements. DeFusco did not indicate how he would vote should new legislation come before the City Council to undo the 2011 Hoboken Pay-to-Play ordinance.

City of Hoboken communication manager Vijay Chaudhuri has not denied the possibility of Ravi Bhalla backing new legislation dismantling the 2011 Pay-to-Play ordinance. Oddly, he references the potential involvement of the Hoboken City Council which he typically comments on almost strictly by way of attacks.

Founder and COO of Fairview Insurance Agency Associates John Graham
and Michael J. Graham

Talking Ed Note: This story is breaking.... all over the place. Hat tip to the Hudson County View for its ongoing investigative reporting contributing to this developing story.

The Hoboken 2011 Pay-to-Play ordinance was passed on July 1, 2011, with the elevation of Councilwoman Jen Giattino to office. Although threats were repeatedly made alleging its unconstitutionality by former councilwoman Beth Mason, no challenge was ever made by her or anyone else in its eight-plus years. 

Former mayor Dawn Zimmer was contacted yesterday by email and asked to comment on her feelings with Ravi Bhalla seeking to undo her 2011 Pay-to-Play ordinance. She has appeared recently on Twitter complaining about pedestrian safety but does not respond to inquiries on Ravi Bhalla's actions reversing policy and legislation under her tenure.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla will not be available to comment for this story.
Communications Manager Vijay Chaudhuri will not be available to comment for this story.
Chief of Staff John Allen will not be available to comment for this story.
Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia is again invited to comment on this story.

City Council President Jen Giattino: "Thank you for your support and looking forward!"

Official release:

Dear friends and neighbors,

Thank you to everyone who signed a nominating petition for me.  With your support, I will officially be on the ballot for re-election to Hoboken City Council as the 6th ward representative!  Hoboken matters so much to all of us and I am grateful for the chance to continue to work alongside you and to be your advocate for the next four years.  

My focus has always been, and will continue to be, on improving quality of life issues, working to keep taxes low, helping those who have less, supporting our local businesses, and protecting our neighborhood feel that makes Hoboken so special.  Our track record together is strong including:
  • Making zoning changes that preserve the historic character of the community
  • Fighting to keep our taxes as low as possible
  • Adding loading zones in neighborhoods
  • Supporting building a new American Legion and six new homes for homeless veterans
  • Installing stop signs throughout the 6th ward to ensure safe pedestrian passage
  • Advocating for Union Dry Dock to be added to the open space plan since 2012 
  • Completing necessary upgrades to city parks (grass in Church Square)
  • Expanding affordable housing resources and 
  • Securing more County funding including $250,000 for dog park upgrades  
I have also advocated to ensure that local nonprofits are able to continue operating and to fix a loophole in the city’s rent control law to protect tenants and as part of the mayor's task force, I have worked to reduce homelessness in Hoboken.  A highlight for me was securing a Section 8 housing voucher and a new home for one of Hoboken's chronically homeless women.

As we look ahead, we have to continue the progress we have made including completing Rebuild By Design to make our community resilient to storm-related flooding, working even harder to keep our taxes as low as possible in a rising cost environment, ensuring new development works for Hoboken including less reliance on cars and inclusion of more affordable units, launching our new Special Improvement District to help local businesses thrive, and finishing our plans for open space including the NW, SW, Harborside Parks and connecting the last two remaining pieces of our public waterfront park.  

There is a lot to do and I am excited to have your support and together, tackle what lies ahead.  As I continue to knock on doors and meet with neighbors, I am honored to hear phrases like “you're everyone's neighbor” and "thank you for always listening".  I have strived to cultivate a reputation as an advocate for our neighborhood and pride myself on being accessible to my constituents for problem-solving while providing independent, responsible leadership on the City Council.  

Serving the residents of Hoboken is something I take very seriously and our community deserves a true advocate who has always, and will always do whatever they can to deliver to residents and put Hoboken first.  I have had the honor to lead the City Council four times since taking office as Council President, having been elected by my peers reflecting what I believe is my dedication to public service and willingness to be a consensus builder and leader.  Although we all work well together and agree most often - 83% of the time we voted 9-0 on the mayor/council agenda under this administration - at times I make tough decisions on what’s best for our city without bowing to political pressure.    

I have been proud to be your representative on the City Council and, with your continued support, will be honored to keep working together on what matters most to all of us, Hoboken.    

Thank you again for your support!  Please don't hesitate to reach out if you would like to join me on the campaign trail.


Vote Jen Again