After angry public portion, Hoboken votes against $250 fine for not wearing face masks

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After a mostly angry public portion, the Hoboken City Council voted against a measure that would allow certain officials the ability to issues a $250 fine for not wearing face masks outdoors.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“How dare you, our representatives, elected to act on our collective behalf, fine us for any reason – let alone for exercising a human right to breath fresh air. I realize there are people in our community advocating for this: tattling on their neighbors for breaking the rules,” said Rochelle Flynn, the meeting’s first public speaker.

“Some would have turned in Anne Frank given the opportunity. But I choose to believe that most grown ups are capable of living around others whom they have no control.”

Flynn’s remarks, while pointed, were actually some of the calmer remarks from residents that spoke out against enabling fines for not wearing a face mask.

While Mayor Ravi Bhalla expressed earlier this month that sanctions would only be issued for “chronic disobedience,” as HCV first reported, that hardly seemed to quell the anguish of the majority of the public speakers.

“I want you guys to pay close attention: fascism will not be tolerated here. We are tired of being oppressed. We the people demand to be left the f*** alone: you are suppressing the people, putting people in fear, subverting the mainstream media with a mediated false reality of science with these fake hoaxes to control the minds of the people,” exclaimed Michael Marshalek.

“No one died, no one cried, hash tag “film your hospital.” I know you guys are stone walled, deaf muted, putting out these manipulated surveys stating your feelings are safe – you know, it’s not about feelings. Your feelings does not trump the people’s constitutional rights … if you don’t feel safe, stay the f*** home.”

He continued that in Nazi Germany, people often justified their actions by saying they were just taking orders, and that shouldn’t fly here since the council is supposed to work for all the people – not a selective group of people, also stating that “George Floyd appears to be a crisis actor for the leftist communists.”

About two dozen speakers extended the raucous public portion for about two hours, including Dawn DeLorenzo, the city’s registrar and also the head of the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association.

“If you want to listen to tin-foiled hat fake science, it’s because you are being fear-porned into believing that you are gonna die. What are you gonna walk around every corner thinking that some virus is gonna get you?  Then you’re not living your life.”

The vote on the second reading of the ordinance in question didn’t come until after 11 p.m., and despite some harsh remarks from residents, 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen – the primary sponsor – still urged his colleagues to vote yes.

“Governor Murphy has been guided by the best science, the best scientists, and he’s done a great job guiding us as a state. At this point, it’s in this body’s hands: Are we going to act to protect folks?”

Cohen also said he’d be open to amending the ordinance to lower the fine or even recommend community service instead if his colleagues felt those would be better alternatives to promote compliance.

Additionally, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo said while he 100 percent supports the use of masks, he was unclear as to how this was any different from the state mandate issued by Murphy.

Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said that neither Hudson County or Hoboken have a community service program related to violating the order, and while the Hoboken police could issue tickets, they could only do so in consultation with the county prosecutor’s office.

Later, Acting Business Administrator Jason Freeman said that the COVID task force consists of Class II special police officers, the fire department, environmental services, human services/the recreation department, the zoning officers, and the parking utility and all would have the ability to issue fines if the measure was approved.

He also said no one involved would receive additional compensation, whether it be a stipend or overtime pay.

“I think the people who are gonna wear masks are gonna wear them and the people who aren’t, just aren’t, and we’re gonna have to prosecute those people. And that becomes a burden,” Russo added.

Finally, the vote was called a few moments later, and it failed by a tally of 6-3, with Cohen and Council members-at-Large Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour voting yes.

In a statement following the meeting, Cohen expressed disappointment with the outcome.

“The failure to authorize the city to issue warnings and tickets for such risky misconduct emboldens ‘mask-less’ visitors to continue squeezing past us on our sidewalks and in our parks — further diminishing the quality of life in our city, particularly for our seniors and at-risk population, who are rightly fearful to venture into Hoboken’s public spaces due to the risks of COVID-19 and the poor rates of compliance in our community.”