As the Hoboken election season continues to heat up, Councilman-at-Large/mayoral hopeful Ravi Bhalla hosted an event honoring incumbent Dawn Zimmer last night.
“When I first decided to run for office, I met Mayor Zimmer, she was a council member, and I was a committee person. We had a discussion, she had felt we were a good fit to run together: we shared the same vision,” Bhalla said at a fundraiser at the Turtle Club.
“We were eventually elected, along with Carol Marsh and Councilman [Dave] Mello, and I can’t tell you how difficult of a time that was.”
Bhalla recalled back in 2009 and 2010 when the Mile Square City was under state supervision after city property taxes went up 20 percent, which also led to a tooth and nail battle with the police unions over their contract that stretched into 2011 (h/t NJ.com).
In a completely unexpected turn of events, Zimmer announced last week that she would forego a third term and instead endorsed Bhalla to take her place.
When addressing the crowd of about 100 people, the mayor said that utilizing nine acres of open space for parks and moving the $230 million Rebuild by Design flood prevention project forward were the proudest accomplishments of her administration.
Furthermore, Zimmer added that deciding to run for mayor for the first time and deciding not to seek re-election on November 7th were the toughest decisions of her life.
“In closing, I just want to say that deciding to run for mayor and then deciding not to run again for a third term: those have been my two most difficult decisions in my life. And it has been absolutely fantastic to be the mayor of Hoboken.”
In an interview with Hudson County View, Bhalla said he wanted to recognize Zimmer for her eight years in the mayor’s seat due to being a consistent example for good government.
Bhalla, one of seven declared mayoral candidates, seemed to have no issue with Council President Jen Giattino, another ally of Zimmer, formally jumping into the race on Tuesday night.
“No, I wasn’t surprised. I think that in any Democracy, we have the right and freedom to run for office – that’s what makes out country great. So I welcome all candidates into the race and we plan on running the best campaign we can. We must keep a positive tone to the race,” he said.
Giattino was also present in the crowd, along with Council colleagues Tiffanie Fisher and Peter Cunningham, who are supporting her mayoral bid.
While everyone generally appeared to be smiles throughout the course of the evening, some couldn’t resist biting their tongue about the reform split, as it’s commonly reformed.
“Someone needs to talk some sense into them,” one attendee could be overheard saying near the bar.
“I don’t know what they think they have to prove,” another bar patron said dismissively.
When asked why he thinks he’s the best candidate for mayor, Bhalla said his experience on the council is invaluable.
“I, along with Mayor Zimmer, have been through extremely difficult times. We had a rough period trying to restructure our police department, trying to lower taxes, address personnel issues,” recalled Bhalla.
“If anyone remembers those times: Councilman Cunningham, Councilwoman Marsh, Councilman Mello, we were all there working very hard in a very difficult situation where you have to make very hard choices. Making those hard choices and having that experience, I’ll tell you, is invaluable.”
Bhalla also said playing a role in saving the Hoboken University Medical Center from closing its doors in 2011 is “something that sets me and above and beyond some of the other candidates.”
Coincidentally, Giattino was sworn into the council just a few months before the pivotal hospital vote in October 2011.
In addition to the closely monitored reform fight, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, Freeholder Anthony Romano (D-5), former Councilman Angelo Valente, business owner Karen Nason and local activist Ronald Bautista have all declared their candidacy for mayor.
Other officials in attendance at the Turtle Club included Mello, Romano, Councilman-at-Large James Doyle, Hoboken Democratic Committee Executive Board Members Phil Cohen, LaTrenda Ross, Mitch Fagen and Rachel Hodas, among many others.