Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla told a group of over 200 supporters at the 10th Street and Willow Avenue Bar and Grill that the city council needs new leadership as he formally introduced the five ward candidates he’s backing in November.
Before introducing each of the five council candidates, who he announced last week, the mayor said that he couldn’t explain the deterioration in a working relationship with five of the council’s incumbents: Michael DeFusco in the 1st Ward, Tiffanie Fisher in the 2nd Ward, Ruben Ramos in the 4th Ward, Peter Cunningham in the 5th Ward and Council President Jen Giattino in the 6th.
“The incumbents in this race are people I worked with for years, in the 5th Ward, in the 2nd Ward, in the 6th Ward, I don’t know what happened. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what happened, but something happened where we came to a point where I realized that new leadership is needed,” said Bhalla.
He also talked about recent policy accomplishments of his administration without the council’s help.
“When I first got elected mayor I had the benefit of a great team at City Hall behind me, great directors, great professionals who cared about the vocation, who cared about the city, who are honest and worked hard, and through that process at City Hall we got so much done,” he explained.
“We have a double A bond rating, we stabilized our finances, we’re building the biggest park in Hoboken, we got the Suez deal done and so much more. But I’ll tell you this, we did because we had a good City Hall [team], we did it despite the city council.”
Unsurprisingly, he did credit his two allies on the nine-member city council for working with the administration on the aforementioned policy goals: Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour.
Bhalla revved up the crowd by saying that the council needs not only new leadership, but new positive energy, before introducing his team of Migdalia Pagan-Milano, Nora Martinez DeBenedetto, Lisa Sprengle, Phil Cohen and Cristin Cocco Powell.
“Councilperson Jabbour needs help on the Council. Can we all agree that she needs help on the council,” Bhalla said to a rapturous applause from the audience.
Probably one of the most hotly contested wards during the council races will be in the 1st Ward, where Migdalia Pagan-Milano is squaring off with DeFusco, who fundraised over $500,000 during the 2017 mayoral race.
And despite DeFusco’s fundraising prowess, Pagan-Milano seemed to brush off that large sum of money to compete in an election.
“That’s a lot of money, congratulations to him, however, this is not a mayoral campaign. But who cares, we’re talking about a city council race, we’re talking about what I need to do here is be in tune with my constituents, and that entails me knocking on doors, relating to them, talking to them, which I do anyway because I’m a genuine person, and that’s how we are going to win this election,” she stated.
Both Milano and DeFusco are both members of the LGBTQ community, and we asked Bhalla on camera if that played a role in who he selected to run against his chief political adversary.
“It’s one of many factors, it wasn’t a determinative factor. We’re looking for honest people who have a track record of service to the community. Migdalia has worked in the division of cultural affairs for years now, she works on constituent services everyday in City Hall, and she’s proven herself to be someone who’s honest, sincere and committed to serving the best interests of the residents, so that to me is the most important criteria, and that’s why Migdalia is going to make a tremendous councilwoman when she’s elected,” explained Bhalla.
We followed up with the mayor to ask that should all five of his new council team fail to win on November 5, how that would impact his ability to govern during the rest of his first term as Hoboken’s mayor.
“We come back as a family. My office is always open to all the city council members. I try to make sure that I advance policies that are good for Hoboken. When elections are over, we try to come back together and move the city forward as a community.”
Meanwhile, 5th Ward council challenger Phil Cohen, an attorney by trade and the chair of the Hoboken Democratic Committee, sounded confident that his message will resonate with 5th Ward voters, despite incumbent Peter Cunningham’s 12-year tenure on the council.
“Because I haven’t been on the City Council for the last 12 years, it’s really my time to introduce myself to people who I am and why I think I’m the right person to serve the 5th Ward,” said Cohen.
And what will he tell people that makes his message superior to Cunningham’s?
“You know, it’s funny. I’ve already started knocking on doors, and I haven’t been asked that question once. People are interested to know who I am, what I am interested in doing, what kind of change I’d like to see in Hoboken, and what kind of issues are important to me. And that’s what I’ve been talking to the voters about, and I think that’s what the voters want to hear.”
We live streamed the program of the event on our Twitter page which can be seen below:
— Hudson County View (@HudsonCoView) May 21, 2019