For the third time, the Hoboken City Council did not end up voting on a non-binding resolution asking for all candidates to adhere to the city’s pay-to-play laws that were adopted in 2011.
When the resolution came before the council last night, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher lodged a scathing accusation against Mayor Ravi Bhalla, exclaiming that the resolution was simply a “political stunt” that the mayor was performing before ultimately opting to rescind the city’s pay-to-play laws.
“It started during contract negotiations with our local municipal workers union when the administration got a union leader to write a letter to the council asking to rescind our pay-to-play laws so that our municipal unions could make bigger contributions to elected officials,” Fisher began.
“So, just think about that for a second. That is what started this whole process.”
Back on September 3, Ray Hamlin, of the Paterson-based law firm Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, wrote to corporation counsel that it’s strict pay-to-play laws, are unenforceable and may even be unconstitutional. Therefore, he recommended a repeal of these laws, as HCV first reported.
The current city ordinance, which has never been changed since it’s inception, limits contributions from political action committees to individual candidates to $500, compared to the state limit of $2,600.
The catalyst for the outside legal opinion came from a July 24th letter written by the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association President Joel Mestre, which claimed the current pay to-play rules were “preventing the union from being able to advocate effectively.”
However, Mestre said in an email just a week later that he wanted to rescind his letter from consideration, but that didn’t end up happening.
In an interview, Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle expressed that he was flabbergasted by Fisher’s remarks.
“Councilwoman Fisher’s slanderous comments about the mayor … it was a little bit shocking, and she’s fabricating a conspiracy that the mayor put the union up to request a legal opinion is so far fetched, I’m a little speechless, frankly,” Doyle said.
He added that he would be reviewing Fisher’s campaign finance reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to try to understand why she is leading the charge to prevent this resolution from receiving a vote.
Doyle asked for a point of order when the resolution was up on the agenda, but Fisher immediately called a motion to table.
The councilman said he doesn’t expect the governing body to vote on the matter before the November 5th ward council races, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop trying, noting that he and Jabbour went the extra mile to try and force a vote last night.
“Just so you’re clear, they tabled the emergency resolution, which is a resolution saying there is an emergent nature here, we didn’t get to the actual underlying resolution, they tabled the emergency resolution that would authorize a vote on [our] resolution. That’s how far down the rabbit hole we are at this point, it’s disappointing,” said Doyle.
Expectedly, Jabbour echoed Doyle’s frustration regarding another vote to table.
“It’s very disappointing to me, frankly, that my colleagues … they’re not even willing to vote on it, they’re not even willing to discuss it … so it’s disingenuous to say that this is just a political stunt. We will continue to put this forward because it’s about the integrity of our elections, and that’s critical,” said Jabbour.
The vote to table the resolution was close, with Council members Jen Giattino, Ruben Ramos, Peter Cunningham, Mike DeFusco and Fisher voting yes.
Council members Vanessa Falco, Michael Russo, Doyle and Jabbour then voted no, meaning the motion to table passed 5-4.
Yesterday’s council meeting was the third time that the council had the opportunity to vote on the resolution sponsored by Council members-at-Large Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour and it ended with the same result from September 18th – the measure being tabled.
Additionally, a special meeting was called by Bhalla last week, but it was cancelled due to a lack of quorum since five council members did not attend or call into the meeting.
Predictably, Bhalla again scolded the council for opting not to vote on the matter.
“It’s unfortunate, but unsurprising that once again the Hoboken City Council majority failed to protect the integrity of our elections. This was a very simple choice for the council: would they agree to abide by the law or ignore it for their own personal gain,” he said in a statement.
“The decision to purposefully avoid a vote, led by Councilmembers Giattino and Fisher, made it clear that they’d rather disregard the law and allow special interest groups and developers to unfairly influence their own elections. I’m grateful that Councilmembers Doyle, Russo, Jabbour and Falco were ready to take a stand and put a good government vote ahead of petty politics.”