Hoboken spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri is under fire from two council members claiming that he “regularly abuses taxpayer funded resources to attack and attempt to discredit his political foes,” though another council member is defending his actions.
By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher slammed Chaudhuri for “[abusing] his position to spread rumors and false narratives about a Council Member, using his official governmental title” in a joint statement today.
Today’s drama stems from, well, yesterday’s drama, when DeFusco criticized the mayor for his role as of counsel with Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis and Cohen – the firm representing the NJ GOP in a suit challenging Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) stay-at-home order.
“Instead of quietly attempting to raise taxes by 5% without even presenting a budget proposal to the City Council or the public, the administration should be focused on accurately communicating facts and ensuring that every dollar is working solely for the citizenry, not the political ambitions of the Mayor,” DeFusco said today.
“Speaking out against those in power isn’t always easy, especially when inaccurate personal attacks are the course of action taken by this administration, but I was elected by my neighbors to be an independent voice who takes a stand on important issues.”
Chaudhuri referenced a statement that was provided yesterday, claiming DeFusco defied requests from the city’s Office of Emergency Management back in March.
“[DeFusco] defied orders from the Office of Emergency Management to take down false information pertaining to Hoboken’s emergency order for bars and restaurants to close, despite several direct requests from Sgt. William Montanez, the head of Hoboken’s Office of Emergency Management,” he said, claiming this impeded the city’s disaster response.
A March 14th tweet from DeFusco showed an order from OEM that would reduce bars and restaurants to 50 percent capacity, though a short time later the mayor announced bars would shutter completely.
The political infighting in Hoboken, while certainly not a rare occurrence by any stretch of the imagination, has become increasingly hostile as the Mile Square City stares down the barrel of an ever-growing, multi-million dollar municipal deficit to the tune of at least $10 million (though Fisher and DeFusco have both said it’s closer to $20 million).
This financial trouble has only exacerbated the ugly relationship between the council majority and the mayor and has recently reignited the usual criticisms.
For example, the Bhalla administration has faced questions for their use of Nixle, a service for residents to receive notifications on major public safety and community events.
Opponents of the mayor have said he is increasingly selective over what alerts are sent out, most recently for an alert praising the Office of Constituent Affairs.
As for Fisher, she referenced being “unlawfully removed from City Hall” last year along with Council President Jen Giattino, claiming that the narrative provided by Chaudhuri was a “completely made up story” that cited an unprofessional “meltdown.”
Chaudhuri is now going beyond the limits of his job as a governmental communications manager to “publicly attack city council members,” she said.
“Not only are these actions inappropriate, they are a complete misuse of his public office. Hoboken’s Communications Director is responsible for sharing pertinent and timely information with residents, not commenting on personal or political positions on behalf of the mayor,” she said.
“If the mayor chooses to attack council members, he should do so in his own voice and on his own dime.”
Cohen, one of the mayor’s allies on the council, used the scuffle as an opportunity to further criticize DeFusco for his vote to abolish the Office of Constituent Affairs on Wednesday (though Bhalla has already said he will veto the measure).
“It’s a shame that Councilman DeFusco continues to try to grandstand and distract the people of Hoboken from the councilman’s outrageous initiative to abolish the Office of Constituent Services, which he rammed through the city council Wednesday evening, despite the many passionate testimonials of community leaders,” Cohen said.
” … The city spokesman has rightly shed light on the Councilman’s seemingly endless series of baseless and hypocritical attacks on the Bhalla administration, and corrects the record, as appropriate.”
Cohen did not respond to any of Fisher’s criticisms.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_