At another lengthy meeting, the Hoboken City Council voted to override a veto by Mayor Ravi Bhalla, allowing the voters to decide on whether or not to reinstate runoff elections.
The vast majority of the public speakers wanted to let the voters decide on whether or not the runoff should be reinstated in Hoboken.
“It’s true that we have dealt with some level of election fraud in this city, but a lot of other things are also true. It’s true that now-Mayor Bhalla spent more money on his campaign than any local candidate has spent before, not his opposition,” said former Councilman Dave Mello.
“It’s true that now Mayor Bhalla sent out extremely negative Republican bashing mailer after Republican bashing mailer, eventually, mailers that directly bashed my former colleague, Councilwoman Giattino, drawing attention away from the issues that you truly should be grappling with and moving to the worst of what electorates tend to be about: hate for somebody that’s different than us.”
Laura Miani, a Mile Square city resident, said it’s time again to let the voters decide after the current mayor was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Additionally, Franz Paetzold echoed that the people should decide, though noted he was in favor of instant runoffs if the state legislature moves that measure forward.
Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour introduced a resolution urging the state Assembly and Senate to make instant runoffs possible and it was passed unanimously last night.
Another former councilman, Mike Lenz, said that December runoffs will not increase voter fraud and without them, it paves the way for a “divisive campaign” to win.
“So December runoffs have their problems, but eliminating the runoff entirely created an even bigger one. One that nobody anticipated when we made the switch from May to November,” said Lenz.
“Without intending to we have created a situation where running a divisive campaign, narrowly focused, is the surest path to victory. And it’s ripping our city – and its government – apart.”
Only one member of the public, Peter Bologna, spoke in favor of letting Bhalla’s veto stand.
“I believe an examination of the evidence shows that runoff elections open the door for improper interference and manipulation of a free voting public,” Bologna said.
Prior to the vote, Councilman-at-Large James Doyle said he didn’t agree with voters deciding on runoffs this year since there will not be much on the ballot in November from a Hoboken perspective.
“It is interesting, last week, we saw the allegation that the mayor[‘s veto] was a cynical ploy when there’s been a conscious decision to put this vote up in the year where the historically least amount of turnout to vote to change the election,” Doyle stated.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, the one who called Bhalla’s veto a cynical ploy, explained why he choose those words.
“I called it a cynical ploy after the mayor issued his veto because he spread half truths and this is a smokescreen by this current administration and his council colleagues, the two that sit on this board, to distract from the real issue,” said DeFusco, again reiterating that Bhalla won without about a third of the vote.
DeFusco also cited an alleged leaked text message between the mayor and his brother, Amar, which said “in that scenario it makes sense to take the opportunity to take the discussion and for our opponents to have to respond to that frameset” in response to the veto.
A city spokesman did not address the comment, though a source familiar with the text thread, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the message had not been manipulated or changed.
Council President Ruben Ramos boldly exclaimed that out of all the municipalities in New Jersey, Hoboken is the only one that elected a mayor without 50 percent of the vote.
“I know, the last administration, Mayor Zimmer was very good at creating a Boogeyman to produce her success. To say ‘that person’s evil, that person’s bad, that person’s no good: you have to vote for me because I’ll protect you!’,” Ramos exclaimed.
“And Mayor Bhalla is looking to follow the same playbook he’s looking for his Boogeyman. He’s trying to create me or someone else to be the Boogeyman,” adding that he has been reporting voting irregularities to the board of elections and county prosecutor since 1999.
Giattino and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino added that they had seem many instances of voter fraud in Hoboken, while 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo questioned how there could truly be voter fraud if no one had ever been prosecuted.
The measure was approved by a tally of 7-2, with Doyle and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour voting no.
In a statement, Bhalla slammed Giattino, Fisher and 6th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham for voting in favor of the veto override.
“On the issue of reducing voter fraud, last night Council Members Cunningham, Fisher, and Giattino have chosen to align themselves with Council Members DeFusco, Ramos and other beneficiaries of voter fraud. Their conduct speaks for itself,” Bhalla said.
“Despite the petty politics of the City Council, as I have always said, the future is bright for Hoboken. I will continue working with the many well-meaning and talented residents of Hoboken to place policy over politics and move our City to even greater heights.”
Expectedly, Defusco and Ramos were not impressed.
“This false, disgusting smear is the latest proof that Mayor Bhalla is totally disinterested in working with the City Council to bring Hoboken together and is instead intent on wasting taxpayer resources on completely unsubstantiated, divisive political attacks,” they responded in a joint statement.
“A Mayor in the position of taking office with less than a third of the vote should be focused on reaching out to his opponents and finding common ground, but sadly that is not the case here. For a mayor to use a taxpayer-funded spokesman to spread lies and deceit without any credible evidence borders on libel and together they are attempting to shift the conversation away from the core issue, which is the value of runoff elections.”
In her last act as mayor in late December, Dawn Zimmer vetoed the council’s first attempt to get a runoff question on the ballot and last night marked the fifth time the governing body approved such a measure.
When runoff elections were on the ballot in 2012, Hoboken voters opted to do away with them by a margin of about 60 percent to 40 percent.
A full video of the council’s vote streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: