Jersey City Council votes down $80k contract for lawyer in Portside Towers case


The Jersey City Council unexpectedly voted down an $80,000 contract for a lawyer to represent the city in the lawsuit filed by Portside Towers and Equity Residential in federal court following the urging of some building residents at last night’s meeting.

Screenshot via YouTube.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

City Clerk Sean Gallagher announced at the meeting that the measure was approved, but the updated resolution following the public session indicated that it had been defeated.

The law firm of Eric M. Bernstein & Associates, of Warren, agreed to provide services at an hourly rate of $175.00, including expenses, for a total contract amount not to exceed $80,000. They had begun work on the matter in December 2023, the resolution notes.

“We strongly urge each of you to vote no. Our legal team couldn’t find the RFQ posted online with the other RFQs or in any newspaper,” Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller declared during his public remarks.

“While Bernstein’s partially completed RFQ response was shared upon request, we were told that obtaining any other responses would require an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request. This raises serious doubts about the process’s competitiveness and suggests little or no genuine competition for this contract.”

Weller continued that that the firm left out key details of their experience to be eligible.

“How do you have a fair and open process for a contract where the work has already been done, starting four months before the RFQ?” he asked.

While the political disclosure form attached to the resolution indicated that the firm had given 4,900 to Mayor Steven Fulop’s campaign for governor, Weller also pointed out that they gave $20,000 (two separate $10,000 donations) to the Coalition for Progress linked to Fulop’s statewide run.

Portside Towers West Tenant Association President Michele Hirsch was also critical of the contract, largely echoing the sentiment expressed by Weller.

Someone shouted out jubilantly as Ward E Councilman James Solomon vote no, which annoyed Gallagher.

“Not gonna be able to hear him if you’re gonna shout. You can do it at the end,” he exclaimed.

“A friend of mine donated to my campaign and their father, their father, was punished for something his daughter did by donating my campaign,” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore declared.

“It isn’t illegal, but it’s extremely unethical, and it brings about a conflict of interest,” he said before voting no.

As a result, the measure failed 4-3(2), with Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise voting yes.

Solomon, Gilmore, and Councilman at-Large Daniel Rivera voted no, while Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh and Council President Joyce Watterman abstained.

“There has to be something we can do to basically tell Equity … to stop increasing people’s rents on their lease,” Gilmore said.

“It is a case-by-case basis. We’ve sent the letter. If there is an illegal increase, they will receive a violation,” Acting Corporation Counsel Brittany Murray replied.

“There was two violations issued for something else. If they submit it, we can issue the violation. Right now, there is a motion pending to deal with the increases as well if they are, in fact, being put forward right now.”

Gilmore was up in arms that nothing else could be done, noting that it’s known fact that they are already out of compliance, citing the rent leveling board’s decision in favor of the Portside Towers residents in October.

“That’s where the recalculation comes in,” Murray replied.

“They have to submit it to Director Richardson. They have an attorney who has contacted the director. They need to do that and submit any underlying paperwork they have,” she explained.

“Something has to be done,” Gilmore reiterated.

“Once we have the recalculations, we’ll know whether they’re abiding or not by the recalculations. Then the city itself can move to make sure there’s enforcement as well if they’re not abiding by our recalculation,” Murray noted.

“You’re basically saying there’s nothing else at our disposal to force them to not increase the rent?” Gilmore asked.

“We can have a discussion with the director to see what else we can do,” Murray explained. “They have two attorneys that can submit that for them.”

“Do we know when the recalculation will happen or will be completed?” Saleh asked.

“In the next two weeks,” Murray answered.

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/hcvcp/public_html/wp-content/themes/Hudson County View/includes/wp_booster/td_block.php on line 353