Ramos & Giattino say Bhalla admin tried to horse trade for Hoboken municipal complex votes


Hoboken 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino accused the Mayor Ravi Bhalla administration of trying to horse trade for votes on a critical bond ordinance necessary to move forward on the proposed municipal complex.

“What is particularly disturbing is that instead of … listening to council members who are not in agreement with the project, we the public are hearing an offer was made for the administration not to run a council candidate against a council person in the 2024 [sic] election in exchange for support of this project,” resident Paul Presinzano said during the public portion of the meeting (the ward council races are in 2023, not 2024).

“Think about that for a moment: I’m praying this is not the case. If certain people are willing to compromise our local democracy to get support for a once-in-a-lifetime municipal complex instead of finding an acceptable compromise, we have bigger problems in Hoboken.”

The municipal complex, which has a projected cost between $152.5 million and $192.5 million depending on which amenities are added, has initial estimates of a $28.5 to $38.5 million to be covered by taxpayers over a 30-year period.

Initially touted as a public safety complex, the proposal, pegged for 1501 Adams St., has evolved to also include council chambers, a court house, rooftop park, library, community center, and parking lot.

While two public meetings and surveys have been held, the city still does not own the Poggi Press site they hope to use.

While the city council approved the ability to use eminent domain in February, a related $44 million bond ordinance has been carried on the past two agendas. The measure passed 5-4 on first reading and would require six votes for final approval.

During new business, Ramos, who announced in February that he wanted to hire a planner to get a new rec center project started, said he was offered for that to be included in the municipal complex plan in exchange for an affirmative vote.

“I gave a multi-service center update earlier: the administration has taken the position that we’re $300,000 short in the budget this year, but they did offer me if I vote in favor of the bond issuance for the DPW garage that this could be included in that bond ordinance and I’m rejecting that on it’s merits,” he said.

Between the four council members who voted no on first reading, Ramos has been the most vocal, telling HCV last month that the project “might be the worst urban planning in the history of urban planning.”

A few minutes later, Giattino said “the multi-service center was your trade, I was offered Castle Point Terrace,” questioning how all of these projects could be in the budget, which has not been introduced yet for this year.

When asked if she had any proof to corroborate her claims, Giattino forwarded a March 29th email from Business Administrator Jason Freeman where he says that “probably the most efficient way” to get the Castle Point renovations moving is to include it in a second reading of the bond ordinance.

“Councilman Ramos, Councilman DeFusco, and yourself have all come to the Administration to explain the urgency of three projects that are all inline with the Administration’s priorities of no longer putting band-aids on major projects around town. This would be a holistic approach to accomplishing many shared outcomes,” he wrote.

“In an effort to work together and solve many shared priorities, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of: The Rehabilitation of Castle Point Terrace, The Rehabilitation of Court Street, and the soft costs related to the redevelopment of the Multi-Service Center, in the bond ordinance to acquire the property for a new DPW Garage?”

Freeman continued that he made the suggestion after Giattino suggested at a subcommittee meeting that the administration take a “holistic” approach to the city’s needs, further stating that the “omnibus bond package” would be a win across the board.

She replied that the bonds should be separate so the council “can vote on the merits and the projects need to be done.”

City spokeswoman Marilyn Baer remained optimistic that Ramos and Giattino would reconsider supporting the project.

“The city hopes Council members Ramos and Giattino take the time to review the merits of the project as described in the Mayor’s memo and previous communications,” she began.

“The majority of the Hoboken City Council supports the Hoboken Municipal Complex, which will support our Public Safety Department and Department of Public Works, deliver a long-sought-after municipal pool, provide indoor and outdoor recreation space, and create an uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library. This project is an opportunity for elected officials to work together for the betterment of Hoboken to provide more efficient city services and increase residents’ quality of life.”

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  1. Speaking of horse trading, I’ll bet Bhalla could get the votes if he agreed to resign as Mayor. Now that would be a true once in a lifetime opportunity for Hoboken.

    • Ravi is getting cheap. He went from giving a city job to have a council seat vacated to piling on spending with, “I’ll add your project to my gargantuan spending bill.”

      Hey, at least no Terror Flier dropped this time.

  2. In the 4th ward. Ramos was having backdoor discussions to get City approval for the giant mixed-used development and coincidentally got large political donations from Academy principals. So did Giattino’s pal DeFusco. Apparently, there’s no path for Ramos to line his pockets with this project… plus has personal animus toward Ferrante (Ramos was the only Council member to vote no on hiring him).

    Amusing how backroom wheeler-dealers like Ramos and Giattino are decrying “horse trading” — which is in practice how branches of government work cooperatively together.

    • The big difference is that Mayor Bhalla controls what projects the City will fund the other City Council members do not have that kind of power.
      Bhall’s actions are sleazy but he has the votes on the City Council most of the time to get away with it.

  3. The council members that support this complex are simply the same council members that support everything as Ravi directs them. They are not independent…they literally always vote for whatever he puts forth and this is no exception. Stealing the Poggi land makes zero sense. Build a new Police HG on the parking lot beside the current HQ. Renovate the current Community Center. Put the library in the YMCA space that sits empty. And the pool! The pool has been added to try and convince the public that this gross misuse of tax dollars is being done for their benefit. How about renovating the pool already at the YMCA? There are so many options using existing city properties. It makes one wonder why the city is so bent on stealing land and spending more money.

    • They will up zone the property under what is now the police station to say 12 or 14 stories and sell it to a developer. The same with the old fire stations. The antique pool at YMCA way too small and in would be very expensive to fix.

      Mayor Bhalla backed himself into a bad corner with his real estate deals Municipal garage and Tea Building pier and all the added bells a whistles to the project to try to get the public to go along with it. Like the school boondoggle when the see the tax increase they will be get stuck with they will be pissed but their will be no public vote, just a City Council and Bhalla already has most of the votes locked down.

  4. Great post — Why, Why? To your points, I would add that there are many commercial footprints in some of our newer buildings that are currently empty — let’s use some of those for these projects, classrooms etc. The upshot here is that using existing facilities more wisely does not put enough money in the pockets of the developers who have supported the Mayor and his allies – the projects need to be new and on a large scale.
    The good news is that the $241M school board debacle has opened many people’s eyes to what has been going on for some time; big decisions are made behind closed doors, the public gets very little information and when we do it is often incomplete or too late to change things – eg. Cannabis mess.
    The elected or appointed officials in the Mayor’s inner circle frequently benefit, or are appeased, in some way – -often with the best intentions in mind; eg. Rebuild by Design and Vision Zero. The flip side is that we also keep giving folks newly created jobs and doing things like changing our campaign finance laws to accommodate those with different interests. While I realize that this may just be politics – -there was a time not long ago when it felt like this was all in the past….
    It appears the public has not “moved on” from the school fiasco and, if anything, it feels like greater attention is being paid to what is going on around the City. The upcoming budget talks are of particular interest and while we have been told we are in good shape, we were also told that the municipal complex project would cost $50m — now it is 3 times that. Unless the state and feds are preparing to throw a lot of money our way, I don’t see how that math works over the long haul – but we can hope. Onward.

    • The school board will push for the same $300,000,000 plan if not even more expensive high school complex.

      They are working the voters in the HHA and tax exempt buildings who pay nothing.