Several members of the Hoboken City Council are taking aim at Mayor Ravi Bhalla for his newly announced as of counsel position at Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Ravi Bhalla promised that he would serve the City of Hoboken as a full time mayor when he was running for the position, but unfortunately that appears to have been nothing but a bait and switch tactic,” 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, a longtime antagonist of Bhalla, said in a statement.
“ … This is a financial boon for the mayor that creates the potential for significant conflicts of interest where he will be in a position to use his public office to create business development opportunities for his new employer. That’s why it’s so important that we fully understand Mayor Bhalla’s relationship with this firm and for the City Council to continue acting as a watchdog to prevent any abuses of the public trust.”
The fact that Bhalla left his previous employer, Florio Perucci Steinhardt and Fader, prior to taking the mayor’s seat in order to work “full-time for the people of Hoboken” has opened him up to criticism from DeFusco and others now that he has taken another law firm post.
As Hudson County View reported over the weekend, Bhalla was named as of counsel at Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C, which has offices in Morristown and Hackettstown.
“In this capacity, Ravi will provide strategic advice and counsel to the Firm, enabling it to draw on his broad range of legal expertise as a seasoned litigator and trial attorney,” they wrote on their website Friday night.
Rob Horowitz, a spokesman for Bhalla, added that his salary will be “well south of $100,000.”
With that said, add Council President Ruben Ramos to the list of council members who aren’t impressed.
“In my lifetime every Mayor severed employment with previous employer to avoid conflicts whether it be teacher, police officer or firefighter so once again we have a Hoboken first with a mayor having an employer outside the City of Hoboken while serving as mayor,” Ramos, who backed DeFusco’s mayoral campaign, said in his own statement.
“I am extremely concerned about potential conflicts of interest and the public has a right to know what compensation arrangement the Mayor has with this prominent Republican leaning New Jersey law firm. We have major issues facing our city and this becomes another distraction that leaves us with more questions then answers as we move our city forward.”
One of the firms partners, Mike Lavery, served as the chair of the state Republican Committee in 2017 (h/t Insider NJ).
“Voters in Hoboken took him at his word and elected him Mayor. Now we find that when he said he’d quit his job, he apparently thought he had a loophole to take a job with another firm that is as politically connected as the one he left,” 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino said.
She also said that Bhalla receives the highest compensation out of any mayor in the county. The Hoboken mayor earns a salary of $116,950.08, according to public records.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, an early backer of Giattino’s mayoral run, also expressed disappointment in Bhalla’s decision.
“Am I surprised that he broke his promise to Hoboken residents? I want to be. We clearly need to know more about the overall structure, time commitment, financial incentives and potential conflicts that he has in this new arrangement and how it will be managed going forward to fully understand the implications to Hoboken,” she stated.
“But I can say that I have worked with many lawyers with this title in my professional career over the years and in all cases their primary role was client facing and revenue generating, not ‘mentoring and guiding young attorneys’. This would be the first.”
Over the phone, Horowitz scoffed at the council members criticisms, claiming they need to get their facts straight and put the November 7th mayoral race behind them.
“As Mayor Bhalla, committed to in the campaign, he’s still full time. He’s usually the first person to come to the office and the last one to leave it. The of counsel position is a limited advisory one and in no way will impact his commitment to Hoboken,” Horowitz asserted.
“Before council people launch their attacks, they should get their facts straight. It might be time for Mayor Bhalla’s former opponents to put the campaign behind them and start thinking about Hoboken first.”
This afternoon, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham, who co-chaired Giattino’s mayoral campaign along with Fisher, also decided to enter the fray and certainly did not express any sympathy for the mayor.
“Mayor Bhalla should be focused on many of the ongoing and developing issues of Hoboken like Washington Street, Rebuild by Design, redevelopment projects, Union Dry Dock and voter fraud Instead Mayor Bhalla has found it more important to ‘mentor’ young lawyers?,” added Cunningham.
“The press release announcing his new position, however, stated that his requirements would instead involve ‘strategic advice’. The citizens of Hoboken expected that his strategic advice would be focused on Hoboken — not a law firm in Morristown. This unfortunately leads to more questions and concerns about his time commitment and conflicts of interests to say the least.”
This marks the latest chapter in Bhalla’s evidently strained relationship with the majority of the city council.
Earlier this month, the governing body overruled a mayoral veto by a vote of 7-2, allowing the voters to decide on whether or not to bring back runoff elections.
Only Bhalla’s running mates, Councilman-at-Large James Doyle and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour, voted against the measure.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with a statement from 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham.