A Hoboken fire captain has filed a tort claim alleging that he was passed up for a promotion as a form of political retaliation, claiming that a top city official told him “we know where you were on Election Day.”
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“On or about March 9, 2020, Fire Chief Brian Crimmins requested a meeting with city officials for the purpose of temporarily promoting a battalion chief due to the retirement of a battalion chief, effective May 1st,” the tort claim, filed on August 21st, says.
The claimant is Fire Capt. Joe Grossi, Jr., 34, who scored number one on the most recent New Jersey Civil Service Commission test for battalion chief, but the city wouldn’t consider him because he supported incumbent council members opposing Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s ticket in November, he alleges.
“During the meeting, the fire chief recommended Claimant for the position. [Business Administrator Jason] Freeman responded by stating to Claimant, in front of all in attendance, ‘We know where you were on Election Day.’”
The aforementioned promotion ultimately went to Audra Carter, who the city touted as the first female to hold that rank, at the end of May.
She finished third on the civil service exam, so the scores were very close and separated by less than a full point each: 88750, 88010, and 87690.
While those scores yield consideration for police and fire promotions, the final call ultimately lies with the mayor.
According to Grossi’s filing, Bhalla called him directly on May 8th, about three weeks before Carter’s promotion, and told him that his promotion will come sooner than later despite missing out on this one.
“You’re only 34, your time will come, it’s not like you’re 65,” he said, according to the tort claim.
Social media postings indicate that Grossi supported Council members Mike DeFusco, Tiffanie Fisher, Mike Russo, Ruben Ramos, and Jen Giattino in the November municipal elections – who, with the exception of Russo, defeated candidates backed by Bhalla.
A city spokesman declined to comment, citing remarks from May that indicated Carter had 18 years of experience on the job – more than the other two eligible fire captains.
Meanwhile, Catherine Elston, Grossi’s attorney in the matter, brushed off the notion that this wasn’t a clear case of political retribution.
“The City Administration brazenly told Joe Grossi, in front of witnesses, that he was getting by-passed for promotion because he backed candidates in an election who were running against those that the mayor supported,” she told HCV.
“If that doesn’t chill free speech, it’s hard to say what would.”