HUDSON COUNTY – Hoboken Councilman Ravi Bhalla, a candidate for the 33rd District Assembly race, has dropped out.
Bhalla would have faced candidates endorsed by State Sen. Brian Stack in the June Democratic primary. It appeared as though he might get a better chance when five Hoboken residents filed a lawsuit to remove one of Stack’s candidates, Carmelo Garcia, from the race – but the state Supreme Court refused to hear the suit on Tuesday (see links below to prior stories about this controversy).
Late on Wednesday, Bhalla sent out a release announcing his decision, and dropping out of the race. He had harsh words for Garcia, but said nothing about Stack in the release:
I write to advise residents of the 33rd Legislative District that, effective immediately, I am no longer seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Member of the General Assembly.
My decision is driven by yesterday's refusal by the New Jersey Supreme Court to consider a challenge to Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) Director Carmelo Garcia's candidacy to serve in the State Assembly, while simultaneously serving as Executive Director of the HHA. As a result, it is not prudent to expend substantial resources in continuing my candidacy now.
At a minimum, Director Garcia's candidacy is a blatant violation of the spirit of both federal and state laws intended to address the kind of conflict of interest represented by Mr. Garcia's candidacy. The residents of the HHA are completely dependent on the federal program administered by Mr. Garcia, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the consequences of the conflict of interest created by Mr. Garcia's candidacy, and ultimately his dual office holding since Mr. Garcia has stated that he intends to retain both positions.
Mr. Garcia holds a highly paid, full-time public position running the Hoboken Housing Authority with a current salary of $157,500, increasing to over $172,500 over the next two years. In addition, he would receive a $49,000 salary as an Assemblyman and receives a $5,000 stipend as an aide to another elected official. Mr. Garcia’s work at Hoboken’s Housing Authority is also extremely challenging. In the last month alone, a methamphetamine lab was discovered in a housing authority apartment and just yesterday, police found 300 bags of heroin at another housing authority apartment.
It is obvious that Mr. Garcia will not be able to perform his responsibilities as a highly compensated full time federal housing authority Executive Director while also performing his time legislative duties as an Assemblyman, duties which will often require that he be in Trenton during the working day. His contract with the HHA already provides him with a staggering 44 paid days off per year (almost 9 weeks - 21 vacation days, 21 sick days and 2 personal days). It is hard to fathom how he can take additional paid time off to perform his legislative responsibilities while also performing his full time responsibilities to the HHA.
I maintain committed to serving the residents of the 33rd Legislative District of New Jersey. However, right now my time and energy is better spent supporting Mayor Zimmer's initiatives and working towards her re-election this November and that of her City Council slate.
I am grateful to all the residents in Hoboken, the district and elsewhere who have supported my efforts. I look forward to our collective success in the future.