This classic line from the Disney film “Snow White” became relevant to Hoboken politics recently, after Mayor Ravi Bhalla allegedly posted praise for himself on Facebook using the account “Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken,” then quickly took it down after a local magazine editor wrote under it, asking if he realized he posted using his own name.
In “Snow White,” the evil queen is frustrated when her mirror tells her that Snow White, not the queen, is the fairest. It appears Bhalla has a friendlier mirror, maybe because in Hoboken politics there is nobody as fair as Snow White to compare himself with.
Bhalla denied writing the praise of himself, which appeared under a photo posted on a “Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken" Facebook page that showed him delivering water to residents during the water main break.
“Thanks for the hands on work and unrelenting pressure you’re placing on Suez [Water]. It’s needed and necessary,” the post said, referencing the longtime blame game between the city and the water company for a series of recent water main breaks.
Bhalla’s handlers responded by saying that Bhalla’s brother, Hoboken resident Amar Bhalla, posted the comment. They said he still had access to the mayor’s Facebook handle because he was among those using it during the mayoral campaign last year.
But Councilman Michael DeFusco, Bhalla’s arch rival and a man nobody can mistake for the innocent Snow White either, quickly responded, thanking Bhalla for his service to residents and adding, “Next time, wait to get actual feedback from residents before making up things all by yourself.”
After Amar took blame for the post, he later blasted DeFusco for seeking to score political points. He also criticized hMAG, the magazine that published a story about the matter.
Far from the world of Disney fairy tales, Bhalla and DeFusco are each doing their best to play out the archetypal competition for “fairest of them all,” still attacking each other long after the 2018 election in which Bhalla beat DeFusco by about 500 votes to become mayor.
Fake news, or what?
The era of orating from a soap box, and even of TV attack ads, has shifted dramatically onto 21st Century social media sites such as Facebook, where truth and facts are often twisted into self-serving political scenarios sometimes labeled as “Fake News.”
The definition of fake news is very vague. But most equate it with simulated news reports that have no basis in fact, usually supporting one political agenda or another. Fake news, regardless of what political side it comes from, relies on the willingness of credulous people to accept it as fact. For the most part in the sharply partisan world we live in, people seek out information to confirm what they already believe, and reject anything that disputes it, regardless of what’s fact and what’s false.
Of course, because hMAG ported Bhalla’s posting and the ensuing exchange with DeFusco, Bhalla and his supporters (several from anonymous Twitter accounts) suddenly began blasting hMAG and questioning the magazine’s political affiliations. One anonymous poster warned the magazine about being “negative.”
hMAG’s publisher, Chris Halleron, responded with a second piece about the need for journalists to publish factual information about missteps.
While American media has a history of taking sides in political conflicts dating back to the American Revolution, and may need to police itself with its editorial policy, hMAG did not invent the Facebook posts and merely reposted them, questioning why the mayor of Hoboken might be so eager to praise himself.
Ironically, Bhalla, a Sikh-American who has become a Democratic role model for ethnic diversity, appears to have taken a chapter from Republican President Donald Trump’s playbook: if you don’t like the news, accuse the media of political bias.
Yet without an utterly honest mirror (and enough media) to reflect the actual events and the implications of the facts, there is no way for the public to understand the issues they need to know in order to properly vote.
Implications for the 2019 municipal elections
The battle of Bhalla’s Facebook posting will take on much greater relevance as next year’s mid-term Hoboken council elections approach, and rivals battle to see who will become the fairest of all. Six council seats are up for election in 2019.
DeFusco, who faces a serious challenge to retain his council seat next year, recently attacked Bhalla for “a pattern of misinformation.”
DeFusco is hardly innocent of pandering to the public either, since he appears to have a permanent platform determined to challenge and undermine anything and everything Bhalla does.
Coinciding with the conflict over whether or not Bhalla praised himself on Facebook was the fight over whether or not DeFusco would be allowed to attend a community meeting Bhalla held in one of the First Ward apartment buildings, the moderate-income Marine View complex.
Bhalla supporters say that some residents didn’t want DeFusco to attend, and had invited just Bhalla. Because the event took place in DeFusco’s ward, the councilman apparently believed he had the right to attend. He also questioned a taxpayer-funded security guard at the meeting, who kept him out.
This is similar to the conflict last June when the city held a LBTGQ flag raising to which DeFusco was invited, but was not invited to speak. DeFusco, as an openly gay council member, felt he deserved to speak.
The conflict between Bhalla and DeFusco, of course, has overshadowed the rest of the Hoboken political landscape, where significant fights are expected to occur and alliances forged to see which group will have political control after the 2019 election.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.