In response to the council’s override of his veto, Mayor Ravi Bhalla issued a statement through a spokesman on Thursday, implying malfeasance.
“On the issue of reducing voter fraud, last night Council Members Cunningham, Fisher, and Giattino have chosen to align themselves with Council Members DeFusco, Ramos and other beneficiaries of voter fraud. Their conduct speaks for itself," said Bhalla in his statement, which added that "despite petty politics of the City Council...the future is bright for Hoboken."
The Reporter asked city spokesman Juan Melli what evidence the city had that councilmen had been “beneficiaries” of fraud. He was also asked which authorities Bhalla and City Hall reported the alleged fraud to.
Melli sent a link to a Hoboken Reporter article from more than seven years ago, “Attorney General to probe 4th Ward votes” which details a 4th Ward election and 190 “suspicious” ballots sent to the attorney general for investigation. The article does not mention DeFusco or Ramos.
When asked about the council people specifically, Melli responded, “In the specific instance referenced in that story, then-Councilman Bhalla submitted extensive affidavits and evidence of voter fraud regarding the candidate [whom] Councilman Ramos supported in the election. He reported it to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, which referred it to the Attorney General’s office." Melli also said, “Mayor Bhalla is talking about a systemic problem of paying large numbers of election day workers, which amounts to paying for a vote. This has benefited some candidates more than others and is a problem a December runoff will make worse. He is not making any specific accusation of voter fraud.”
After reading Bhalla's original statement on Thursday, DeFusco responded, “This false, disgusting smear is the latest proof that Mayor Bhalla is totally disinterested in working with the City Council to bring Hoboken together and is instead intent on wasting taxpayer resources on completely unsubstantiated, divisive political attacks. For a mayor to use a taxpayer-funded spokesman to spread lies and deceit without any credible evidence borders on libel.”
He added, "Mayor Bhalla should be ashamed of himself for engaging in a Trump-like level of deceit and sleaze that is doing nothing to heal the wounds in our community. Mayor Bhalla should be using his first months in office to solve the problems our city faces like fixing Washington Street.”
Ramos said, “By now we are all aware that Mayor Bhalla has no problem in utilizing gutter politics and is once again making false accusations without any evidence to sully anyone who dare challenge him."
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said, “The texts are troubling and the mayor’s statement is…reckless. It’s really a shame because the council has been working really well with the administration on all issues important to residents.”
Councilman Peter Cunningham, who supported Giattino for mayor, said, “Given the divisive nature of the elections, I have been very sensitive to my 5th Ward constituents and their concerns about having a collaborative relationship with Mayor Bhalla. We can agree to disagree on this runoff election matter, but for the mayor to say one thing and do another is disappointing. His tone does not reflect the collaborative relationship that I have and will continue to work toward.”
Giattino also weighed in on Friday. “I find it really disheartening that the mayor met with the three of us and talked about collaborating and working together, which is exactly what I think good government should do, and then came out with a statement that’s so divisive. I was definitely surprised. You talk about working with people and then don’t actually talk to them about this. You just put out a statement like that...”
Read more about Wednesday's meeting and the controversy over runoffs -- and what type of runoffs to use -- in this weekend's Hoboken Reporter.