Two new councilwomen were seated on the council, Emily Jabbour and Vanessa Falco, having been inaugurated on Jan. 1 along with new Mayor (former Councilman) Ravi Bhalla.
“I really appreciate the support that I’ve received from the Hoboken community,” said Falco, who became the first African-American on the council. “It’s been overwhelming, and I welcome this opportunity and challenge to learn and to grow and to work for the people of Hoboken.”
Jabbour said, “Similar to Vanessa, I feel this is an incredible opportunity to serve this community, and I look forward to working with everyone around this table as well as all of you, so thank you for the opportunity.”
The council also approved a resolution that names Hoboken a “fair and welcoming city” (see cover story for more) and introduced an ordinance that could re-establish runoff elections by referendum in November, an ordinance which was vetoed by former Mayor Dawn Zimmer at the end of December.
New council president
Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr. replaced Councilwoman Jen Giattino as council president. Giattino replaced Councilman Peter Cunningham as vice president. Ramos and Giattino were the only people nominated for the positions, and each won with a 7-0-2 vote of the council. Incumbent Councilman Jim Doyle, who ran for re-election on Bhalla’s slate, and Jabbour, who also ran on Bhalla’s slate, voted “present.”
They were the only two council people who ran with Bhalla. The rest of the council supported other mayoral candidates. Giattino and Councilman Michael DeFusco had run against Bhalla for mayor.
Giattino said she nominated Ramos because “he was the only one who asked.”
“The road we’ve taken over the last two years of becoming more of a collaborative city council, there is more of a respect for one another as we’ve reached out and discussed issues across the board,” said Ramos. “There is a lot of respect and congeniality that was able to make this happen tonight, and hopefully as we move forward we will continue in that spirit of collaborating with one another and with our mayor. If he has a great idea we will push that forward…honestly, 90 percent of the time the votes here are unanimous. It’s only that 10 percent that we will work to get through and plug away at to try and reach the best outcome for our 55,000 residents of Hoboken.”
DeFusco was appointed council representative to the Planning Board in a 7-2 vote with Doyle and Jabbour voting no. He was nominated by Ramos and seconded by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.
The council appointed James Aibel to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Other appointments to that board included Antonio Grana, who was unanimously approved, as were the board’s first and second alternates Steve Firestone and Cory Johnson. The third alternate, Ann Graham, was approved in a 7-2 vote with Doyle and Jabbour voting no.
The council also approved former Councilman Tony Soares to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority, where he had previously been a member. He was approved by a 7-2 vote with Doyle and Jabbour voting against the appointment. Doyle had nominated current commissioner Brian Assadourian for the position.
Vetoed run off referendum
The council also unanimously introduced an ordinance that would allow a referendum on the November 2018 ballot so residents can vote on whether to reinstate runoff elections. The ordinance had been vetoed by Zimmer on Dec. 20.
Until 2012, if several candidates ran for mayor or council in Hoboken, and no one got more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters would compete in a final runoff. But Zimmer and her supporters said the system was too costly and led to too much political wrangling, so they supported a public referendum that ultimately did away with runoffs.
This past year, six people ran for mayor in Hoboken, resulting in a divisive election. Bhalla won with less than 35 percent of the vote. Many of the council members feel that runoff elections should return.
At the meeting, former Councilman David Mello, a one-time Zimmer ally who ran on a slate against Bhalla’s ticket in November, said he believes that by vetoing a past version of this ordinance in December, the former mayor has forgotten her past.
“I’m surprised by the recent actions of the public servant that I once believed was my friend on December 23, surprised when I read that Mayor Zimmer had chosen to veto the ordinance that would allow Hoboken voters an opportunity to reconsider whether doing away with runoffs in our city was a good idea or in hindsight a bad one,” said Mello.
“It is odd, because I have known her for a long time, and I knew her in May of 2007 when she ran for office against Chris Campos in the 4th Ward, where we both still live today,” said Mello. He said that the field was crowded for that particular election, and she won in a runoff.
“If a runoff had not been in place Dawn Zimmer would not have ever been elected in 2007,” he said. “There would never have been 4th Ward Councilwoman Zimmer, there would never have been mayoral candidate Zimmer two years later, nor Council President Zimmer after she lost to Peter Camarano in 2009. The chain of events that caused many of you to be in those seats today would never have occurred if there was not a runoff election as part of our runoff election law in 2007.”
He noted, “I truly miss my old running mate, my old mayor, and I, like many of my Hoboken neighbors, miss the runoff that was so crucial to creating her mayorship so many years ago. So I implore you please move this ordinance to second reading, please vote yes on this ordinance, and most importantly, please allow the voters of Hoboken the chance to decide whether or not they want to bring back the runoff system.”
Everyone is welcome
The council also unanimously passed a resolution that declared Hoboken a “Fair and Welcoming City,” something Mayor Ravi Bhalla signed as an executive order on Monday. “Welcoming city” resolutions and ordinances proclaim that a city will not ask anyone for their immigration status and will serve everyone equally regardless of immigration status. However, a “Welcoming City,” unlike a “Sanctuary City,” will continue to cooperate with federal immigration officers who investigate cases locally. So if customs agents come to Hoboken, the city will cooperate with an investigation.
Resident and German immigrant Nadja Rutkowski said that she and fellow immigrants have lived in fear since Nov. 9, 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president promising a crackdown on illegal immigration.
“I’ve been scared that I’ll be asked for my papers or detained in an airport,” said Rutkowski. “I’m worried for my brother and sister immigrants who may have accents or different colored skin or a different religion then me.”
“We can’t have ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or anyone else scare anyone in our city, which is what this is about, if we are a vibrant welcoming city as we claim to be and hopefully are,” she added.
Eytan Weber said immigrants live in fear of the police, and witnesses to crimes or other matters don’t come forward if they are undocumented, for fear of ICE.
He said people in abusive relationships who go undocumented are more likely to stay in that relationship than try and go to police because of ICE and fear of incarceration.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.