“While I remain focused on this election, please rest assured that after the election is over, I intend to file a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Mason to protect my reputation as a proud member of the Hoboken community,” he wrote. “If what Ms. Mason says is the truth, she will have an opportunity to present that defense under oath in a court of law. I know she will fail completely.”
Bhalla is running for reelection on Nov. 5 on a ticket with Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Mason, who is supporting Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti in the mayoral contest, is an opponent of Zimmer and Bhalla. In recent weeks, Mason has publicly questioned Bhalla’s ethics and the negotiations which led to his joining Florio Perrucci as a partner on Aug. 1.
Mason has asked whether Bhalla was negotiating to join the firm at the same time as he was voting on its contracts with the city. Bhalla has said that as soon as he started negotiations, this past June, he stopped voting on city contracts for the firm.
“These are no ordinary election year dirty political tricks,” Bhalla said in the email. “Ms. Mason's defamatory conduct towards me has negatively impacted my reputation within the Hoboken community where I reside with my wife and two children, as well as my private employment.”
He said that he will wait until after Election Day to file the lawsuit, and that Mason has already been contacted by his attorney regarding the imminent suit.
On Wednesday afternoon, the councilwoman acknowledged Bhalla’s threats, and responded with a list of 20 questions that she said that she’d like Bhalla to answer under oath.
“I believe that if he truly has nothing to hide, there is no need to wait until after the election,” she said in a statement. “If he is as committed to the truth as I am, I am willing to immediately provide, at my own expense, a court reporter at the conference room of the W Hotel, or any other convenient location, so that he can answer [these questions] under oath.”
The questions range in topic and scope, and include specifics about the negotiations, but also loftier issues related to the controversy, including one regarding whether Bhalla believes the public has a right to know the details of his employment, and whether he considered his voting for Florio Perrucci’s contracts in the past and subsequent partnership at the firm constitute an “awfully big coincidence.”
“If Mr. Bhalla believes threats of frivolous litigation scare me then he obviously hasn’t paid attention for the last decade,” Mason said. “If Mr. Bhalla and his political machine think I can be bullied out of standing up for the public, he is sadly mistaken.”
The questions over Bhalla’s employment, Mason said, were an effort to establish whether he had voted on contracts for Florio Perrucci while he was negotiating future employment with them.
According to the city clerk, in the first six months of 2013, Bhalla voted five times to award the firm around $42,000 in contracts. Records show that he abstained on claims of $14.80 on June 19 and $3,834.72 on July 10. After announcing his employment on Twitter and LinkedIn on Aug. 1, Bhalla abstained on an Aug. 7 vote for $51.48. Last week, Bhalla said that he had entered negotiations with the firm in mid-June, just before the June 19 council meeting when he began abstaining. He also said that he had not discussed the negotiations with Zimmer, his fellow council members or the city’s attorney because he had already decided that his abstentions were an appropriate course of action.
When asked whether she thought mid-June, prior to his abstentions, was a reasonable answer to her questions about the negotiations, Mason simply said that he should have been more forthcoming sooner.
“He should have made it known from the very beginning,” she said. “There’s an obligation to tell people why you’re abstaining. The council had a right to know.”
In response, Bhalla said that Mason, who supports 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti in the mayoral race against Zimmer, “was interested only in manufacturing a contrived, politically-motivated smear” ahead of next Tuesday’s election.
“It’s election season,” he said. “Our opponents have little to no material with which to critique this administration. What is sad is that many of these attacks are knowingly false and defamatory. People are tired of politics.”
In his email, Bhalla included a link to a document in which he attempts to debunk several of the alleged lies that he said Mason has spread about him. The document is publicly available -- Dean DeChiaro