Hoboken ethics regulations cause a stir

Hoboken officials take aim over new ethics rules

Hoboken bans politicking on city property including phones, computers, and the city's website.
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Hoboken bans politicking on city property including phones, computers, and the city's website.

The City Council has adopted an ordinance that updates the city’s ethics code to prohibit politicking on public property. The ordinance was adopted by a 7-2 vote. Council members Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour voted against the measure.

Sponsored by First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco and Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, it will bar public officials from using the city’s Nixel alert system, phones, fax machines, computers, and other city property to promote political agendas.

Any violation of the City Code of Ethics could result in disciplinary action. DeFusco said this will ensure that taxpayer dollars and resources aren’t being misused for political gain.

Political press releases

Since the measure was adopted, elected officials have voiced either their support and concerns for the measure in dueling press releases taking aim at one another.

“I’m thankful that the majority of my Council colleagues supported this common-sense proposal to protect Hoboken taxpayers and prevent the misuse of city resources for political gain, but I find it mystifying that Council members Doyle and Jabbour voted against it,” said Councilman DeFusco. “Hoboken residents deserve to know that city employees are spending their time doing the peoples’ work, not advancing their own political interests. This ordinance should have passed unanimously, and I find it troubling that anyone elected to represent our community would refuse to support it and instead act as an enabler for the chronic misuse of taxpayer resources that has plagued so many cities across our state for far too long.”

In a statement, Councilwoman Jabbour said, “Councilman Defusco’s alleged ‘ethics reform proposals’ and his attacks on my integrity are both without substance.”

She added that if DeFusco was as “serious” about substantive ethics reform “as he is about putting out press releases attacking others, then we may be able to achieve real reform.”

She said she stands by her record on reform and ethics, adding that she believes DeFusco’s “attacks” are one of the reasons the city needs “new earnest public servants on the City Council who put people before politics.”

Rob Horowitz, spokesperson for Team Bhalla, supporters of Mayor Ravi Bhalla, called the ordinance a “transparent attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Frank Raia, one of his [DeFusco’s] largest political contributors, was found guilty of a large-scale voter fraud scheme, in which hard cold cash was traded for votes, and that his former campaign manager was at the heart of the scheme.”

Bhalla narrowly defeated DeFusco for the mayoralty in 2017.

Frank “Pupie” Raia was convicted on June 25 of directing a 2013 vote-buying scheme. Since then, officials, including DeFusco, announced they would donate contributions Raia made to their campaign to charitable organizations.

DeFusco has donated the $5,400 Raia gave to his 2017 mayoral campaign to the Hoboken American Legion Post 107 to help provide housing for homeless veterans. He also donated to the Jubilee Center.

Later, First Ward council candidate Migdalia Pagan Milano on the Team Bhalla slate called on DeFusco to return the total of $9,400 in contributions he received from Frank Raia, including $4,000 given by 600 Monroe Street, an LLC Raia controlled.

Then, DeFusco announced he would donate the remaining $4,000 from Raia’s business to the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s LGBTQ+ Caucus to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

The money will be used to promote equality and help the caucus work with all 12 towns in Hudson County achieve a perfect Municipal Equality Index score from the Human Rights Campaign.

DeFusco’s 2017 campaign manager Ryan Yacco testified in the Raia case. He was the founder and co-owner of the former Bluewater Operations. He testified that he performed payroll services for Raia’s One Hoboken campaign and the Let the People Decide PAC in 2013, which allegedly paid $50 checks to voters who voted for Raia via mail-in ballots.

Yacco is not part of DeFusco’s 2019 reelection campaign.

Horowitz added that council members Doyle and Jabbour were open to working on a comprehensive proposal “as DeFusco falsely advertised his to be, not engaging in a symbolic exercise.”

He said stamping out voter fraud and ensuring the integrity of elections is the number one ethical issue in Hoboken and “any truly comprehensive proposal must address it.”

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.