FBW | November 1, 2017
After meeting with all of the mayoral candidates to discuss the issues, focusing on Hoboken’s central waterfront, we requested that they respond to six questions. Three of the candidates have responded: City Council President Jen Giattino, Councilman Ravi Bhalla and Councilman Michael DeFusco. What follows are their answers to the questions.
1) Describe your professional experiences and how have they prepared you to effectively manage Hoboken’s municipal government?
DeFusco: I possess the right blend of both public and private sector experience necessary to manage our city’s government. I’ve served in city government for seven years, first on the zoning board for five years and now the past two years on the City Council representing the First Ward. I also work as a media executive at a Fortune 500 company, where I manage a multimillion dollar budget and a large team. All of these experiences make me uniquely prepared to manage the city as our next mayor.
Giattino: In an odd way every job I’ve had has prepared me to be mayor. When I worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs I became proficient with financial issues and making bottom line decisions. As a realtor working part time as I raise my children the name of the game is customer service being the person who solves the problem in the time and manner the customer needs it is crucial to any sort of success. As Councilwoman my ability to get people to work together even getting them to elect me unanimously president three times has put me in a position to lead.
Bhalla: As a Councilman and Council President for the past eight years, I played a central role in the Hoboken turn-around, together with Mayor Zimmer, restoring fiscal responsibility and honest government to a city that was under state fiscal supervision due to reckless budget decisions with with a well-earned reputation for corruption and cronyism. The tough fiscal decisions we made, including reorganizing our top heavy police and fire departments, moved our bond rating from junk to today’s AA+. As Council President, I led the Council in the fight to save our hospital by selling it to a private entity, saving more than 1,000 jobs and enabling the City to avoid a costly default on a $52 million bond obligation. I have the first-hand experience with difficult and complicated government decisions as well as the inner workings of city government that prepares me to be an effective manager as Mayor. This experience is buttressed by my strong educational background and my professional work as an Attorney, representing corporate clients and government entities as well as taking on important civil rights cases. My legal expertise will be an asset given the various court cases and legal decisions that the City faces and will face in the future.
2) What particular skills do you possess that are most important to being a competent mayor?
Bhalla: I am a good listener who is looking for good ideas wherever I can find them and who enjoys taking to people with different points of view. I have the background and experience needed to turn those good ideas into policies that work for all of Hoboken. I will devote my full time energy to building on our solid foundation and take Hoboken to the next level. These include upgrading our aging infrastructure, solving our flooding problem once and for all, and keeping the City on a responsible long term fiscal path. As an attorney, I am experienced in conducting complex negotiations – an essential skill for our next mayor.
DeFusco: Being an effective mayor requires working across political divides to solve problems, planning for the future and being able to execute on your vision. As a Councilman I’ve worked with everyone, from Mayor Zimmer to Councilman Ramos and everyone in between to advocate for my district. I’ve also brought big ideas to the table, like creating a European-style market in our train terminal and attracting innovative new businesses. All of this shows that I’ll be the kind of Mayor who brings creative approaches to solve difficult problems and turn vision into reality.
Giattino: I have excellent financial, decision making, and communication skills but I think the thing that most differentiates me is the attitude I’ll bring to the job. I firmly believe that when you’re focused on the getting the job done rather than who gets the credit you can accomplish anything and that has been a hallmark of my career. I work collaboratively not just because it gets better results but because it’s who I am. I believe that every member of the council, every employee at City Hall and every member of our community can contribute to making Hoboken better and I will help them do it.
3) If elected mayor, what will be your 3 most important priorities?
Giattino: 1) Creating and implementing a comprehensive plan for our development including open space, provision for new schools and encouraged needed commercial development while limiting new residential construction; 2) Reviving a culture of service at City Hall and focusing on details to improve the results of everything we undertake; 3) Finally, taking all the needed steps to keep Hoboken sustainable, from flood protection to repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure to tackling the displacement crisis to negotiating a fair water agreement to holding the line on taxes.
Bhalla: 1) Upgrading our aging infrastructure, including water mains, roads, sewers and piers as well as strengthening our electrical grid and pushing for expanded bus and rails service as well as more affordable ferry service; 2) Ensuring that we are prepared for the more intense storms scientists predict because of climate change and solving our flooding problem once and for all by completing Rebuild by Design, our federally-funded $230 million comprehensive flood prevention project as well as implementing the remaining components of my detailed Storm and Flood Protection Plan; 3) Working to complete the construction of our planned parks and to secure more open space.
DeFusco: My first priority will be to get back to basics by solving the quality of life problems our residents have faced for too long, like filling potholes, keeping streets clean, addressing our parking shortage and reducing traffic with common sense measures like returning Observer Highway to four lanes. Next, I will work to make the major investments in our water and sewer infrastructure that we need to reduce flooding. Finally, I’ll introduce big picture action items like creating a European-style market at the train terminal, updating our outdated zoning laws and working to attract innovative new businesses to Hoboken.
4) Describe the types of professionals that you will recruit to head the City’s departments. What skills and other competencies would they have in common?
DeFusco: I would seek to fill key roles in the city with people who share my vision, and ideally with people who also share my background with both public and private sector experience. There are many areas where the city falls short, and we can improve employee performance and productivity by recruiting directors who will hold employees accountable and integrate a bottom-up management approach that emphasizes efficiency and excellent service for residents.
Giattino: Every hire will have respect for the public and a complete lack of conflicts of interest. Hoboken is a world class city and should attract world class professionals. I believed that if you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room. I thrive working with people with great commitment, great ideas and strong personalities. I will hire directors who are independent and capable of running their own departments. We have 600 employees plus a bunch more professionals if the mayor has to be involved with every decision every time there’s no way we’ll get everything done.
Bhalla: I will hire and/or retain the best people available. What they will have in common is that they will bring strong relevant experience and skill to the positions, they will be results-oriented and highly motivated, and they will be completely devoted to serving the City and the residents of Hoboken.
5) What is your vision for completing the unfinished portions of Hoboken waterfront?
Bhalla: I am committed to eventually acquiring the Union dry Dock property for a price that is fair to the people of Hoboken, and will make exploring this acquisition a top priority. This will require a willingness, if necessary, to use all of the tools legally available to us, including our power to acquire property through eminent domain. However, I believe this power should be used only if the property is no longer going to be operated as a functioning shipyard.
DeFusco: Completing the long-awaited interconnected waterfront is a huge priority, which is why I announced a plan during the summer to build an urban beach and floating pool concept at the Union Dry Dock site. What would make this plan financially viable is the inclusion of a marina that would rent space to boaters in and out of Hoboken who would be attracted to the prime location, and would also include some light retail elements like food stands and beach shops. I believe that whether we pursue this plan or another vision, we must do it by engaging in an open and good-faith negotiation with the property owner and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, not by relying only on eminent domain.
Giattino: The principles laid down decades ago of public use on the east side of a public street have served us well and to the extent possible must be maintained. Every effort must be made to find a way to make both Union Dry Dock and the Monarch part of that vision. The Hoboken waterfront has been most successful when the city has seriously considered input in a serious way from the community and the Fund for a Better Waterfront. I would be guided by that tradition.
6) How do you envision the development of the following redevelopment areas: North End, Western Edge, SW Hoboken and Rail Yards?
Giattino: Conceptually I will give maximum preference to offices, retail, incubator space and other commercial development which provides more tax ratables than the additional services it requires and to minimize additional residential which costs more in services than we get. In all cases I will continue an open public process and take into strong consideration both the opinion of the respective neighbors in each area and the overall effect on Hoboken.
Bhalla: There are existing redevelopment plans with respect to the Western Edge, SW Hoboken and the Rail Yards. These plans were crafted through extensive community processes, balancing the legal requirement that the plan be financially viable with the City’s interest in limiting residential development and in receiving substantial developer “give backs” such as affordable housing and open space. I will not permit any increase in the building heights or densities currently permitted in those plans. With respect to the North End, the same community driven process should be followed to create a plan in the best interests of our residents. In my opinion, we should prioritize commercial rather than residential development in that area of the City.. However, while in my opinion commercial development is far preferable to residential development in the North End, all development must kept to a scale consistent with our existing community. We cannot approve our of scale buildings that would be unacceptable as residential buildings simply because they are commercial instead. And all development involving a significant “up-zone” should provide significant developer paid community benefits.
DeFusco: All of these sites present a tremendous opportunity for our city to attract innovative new businesses that will make for a more vibrant community and help diversify our tax base and take the burden off of residents. I believe that the former industrial sites common in these areas would lend themselves perfectly to burgeoning new business models that are thriving in other post-industrial cities like hydroponic gardens, coffee roasters, urban wineries and breweries and tech co-working spaces. We need to bring new ideas to the zoning and land use process to make sure we make the most of these opportunities and not squander them.
Election day: Tuesday, November 7th from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register to vote: Tuesday, October 17th
The QLC mayoral debate: Wednesday, October 25th
Deadline to vote by mail: Tuesday, October 31st
Find your polling place