HOBOKEN, NJ - “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”
That was the appalling message scrawled on top of a forged election flier, designed to suggest that Councilman Michael DeFusco was launching a xenophobic attack on his rival Ravi Bhalla just days before the 2017 Hoboken Mayoral Election. DeFusco immediately denied involvement in the fliers—nevertheless, the incident put Hoboken politics in the crosshairs of international scrutiny, while leaders like U.S. Senator Cory Booker immediately rallied on Bhalla’s behalf. Just days later, Bhalla went on to win that election by a narrow margin on November 7, 2017.
Hoboken’s fliers came directly on the heels of similarly worded xenophobic fliers in nearby Edison, New Jersey, where voters were told to “Make Edison Great Again” by preventing Chinese and Indian candidates from assuming a role on the school board. That story has seen renewed interest here in New Jersey, as the Attorney General’s Office has issued a subpoena in that case after allegations claiming those fliers were printed by prominent Edison Democrats—potentially as a false flag tactic to drum up sentiment for candidates.
Given the stark similarities between the Edison case and the Hoboken fliers, Hoboken City Councilmembers recently released a joint statement calling on the Attorney General's office to include the Hoboken racist flier incident as part of its investigation. On Wednesday, the Council will introduce a formal resolution, “requesting that the Office of the Attorney General and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s office take over the investigation of the Hoboken bias flyer similarly as they have done in Edison, and continue to work closely with the Hoboken Police Department.”
“Having my name associated with a racist and bigoted flyer that I had no involvement in was devastating to me and my family,” said Councilman Mike DeFusco. “It’s unfathomable that nearly four years later we have yet to bring justice to those responsible and this case deserves to be investigated by the highest level of authorities to protect the integrity of future elections. I have stood against this rhetoric since day one and my family and I welcome a new, more thorough investigation to finally vindicate my name from this hateful act.”
When asked for comment, a spokesman for Mayor Bhalla referred to a recent statement in which the Mayor said, “I’ll never forget having to explain to my young children why their dad was called a terrorist—something they should never have to experience again. This was a painful time for my family, and it’s my sincere hope that no other family will ever have to go through any similar circumstances.”
As Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher points out, “It wasn’t just two Hoboken elected officials who were victimized, it was our whole Hoboken community.” Local, national and even international media were quick to pick up the story in November 2017, painting the Hoboken Mayoral race as one rooted in bias and xenophobia. “Having the Office of the AG and the Hudson County Prosecutors office lead the investigation would allow for the most independent review and prosecution of the case including members of Hoboken's own government if necessary,” said Fisher. “Like we are seeing in Edison, Hoboken deserves the resources of the highest level of law enforcement to reopen and solve this cold case."
Since the incident took place nearly three and a half years ago, Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante has made the effort to be publicly candid about the logistics of the investigation, whenever asked. As such, he claims he supports the Council’s resolution and is hoping it brings about some actionable result in a case that has seen a lot of attention.
“I was made aware of this resolution by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher last Monday. Investigations Captain Gino Jacobelli and I welcome this resolution for several reasons,” said Ferrante.
“First, the Investigations Bureau in 2017 and 2018, interviewed over two dozen individuals. Any higher law enforcement agency will see the incredible amount of time and effort that went into investigating this 4th degree crime. These interviews were also reviewed by the current Captain and supervisors in the investigations Bureau recently after New Jersey Globe did two pieces on the Edison case, to ensure that everyone who was mentioned in the 2017-2018 interviews, were investigated.”
Regarding the initial leads in 2017, Ferrante told TAPinto Hoboken, “We also sent excellent video footage and pictures of those who placed the photos on vehicles, that weekend (within 24 hrs of the incident) and the following week) to all regional media, blogs and networks. Those videos and pictures that were displayed on network media as well as digital media and social media were also sent to all law enforcement agencies in the region via our BOLO system,” adding, “It amazes me to this day that not a single citizen or police officer in the tri-state area knew the identity of the individuals dropping those fliers.”
This is certainly not the first time Ferrante has answered questions about this case. Hoboken has had a history of “midnight fliers,” in which clandestine smear campaigns have been perpetrated in previous political struggles by placing crudely made pamphlets throughout town. Seeing that tactic resurface lead many residents to share theories—but theories don’t lead to arrests.
“I must also point out that I addressed the City Council with updates that they were not mandatory—some five times—to be as transparent as possible,” the Chief said. “We had officials stating publicly that they knew who did it, but when interviewed by our agency, did not state who it was. We had some stating it was a certain PAC that did it. I explained at my last address to the City Council that law enforcement cannot arrest a PAC. We need probable cause to arrest individuals who committed the acts.”
As he has done in the past, Ferrante maintains that HPD is leading the charge in bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice.
“I advised the City Council we were always ready to reopen the case if any new evidence was brought forward. I also advised the council publicly, that they had the option to bring a civil suit against that PAC if they felt it was behind the fliers,” he told TAPinto Hoboken. “The advantages would be a lower burden of proof, the ability to depose, and the ability to subpoena records. To this day, to my knowledge, there has not been any civil litigation brought forward in this matter.”
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