HOBOKEN - Mayor Ravi Bhalla is taking flack from First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco, after the announcement that the law firm currently employing Bhalla has taken a case by New Jersey Republicans who are suing Governor Phil Murphy for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weeks after his 2018 inauguration, Bhalla took an “Of Counsel” role with Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C.—a New Jersey-based law firm. Long a bone of contention in Hoboken political circles, DeFusco now alleges that the Mayor's tandem roles represent a considerable conflict of interest.
“It is remarkable to see Mayor Bhalla publicly taking credit in Hoboken for the work the Governor and state officials have done in combating COVID-19, while privately his very own law firm seeks to cause irreparable damage to the progress we have made to flatten the curve in New Jersey," said DeFusco. "It’s disingenuous to publicly rally Hoboken residents to abide by one set of rules while quietly engaging in a frivolous lawsuit for his own financial benefit at the expense of state taxpayers. I have always felt strongly that Hoboken needs a full-time Mayor free of these kinds of ethical questions, and this lawsuit only solidifies my position.”
Hoboken City Spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri responded on behalf of the Mayor, saying, "Mayor Bhalla’s decisive actions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as the first in the country to close bars and restaurants undoubtedly saved lives and set a precedent for the rest of the nation. On the other hand, when Mayor Bhalla also closed gyms and other non-essential businesses in Hoboken to prevent the spread of the virus, Mike DeFusco purposefully evaded Hoboken’s safety regulations, traveled on public transportation to New York City to work out at an open gym, and then came back to go canvassing door to door without a face mask in a senior building, potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of our most vulnerable residents."
Chaudhuri, who served as Bhalla's campaign manager during the Mayor's 2017 campaign in which he narrowly beat DeFusco for the office, cites the Councilman's own social media accounts.
"That same weekend, not only did Mike DeFusco ignore Hoboken’s recommendations to avoid large gatherings as he traveled out of Hoboken to go to a concert, he also defied orders from the Office of Emergency Management to take down false information pertaining to Hoboken’s emergency order for bars and restaurants to close, despite several direct requests from Hoboken Police Sergeant William Montanez, the head of Hoboken’s Office of Emergency Management."
Chaudhuri continues, "Unsurprisingly, this is more of the same from Mike DeFusco - instead of focusing on the health and safety of Hoboken residents, he continues to try to derail Hoboken’s emergency responses during a national pandemic. As Mike fully knows, Mayor Bhalla has absolutely nothing to do with the lawsuit, and remains fully supportive of Governor Murphy’s leadership and steps to keep New Jersey residents safe."
Caitlin Mota, a spokesperson for Councilman DeFusco, responds to Chaudhuri's comments, saying, "It is a flagrant violation for a taxpayer-funded city spokesman to be commenting on the Mayor's private job, but unsurprising since Vijay Chaudhuri also served as the Mayor’s campaign manager in 2017. It’s dishonest to intentionally spread rumors about Councilman DeFusco’s personal life and absurd to accuse him of contributing to the global health crisis. The facts of the matter is the Mayor’s second job at a law firm favored by Republican interests will always be a conflict of interest. Mayor Bhalla either stands for senseless litigation meant to defame the Governor's efforts or the safety protocols he and Councilman DeFusco advocated for, but it cannot be both."
Mota adds, "Do as I say, not as I do may work in a courtroom, but not for a political leader. Councilman DeFusco calls on Mayor Bhalla to publicly denounce litigation and his law firm’s involvement in the strongest way possible."
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