Grist for the Mill: Ravi Bhalla bid for Congress as budget blues storm clouds threaten

It’s been circulating for some time but Mayor Ravi Bhalla has begun telling HudCo pals he is going to run for the congressional seat of the current officeholder, Congressman Albio Sires.

Sires is slated for easy re-election this November and insiders speculate it will be his last two-year term meaning an open congressional seat in 2022.

Ravi Bhalla has sought higher office outside Hoboken since his first term as a councilman back in 2009. He first attempted an off the line Assembly run in 2011 bucking State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack by running off the HudCo line. That effort ended in disaster as Ravi Bhalla would see the failed effort end with his tallies in single digits.

Does this Ravi bollard point the way to Congress?

In 2013, Ravi Bhalla again threw his hat in the ring going up against HudCo powerbroker Brian Stack. This time he would face off against the noxious Carmelo Garcia. On second thought Ravi Bhalla thought better of running off the line. 

At least one HudCo competitor is thought to be considering a bid for the same congressional seat: Mayor Steve Fulop of Jersey City.

Ravi Bhalla aware of the possible matchup insists that if he doesn’t get the HudCo Machine line, he’ll be running anyway.

Fulop has a big war chest in seven figures and Ravi Bhalla has his national religious fundraising circuit. 

There’s only one immediate obstacle. The Hoboken mayoral election is in 2021 and the latest attempted escape out of Hoboken is delayed until later and Ravi Bhalla will have to face off against a number of mayoral contenders.

Of course, among that list is his chief nemesis Councilman Michael DeFusco. The first ward councilman has not forgotten nor has he gotten over the dirty trick used against him in the waning days of the 2017 Hoboken mayoral race. 

The Ravi Terror Flyer as it’s been dubbed around the world helped generate the needed sympathy votes to win the election for Ravi Bhalla with a little less than one-third of the vote. 

No one took credit for the “winning” strategy of that political dirty trick but everyone in City Hall knows for who the gambit was made and all but the names of the people who came in from out of town dropping the “midnight flyers” on to the Mile Square City streets on a Friday night at dinnertime. Hardly your typical “midnight” flyer. It was intended to be found by residents asap and was. 

No one was arrested for the political dirty trick but with runoff elections returning to the Mile Square City, there should be a slew of candidates to choose among for the Hoboken mayoral race in 2021.

Mike Russo for mayor? Watch wash me now?

First and foremost with an itch to announce is Councilman Michael Russo. He made plenty of noise if incoherent on the budget at the last City Council meeting and is clearly chomping at the bit to throw his hat into the ring. While Russo is not likely to get much traction outside his third ward, he wants to leverage a mayoral bid for everything it’s worth. Did I say everything? I meant everything plus one patronage hire to be determined later.

Councilman Ruben Ramos who ran a very good mayoral race in 2013 against Mayor Zimmer is likely weighing a bid of his own. If he pulls the trigger and gives it a go, it means problems for a Defusco run. As Ramos lent much voter support to DeFusco in 2017, he can opt to take all those votes and go his own way. 

With former mayor Dawn Zimmer departed to the Catskills and having detonated the Reform Movement on her way out with a backdoor deal on behalf of Ravi Bhalla; there’s a low likelihood of a standard bearer emerging from the ashes. While there’s deep respect for City Council President Jen Giattino; she’s made her service on the City Council as president a signature to her unplanned voyage into politics and is unlikely to try again. 

That would leave Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher as the only vestige of Reform left to take up the mantle. She entered at Reform’s zenith in 2015 but with the special interests money flooding into Hoboken as it did in 2017, no grassroots candidate can compete on that financial level. 

In 2017, City Council President Jen Giattino managed in a flash election to raise the most money of all Hoboken mayoral candidates, well into six figures. Even with that, she was going entirely uphill against almost a million dollars, the vast majority of it from outside Hoboken split between Ravi Bhalla and Michael Defusco.

The budget which failed to pass at the last City Council meeting may put Hoboken on the brink. While Ravi Bhalla expressed optimism for its passage, there’s a strong distaste for his budget and the 10% tax hike in it. It’s unclear if his budget can manage the five votes needed for passage. He has three reflexive votes in Emily Jabbour, Jim Doyle and Phil Cohen leaving him two short. 

If the City Council fails to find five votes for a Ravi Bhalla budget, a ricochet of events could lead to a state fiscal takeover as occurred in 2008. No one in City Hall would shed any tears.

Steve Fulop and his people will likely be watching the next attempt at a special City Council meeting Wednesday with big cheshire cat grins.

Correction: The initial entry of the state takeover in Hoboken was 2008 not 2009. 

Grist for the Mill is MSV’s rumor column but its success makes it the most popular column in all the Mile Square City. Have a tasty carrot for Horsey? Send it to and be assured your confidentiality is protected with MSV’s State of NJ Shield Law protections upheld repeatedly in Hudson County Superior Court.

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