HOBOKEN MATTERS: Mayoral Candidate Interview with Ravi Bhalla


Like many of you, we at Little Hoboken are a bit overwhelmed with this mayoral election. There are quite a few candidates, and each have some good ideas. In order to understand each candidate, their platform and get a better idea of their plans for Hoboken, we sent each candidate some questions.

It is important to note that we sent the exact same questions to every single candidate. Each response is in their own words and has not been edited at all.

We will post their responses as we receive them. Stay tuned for more!!

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and what do you love most about living here? I’ve lived in Hoboken for 17 years. I came here as a young bachelor, eventually met my wife and decided to stay and raise a family. Even though we live in a City, we love the close-knit sense of community, and couldn't be happier to call Hoboken home.

What made you decide to run for Mayor? When was that “ah-ha” moment? Mayor Dawn Zimmer, when she decided not to run for re-election, asked me to. I said yes because I believe that my experience on the Council, working closely with Mayor Zimmer over the past eight years to turn our City around and get it moving in the right direction, has prepared me. I believe we can build on our progress and forge an even brighter future for the city we all love.

Why should you be our Mayor? What sets you apart from the other candidates? I am the only candidate to have worked in partnership with Mayor Zimmer for the past eight years, taking a City which faced a fiscal crisis with a junk bond rating to one that is fiscally sound with a AA+ bond rating and doing so while holding the line on taxes. Similarly, as Council President I secured the key vote for saving our hospital by selling it to a private company and as a result avoiding default on a $50 million bond obligation. Informed by this knowledge and experience, I have been the only candidate putting forward detailed and realistic plans on topics including education, mass transit, recreation, flooding, and more to ensure that Hoboken’s best days are yet to come. Finally, I'm the only candidate to have the enthusiastic endorsement of Mayor Zimmer, who has done so much for our City during her time in public office. Do you have political experience? What experiences in your life have prepared you to run such a dynamic and diverse city? I have served as an At-Large City Councilman for the past eight years, including 2 years as Council President, working with people in all corners or Hoboken with all different points of view on a variety of local government issues. I also served as Hoboken Democratic Municipal Chair and as a Democratic Committeeman. I will also draw on my experience as attorney who has been active on civil rights, standing up for people who needed a helping hand. Finally, nothing could replace the experience I have had as a husband and father of two young children, which is always influencing my view of making Hoboken as family friendly as possible.

Hoboken Public Schools are such a hot topic, and unfortunately, so many are misinformed about what is really going on. What do you think Hoboken residents need to know about the schools, and what are your plans for the public school system? Strong, thriving and high-performing schools are critical to my vision for Hoboken as more families call our City home for the long term. I have two school aged children and have witnessed the dedication and commitment of teachers, administrators and parents in the Hoboken Public School District and the charter schools. I believe there are many ways in which the Mayor and City Council can collaborate with and support the efforts of our schools. First, I feel that our Superintendent, Dr. Christine Johnson, is a strong and innovative leader, and I am committed to working closely with her. I want to continue building on the success of Hoboken’s Early Childhood Education program, a state-funded program for Pre-K 3 and Pre-K 4 students, and my platform calls for exploring the use of current and future City facilities to be re-purposed for additional classrooms. This would also help free up space in our higher grades. My education plan also includes securing private investments in our schools through the redevelopment process, which could include investing in more teachers, after school programs, or new school facilities. I also want to ensure better coordination between City Government and the School District through the establishment of a City Council Sub-Committee on Education, and increasing recreational space and opportunities for our students. To read the whole plan, visit my web site: www.teambhalla.com

A few candidates have mentioned community centers and/or pools. What are your thoughts on this and do you have a plan for this in your campaign? I have released a detailed Recreational Facilities Plan that includes both a community pool and expanded indoor recreational space. More specifically, as Mayor, I will engage residents in a community process that explores a complete renovation of the multi-service center to create a brand new state of the art multi-use recreational facility. New community space in Northwest Hoboken, the renovation of the former YMCA, the construction of a community pool and indoor skating rink, indoor turf field, and a new teen center are also among the ideas that I'll explore as Mayor. I will also examine the feasibility of Hoboken offering an affordable, City run summer day camp as some other cities do successfully. Recreational activities enhance the quality of life for our families raising children and all of our residents. Today, our indoor recreational space is in need of major upgrades and too small to meet a growing demand. As Mayor, I will bring the same commitment I have demonstrated on the Council to expanding open space and upgrading our parks to ensuring we create additional indoor multi-use space, enabling us to offer a broader variety of recreational activities and options.

Commuters live here because of Hoboken’s close proximity to NYC, and yet our travel options can be frustrating with crowded buses and limited schedules. Do you have a plan to accommodate our growing commuter population? Hoboken has the highest percentage of residents using public transportation to get to work in the entire United States. Our residents deserve to have reliable, reasonably priced transportation options that can also help to reduce traffic and improve our quality of life. As Mayor, I will work tirelessly to advocate for the necessary investments in our mass transportation infrastructure and I have released a detailed plan that outlines my public transit goals. My mass transit infrastructure platform calls for public and private subsidies in ferry service uptown and downtown with the goal of a ferry ticket being in line with the $2.75 ticket price for PATH train service, a goal that has already been achieve in inter-borough New York City routes. This plan also includes adding additional north/south 126 bus routes west of Clinton Street, as well as adding buses on the current 126 routes exclusively for uptown Hoboken. I am also calling on New Jersey Transit to modernize their bus stops in Hoboken with digitally signalized arrival times, similar to what is standard in other parts of the country and world. Other proposals I am advancing are providing a new train station in Northern Hoboken as part of the $13 billion dollar Hudson Tunnel Project, and calling on the Port Authority to increase PATH train service during rush hour. (To read the whole plan, visit: www.teambhalla.com)

Mayor Zimmer has made a lot of great improvements in Hoboken in two terms as Mayor. What things are you looking to keep going or expand on? What are you looking to change? Both as a Councilman and as Co-Chair of the Rebuild by Design Community Advisory Group, I have worked in partnership with Mayor Zimmer in successfully securing $230 million in federal funds for a comprehensive flood protection project. This project will provide state-of-the art flood protections, designed to be integrated into our urban landscape, all while preserving waterfront views and access to the waterfront. It is funded by a $230 million federal grant - without any separate tax burden to Hoboken residents. I helped shape the project, assisting in winning the federal and state permits required for it, and ensuring that community input was factored in. I will work hard to see it through to its completion. Additionally, I will work to ensure the completion of our plans for 3 new resiliency parks, which will not only provide additional open space and recreational opportunities, but will include underground water retention systems capable of storing thousands of gallons of rainwater during storms. I will also work to continue to hold the line on taxes and seek cost-efficiencies to ensure we keep Hoboken on a sound long-term fiscal path. I'll also plan to upgrade our aging infrastructure including roads, sidewalks, water mains, and piers - and I will push for expanded bus and rail service, as well as more affordable ferry service.

Small businesses are what makes Hoboken so special. With so many big-box stores coming to town, do you have plans to help support and protect the locally owned businesses? Maintaining an attractive Washington Street is one key to assisting small businesses. As a Councilman, I strongly supported the plan to provide needed upgrades. As Mayor, I will work for regular road and sidewalk maintenance and upgrades on all of our streets. This year on the Council, I sponsored a resolution calling for a new business district called the “Railhead” District near the PATH. I believe we need to continue examining these types of new ideas, including a Business Improvement District, which would specifically allocate additional resources and beautify our commercial corridor, so our local small businesses have the tools they need to succeed. As a Councilman, I have supported initiatives to offer discounted parking to patrons of our local businesses during the holiday season. I plan to expand this option to other periods of time where shopping locally is encouraged, like Small Business Saturday. I also plan to examine improvements to our valet parking system, which has been helpful in attracting more patrons to our small businesses. I also plan to modernize our Construction Office, ensuring our small businesses aren’t delayed with opening up their businesses or with upgrades to their buildings. Finally, as Mayor, I will meet regularly with business owners and work to address their concerns in a timely manner. I will work to help preserve the charm of Hoboken - and much of that is attributable to our small businesses.

What is your favorite restaurant in town? Don’t be shy, tell us what you love there! Margherita’s! I love going there with my family and enjoying the cozy, laid back atmosphere. It has something for everyone - my kids get the pizza, and I usually go for the Cavatelli with chicken. You can’t go wrong with this Hoboken classic.

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SEE POST FOR: JEN GIATTINO

Candidate responses, pictures, graphics and any information related to the mayoral election is posted in random order

and does not reflect any endorsement or preference.

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HEADER PHOTO CREDIT: Danielle Guenther Photography

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