HOBOKEN – During the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4, a Hoboken resident referred to City Council President Ravi Bhalla as a “disgrace” for throwing out two residents during the last meeting on Oct. 21. The resident used language that Bhalla had used against a critic at the previous meeting.
The two residents who were ejected two weeks ago — Perry Belfiore and David Liebler — were ordered physically removed from the meeting by Council President Bhalla after they made comments about Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s husband, Stan Grossbard. The comments stemmed from media reports earlier that day that Grossbard had emailed several members of the Hoboken Housing Authority Board of Commissioners years earlier with apparent strategies to get rid of the head of the housing authority, a mayoral opponent. The emails had just come out as part of the housing authority head’s ongoing lawsuit against the mayor.
When Belfiore and Liebler made comments at the meeting about what was in that day’s articles about Grossbard, police escorted both men out of the council chambers.
Hoboken resident Elizabeth Adams attended this week’s meeting and addressed the decision to remove the residents from the last one.
Bhalla had said during the removal of the residents that Grossbard is a private citizen and therefore not subject to public comments.
“I do not believe this is the real issue,” said Adams during the meeting in regard to Bhalla’s claims that he was defending Grossbard as a private citizen. “Rather it is quite evident that you censored Mr. Belfiore and Mr. Liebler in an attempt to suppress their right to express their opinion and therefore suppress their right to freedom of speech.”
Adams referred to the fact that Bhalla had called Liebler a “disgrace” when he Liebler asked why he was being escorted out.
“I would suggest that you are the true disgrace,” Adams said, using Bhalla’s own term against him. “There, I just expressed what is my opinion which is non-profane and my constitutional right of freedom of speech.” She then asked if she would be thrown out. She was not.
After the meeting, Bhalla refuted Adams’ claims.
“That’s not correct [that I disagreed with the content of their speeches],” said Bhalla. “I took a content neutral approach. Specifically. I indicated that if somebody had started disparaging my wife, or Councilman [Michael] Russo’s wife, I would not permit that. and Councilman Russo actually agreed with me with that approach.”
Russo and Bhalla are often on opposite political sides.
“They were not ejected because of the speech, but because they subsequently began to act in a disorderly manner and if anyone acts in a disorderly manner, it is my obligation as the presiding officer to have them removed so we can run an orderly meeting,” he added.
In the series of emails that came to light, Stan Grossbard had discussed several housing matters with three then-members of the Hoboken Housing Authority board, which oversees the town’s low-income public housing. Among those matters, Grossbard referred to the housing board’s then-attorney, whom Grossbard referred to as a “consiglere”. When that attorney’s firm was to be replaced, among the new firms vying to represent the housing authority was one that also employs Ravi Bhalla.
For earlier articles about the situation, see links below.