“What a long way we’ve come,” Mayor Ravi Bhalla said on New Year’s Day as he looked out over the crowd gathered to celebrate a swearing in that included Bhalla as Hoboken’s first Sikh-American mayor and Councilwoman Vanessa Falco as the city’s first African-American council member. New council member Emily Jabbour was sworn in as well, as was re-elected member Jim Doyle.
“This past election was a model of diversity, showcasing for New Jersey and America a city that cares less about who you love, where you came from, what your gender is, where you worship, than they care about your ability to take on the challenges ahead for our city,” he said.
On his first day, Bhalla designated Hoboken a “Fair and Welcoming City” through executive order, echoing a theme he first raised during a Reporter candidates’ debate in October. He explained at the time that a welcoming city, unlike a “sanctuary city,” will continue to cooperate with federal immigration officers who are investigating someone, but will allow all people in the city to participate in city services. Nearby Union City and Jersey City have declared themselves a “sanctuary city” in response to President Donald Trump’s policies towards immigration: a city that will not help immigration officials unless they are looking for someone in connection with a major offense.
“Welcoming city” resolutions and ordinances proclaim that a city will not ask anyone for their immigration status or keep records on their immigrants status, and will serve everyone equally regardless of immigration status.
“The Hoboken we know and love was built by immigrants and today is sustained by immigrants,” Bhalla said.
Bhalla took the oath at Hoboken High School on New Year’s Day from Senator Cory Booker.
Sen. Robert Menendez also attended, as did mayors from several nearby towns.
Bhalla thanked former Mayor Dawn Zimmer for her service to the city. “Without Mayor Zimmer’s guidance, hard work and persistence, I would not be standing here today,” he said.
Goals and bar crawls
Bhalla pledged to rid the city of bar crawls sponsored by the city’s tavern owners that draw hundreds of participants to drink, carouse, and run up a large overtime tab for police.
He said he will form a task force comprised of police, fire, emergency management officials and local business leaders, which will work together to develop a strategy to “put this menace to an end once and for all” within his first 100 days of office.
He said it is the job of every mayor to ensure that basic core governmental functions were being done properly, including trash collection, road pavements, and clean sidewalks. He said this is his number one priority and to that end he will open a constituent services office in the coming weeks on the first floor of City Hall, where residents can ask questions and get information.
Bhalla also said that he will be Hoboken’s “infrastructure mayor” and he believes the restoration of Washington Street is “paramount” and needs to be completed as soon as possible.
In his inaugural speech, Bhalla referenced three racially motivated attacks on Indian Americans in Hudson County in 1987, two of which were committed in Hoboken.
“This first executive order is a reflection of our quintessential American values and sends an unmistakable message that Hoboken is a place that welcomes all who are ready, willing, and able to contribute to our great city,” he added. “We have challenges big and small to overcome in the years ahead, and we can only do that when our community works together in good faith towards a common goal.”
Bhalla told residents in an email that day, “Among other things, this executive order means that the application of the law shall be equal in Hoboken irrespective of immigration status, as well as religion, nationality, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This order, with Chief Ferrante’s support, also means that our Police Department will not expend resources enforcing civil immigration law, unless required to do so by state or federal law or a court order.”
Gurbir Grewal, a long time friend of Bhalla and Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s nominee for New Jersey’s attorney general, said, “There is just something so right and so encouraging about celebrating this moment as we turn the page on 2017 and embark upon a new era, because today, together all of us in this room are turning the page on a year that saw a rise in intolerance across this country. We’re turning a page on a year that saw and an increase in attacks on people based on hate and ignorance and bias.”
Menendez, the first Hispanic senator elected in New Jersey, said, “I’m thrilled to be at home, to be in a place like Hoboken, where we reject the politics of division and intolerance, and embrace the politics of inclusion and diversity.”
He also presented Bhalla with a flag that flew over the US Capitol Building.
Booker, the first African-American U.S. senator in New Jersey, who swore in Bhalla and the three council people, echoed this sentiment and said that this moment is another milestone for diversity.
“I know some people want to read this as a narrow victory for a certain community,” Booker added. “The first Sikh-American, and everyone thinks it’s about the Sikh community. When we elected the first Catholic president, that wasn’t a victory for Catholicism. That was a victory for all of us, for the United States of America living up to its ideals…This today is not a victory for a narrow community; it is a victory for the principles and ideals of the United States of America.”
Read more: Hudson Reporter – Bhalla takes oath as mayor Designates Hoboken a welcoming city same day