Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken in the state of New Jersey, who announced his run for the US Congress from the solidly Democratic NJ District 8, lambasted one of his opponents, Rep. Robert Menendez Jr., for riding on his family’s coat-tails to get to Capitol Hill.
In a wide-ranging interview with Desi Talk Dec. 18, 2023, a week after announcing his run, Bhalla recounted his years of political experience and success in various endeavors. He did not shy away from strong words against his main opponent, and contrasted his achievements to Menendez Jr. who he said held the seat because of “nepotism at its worst.”
His announcement video spoke of his journey growing up in New Jersey, feeling the stings of discrimination and hate speech as a Sikh, countering hate-mongers by excelling in school, games and career as an elected official
“It simply boils down to one word – ‘qualification’,” he said in his interview about the difference between him and Menendez Jr. “I’ve been serving this region for approximately 15 years. He has less than a year. I have a solid record of accomplishments … based on pure merit. And he is also compromised by his father (Sen. Bob Menendez),” Mayor Bhalla said, referring to controversial legal problems being faced by the elder Menendez.
The Indian American Mayor contended that the dynamics of District 8 had changed “dramatically”- and that his opponent had basically been “gifted” a seat, something that would no longer be tolerated.
Robert Menendez Jr. was elected November 8, 2022 with more than 72 percent of the vote and prior to that in the Democratic primary last year, he was endorsed by 83 percent of the Party vote.
“There is a strong feeling in the District that it is time to move on,” Bhalla said, from dynastic politics.
“I feel like my journey as Mayor has been a very position ad very innovative one. I have faced challenging issues in Hoboken and the rest of the country, like climate action, climate change etc., and done this through innovation and hard work,” he said. He has the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, insidernj.com reported.
The Mayor is currently engaged in building the campaign team and is “singularly focused” on winning in the Democratic Primary for the “Solid Democratic” District as defined by all rating agencies. Whoever wins the primary, sails through the November 5 elections.
Bhalla says the response from the general public and Indian Americans has been great and within four weeks, his campaign has raised $500,000. He needs more than a million he estimated, and “Money does not seem to be the problem.”
“It has been a very, very exciting time for them (Indian Americans,” he said. “I’ve received very enthusiastic response from around the country, but especially in Jersey City. They want to help, and have supported in many ways. We’ve really only started.”
He described his campaign in few words – “People Power, Grassroots Campaign”, directed at people who had been deprived of a choice.
In his formal announcement of Dec. 12, Mayor Bhalla expressed his concerns.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation, facing rising sea levels, rising inequality and rising hatred,” he said. “For Congress to rise to the challenge, we need new voices and new leadership—leadership that is focused on making real progress on solving problems and ensuring that all New Jerseyans and Americans no matter their skin color, ethnicity, gender, whom they choose to love, or where they started in life can still realize the American Dream.”
His goal is to “make healthcare a right for everyone, take on climate change, protect a woman’s right to choose, battle back against hatred, and build an economy that works for all.”
One of only 22 elected officials nationwide selected by the US State Department to serve on an inaugural Assembly of Local Leaders (ALL) to address “global challenges that effect local communities,” Bhalla recently participated in COP28, the UN Climate Summit, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“The climate crisis is not a predetermined catastrophe, but a challenge we can and must meet,” he said.
Elected mayor of Hoboken in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, Bhalla is credited with making his city more resilient to climate change, overseeing the design, creation and opening of ResilienCity Park, one of the largest resiliency parks in the country, working toward zero emissions, to name just a few.
Bhalla’s own resilience is evident from his announcement video, where he recounts his experiences growing up and his method of tackling challenges. The video begins by saying – “This is a story about a Jersey kid… Who grew up not looking like all the other Jersey kids.”
“My parents came here from India to work hard and honestly, with only the promise of opportunity. … And to practice our Sikh faith in a country where it is self-evident that all of us are created equal,” Bhalla begins.
“But that didn’t stop the schoolyard bullies from hurling insults or tugging on my hair. …. I fought back. The only way I knew how. … On the diamond. … And the court,” he recalls about his days on the baseball field and his law degree.
“When my baseball helmet wouldn’t slide over my patka…My coach modified one that would fit me on the field. He knew our team was stronger when each of us could play,” he says, adding, “In the courtroom, I fought barriers to access and for those who faced discrimination.”
Hate has many faces, he says, “But all are cowardly and familiar,” he notes in the backdrop of a newscast about a racist flier, and another where he was labeled a terrorist on a leaflet.
He wants to run to keep America a place “Where an immigrant story is the American story.”
In his interview with Desi Talk, he said, “My immediate family, my Hoboken family, we are all in it together,” and concluding with, “I’m in it to win it.”