Bhalla becomes first Sikh mayor in Hoboken and N.J.

HOBOKEN -- Ravinder S. Bhalla, an attorney and former councilman, was sworn in as Hoboken's 39th mayor Monday afternoon, pledging in his inaugural address to focus on core governmental functions, oversee infrastructure projects and rid Mile Square City of the semi-annual bar crawls that he called a "menace."

Bhalla, 43, was elected the state's first Sikh mayor in November. The historic win was mentioned frequently during today's inauguration, held in front of a crowd of about 700 in the auditorium of Hoboken High School.

In his inaugural speech, Bhalla referenced a rash of racially motivated attacks on Indian Americans in Hudson County in 1987, one of them a fatal beating of a Jersey City man in Hoboken.

"What a long way we've come," he said. "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."

Bhalla's win in the six-person mayor's race came days after fliers appeared in Hoboken smearing him as a terrorist. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat who performed the oath of office for Bhalla, said the election result should be seen as a victory for the nation's principles and ideals.

"In a time of darkness, in a time of distress, in a time when there are headlines about the divisions and the divisiveness and the hatred and the bigotry and the ignorance, Hoboken looked around and said, you know what, we're going to find a qualified and competent, compassionate man of integrity," Booker said. "We're going to find someone who leads with love."

Bhalla succeeds one of his allies, Dawn Zimmer, who did not seek a third term last year. Bhalla toasted Zimmer, who sat on the stage behind him.

"Without Mayor Zimmer's guidance, hard work and persistence, I would not be standing here today," he said, calling her accomplishments "truly incredible and historic."

Bhalla was joined today by Hoboken's three at-large council members, Jim Doyle, Vanessa Falco and Emily Jabbour. Doyle begins his second full term today, Falco and Jabbour their first terms.

In November, Falco became the first African American person to win election to Hoboken's nine-member council. Falco addressed her own historic win in her remarks to the crowd, saying that growing up she was always proud that her mother was the city's first black school principal.

"I hope today I've accomplished the same for my boys," she said.

The man expected to become New Jersey's next attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, was also on the stage at Hoboken High School today. Grewal, like Bhalla a turbaned Sikh man, told a story about being mistaken for Bhalla during a recent visit to Hoboken.

"Hardly a block went by without someone stopping me and saying, 'Congratulations, mayor,' and offering me their best wishes," Grewal said. "I played along with it, and so I answered questions about parking on Washington Street and committed Ravi to more open space while holding the line on taxes."

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