By Jason Stahl | UNITED STATES |
Hanging up outside of the Hoboken mayor’s office are crooked and out of order framed pictures of past mayors. Very apropos for a city that’s known for its crookedness. Fortunately, Hoboken’s current leader, Mayor Ravi Bhalla, 46, has been straightening out the Mile Square City since being elected to city council in 2008. Bhalla has spent his life fighting for others. It’s part of his Sikh faith – Bhalla was New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor when elected in 2017 – and it’s his faith that unfortunately made him a target for being bullied growing up and being labeled a terrorist while running for mayor.
I recently spent the day with His Honor, where he spoke openly about having his own civil rights violated, his immigrant parents and why his wife is so damn important. After listening to his story, I quickly realized this soft-spoken and very approachable politician really embodies the American experience.
Ravi Bhalla was born and raised in New Jersey. He lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his parents and older brother in West Paterson, about 45 minutes outside of New York City. He played tennis growing up and was an all-state doubles player his senior year in high school. He was also president of his local Junior State of America chapter – a youth organization that focuses on public issues. Then he went to college, where he was exposed to a whole new world.
Moving to the west coast to attend the University of California, Berkeley was a cultural shift for Bhalla, who jokes that he was picked on for his New Jersey accent. There was a very robust East and South Asian population in the Bay area and the student body, giving him more of an affinity towards his South Asian background. “I was going from a largely homogenous all-white school to a very diverse population in Berkeley,” he says. “It was very refreshing and it broadened my horizons and encouraged me to think about various issues.”
After Berkeley, Bhalla earned his masters at the London School of Economics, before returning to the U.S. for law school at Tulane University in New Orleans. Of the three cities, the Crescent City was his Goldilocks. “You can get lost in London because it’s so big and a truly international city. Berkeley is smaller and has a funky beat to it which is nice. New Orleans is medium-sized. It just had a great tradition of music, culture, food and the law school had a rigorous curriculum, so in some way, it helped you balance your life.”
As mayor of the fourth densest city in the country, he’s still learning to balance his life. “I’m always on the job, I’m responsible — it’s part of your duties as mayor – but I do my best to balance work with family. I have to make time to make sure to be a good father, a good husband. I need to take breaks – during COVID I haven’t had a break. I’ll spend an hour at the park to have a baseball catch with my son. We take family bike rides on the weekends. We go out to dinner every Friday night.”
Part of his ability to balance work and life is from his very supportive wife, Bindya. They met in London where she was practicing human rights law and he was there on business. Through mutual friends, they met for what Ravi scheduled in his day as a quick 30-minute cup of tea on Oxford Street. “It was a check of a box of things to do that day,” he says, “but it turned into a 90-minute-long affair.” He asked her out the next day. They married in 2003. Bhalla exclaims: “I definitely married up, and got her to come from London to Hoboken.”
Read the full story, ‘Born to Run’ (The Spin, 12 Nov 2020), here.
Hoboken Sikh mayor joins #BlackLivesMatter protest (Asia Samachar, 6 June 2020)
Ravinder set to make history if he wins Hoboken mayor race (Asia Samachar, 5 July 2017)