Some Hoboken officials are calling for the resignation of First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco in light of new information that he has apparently been traveling to COVID-19 hot spots and renting his city condo on AirBnB amid the pandemic.
DeFusco's absence amid the COVID-19 pandemic raised many questions, but a quick look at his AirBnB activity explained why.
According to an email from elected officials, DeFusco's AirBnB profile and media reports suggest he took 11 trips to including some hot-spot countries such as Colombia, Croatia and Belgium.
Meanwhile, he rented out his own Hoboken apartment nearly two dozen times since last August, the Hudson County View reports.
DeFusco told Daily Voice that his trips were to spend time with family mostly in New Jersey with the exception of one trip to Colombia.
"Living alone and without the ability to physically interact with the community I love, the family support is what got me through this very difficult time," he said.
"Maybe the only difference is that while I was visiting family I sometimes offered my home as a short term rental as a way of offsetting my mortgage, which I pay on a single person’s income.
"All of this was done in accordance with CDC guidelines to protect the health of my senior parents, young nieces and myself as I fall within the at risk population.
"I did travel to Colombia once it was medically appropriate to do so, in order to visit a loved one and his family. This was a personal matter in my personal life that I would like to continue to keep personal."
But city officials could not ignore his absence in a dire time.
“Since last summer, Councilman Michael DeFusco has notably been absent from Hoboken – absent from signing-up seniors for vaccines, absent from volunteering in the community, absent from supporting our struggling small businesses, and absent from certain City Council meetings and several community meetings," Council members Jim Doyle, Emily Jabbour, and Phil Cohen said in a joint statement.
"Now, we know why...
"As elected officials, we’ve been doing our jobs representing our constituents, safely and in-person when appropriate and safe to do so, helping our City recover from the pandemic.
"At a bare minimum, Michael owes his constituents a full and complete accounting as to why he’s been an absentee Councilman, with overseas travel to COVID-19 hot-spots during the height of the pandemic. If he’s unable to do so, perhaps he should no longer serve on the City Council."
Hoboken officials say DeFusco has made only two public appearances documented on his social media feed in Hoboken since August 2020 through April 2021 -- those were in October and November.
Those appearances apparently correspond AirBnB reviews DeFusco apparently left on places in Colombia, Croatia and Belgium.
DeFusco earned 5.0 ratings renting out his condo and achieved the “Superhost” status, which directly due to the number of times he's rented out his home in Hoboken, officials maintain.
As of just a few weeks ago, DeFusco listed his apartment available for rent for the majority of June, July and August of 2021, officials said.
Those rentals were apparently removed following reports in Hudson County View and TapInto.Prior to recent publications detailing his Air BnB rentals and travel, DeFusco’s paid political public relations manager, Caitlin Mota, served as his “co-host” through AirBnB, managing his apartment while he traveled, officials said in an email.
Since the recent publications in Tap Into and Hudson County View, Mota was removed as a co-host, officials said.
DeFusco maintains he has been heavily involved and even done his part to better the city amid the pandemic.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic I have put forth significant legislation to improve the lives of our Hoboken neighbors and businesses including the parklet legislation," he said.
"Having missed only one council meeting due to injury, I’ve remained fully present in Hoboken and my constituents know my commitment to our neighborhood and public service is absolute and unwavering.
"I own one home, have one mailing address and live in one place -- Hoboken’s First Ward, and for anyone to speculate otherwise is preposterous."
City Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher came to DeFusco's defense, claiming the allegations against him were nothing but a "politically motivated hit job.
"Many City Council members, not just Mike, have traveled this last year to be with close family, including those who signed this letter," she continued.
"As most know I lost my mom last year and spent a lot of time in Rochester while handling City business remotely in those cases. I think my colleagues should be held accountable for bullying someone for choosing to supplement their income, while still doing their job, during a difficult time."
Councilwoman Vanessa Falco said she was disappointed to learn the reason for DeFusco's absence.
"This past year has been a difficult one for residents, students, senior citizens, teachers, first responders, and parents, she said.
"I am not sure how he feels his absence is appropriate or why. During the pandemic, it was, and still remains an all hands-on deck approach in keeping residents safe.
"Despite having conversations with him, he never once mentioned that he was out of the country and/or not living in Hoboken and I find that so disingenuous."
Commissioner Anthony L. Romano called DeFusco's 23 AirBnB rentals and international trips troubling.
"Our Councilperson in the First Ward, the ward in which I live, should not be absent from his neighborhood and renting out his primary residence for long term stays through AirBnB.
"I, along with other of his constituents have reached out to DeFusco about the issue of Air BnB, with no response from him. Now, after media reports of his many rentals through Air BnB and not living in Hoboken, it’s abundantly clear why.
"During his absence, our community has come together to help residents and seniors in the first ward, because DeFusco has not been there for his own constituents, many of whom have not heard or seen from him in almost a year.”
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