Former Jersey City Mayor Jerry McCann (once called Merry Jerry) may well be laughing up a storm these days over the fact that he may have twice gotten to use a political trick he’s widely believed to be involved in, in two different municipal elections, and for candidates who have traditionally hated each other.
Back when he was the brain trust behind candidate Louis Manzo, it was rumored that McCann was instrumental in shopping around the so-called “naked photo” of Mayor Jerramiah Healy with the apparent hope that the image would propel Manzo into City Hall.
Shocked, saddened, and possibly even dismayed, voters seemed unphased by the image and elected Healy anyway.
Now, in yet another election, the image returns to strike fear in the heart of any potential Healy voter who missed seeing it the first time. Now the image and the convoluted story behind it appears to be helping Healy’s new opponent, Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop.
Fulop and McCann – whose role in the actual taking of the photo has never been verified – are not friends. At least, some of Fulop’s key people do not like McCann, especially Fulop’s key political advisor, Tom Bartoli.
But in seducing Assemblyman Sean Connors onto the Fulop ticket, Fulop inherited McCann – and the photo, which has been kept warm for years.
During the original incident, Healy gave a number of reasons why he collapsed on his front porch long enough for an alleged Manzo/McCann operative to snap the photo. Reports at the time suggested that the Manzo camp had someone following Healy in order to take advantage of an opportunity Healy sometimes provided. The naked photo became symbolic of not only dirty politics, but of an unconscious Healy administration that seemed asleep at the wheel of government.
This last is the most important element in the new campaign in which Healy, apparently failing to read the news clips as to what he said the last time to explain it, came up with an entirely new story involving several Puerto Rican girls who allegedly lured him.
This was too much of a windfall for the Fulop campaign. Not only did the incident – fed apparently to the state’s largest newspaper through a friend of the campaign – feed the concept that Healy may be out of touch, but Healy’s new version of events apparently disparaged the Latino community, which both sides need to woo if either candidate and their council candidates want to get elected.
In an election that showed Healy leading Fulop by nearly 10 percentage points in local polls, this could have a huge impact – most likely helping to send the mayoral election into a runoff, rather than giving Healy a first round win this Tuesday, May 14.
Disarray in the party
The division in the Democratic family in Hudson County over the Jersey City race has become more evident and more heated, and in some cases, has resulted in a falling out of friendships. Money had been traveling from bigwigs into both races, including more than $40,000 donated by Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason and her husband to the Healy campaign, according to two Mason political operatives. Rumors suggest that this was $10,000 less than Fulop asked of Mason, although Fulop supposedly offered to back her later for a race to fill the congressional currently occupied by Rep. Albio Sires – which could explain why Sires is supporting Healy.
Nothing like hearing about someone offering up your seat while you’re still in it to motivate you.
While there are other political stories ongoing, such as the postponement of the trial of West New York Mayor Felix Roque from May 14 to July 23 (due to a conflict in scheduling, so the court says. Oddly enough, Roque has a fundraiser scheduled for May 14), Jersey City remains the focus of the interest. While this column will appear prior to the election, readers seeing this in The Bayonne Community News on Wednesday, May 15 will already know what happened. Predictions are always risky, but most believe Healy and Fulop will face off again in a runoff election, and that similar outcome could happen in Ward C, Ward B, and Ward A council races. Some are even claiming that there will be a runoff in Fulop’s home ward of Ward E. If so, then Fulop will have lost the election in the first round.
Although there will be a lot of staged protests over Healy’s blaming Latino women for uncovering him and such, the real issue should be whether he ran the city well and whether Fulop can do a better job if elected. But politics being politics, the truth won’t be about issues, but about personalities and about each side’s ability to sway voters to their side, and getting them to the voting booth on Election Day.
Whose machine can produce the votes?
Fulop’s team has been practicing for four years, using volunteers to win small elections as a kind of exercise. Tuesday is the real deal, and the real test of his machine. Will voters in remote sections of the city cast their vote for him, even though he may seem like a relative newcomer, or will they stick to the tried if not true they have known for eight years?
And what happens if Fulop – who was once seen as a certain winner – comes up short? Much of his reform movement is based on him and his drive, and might fade away if he is no longer out in front of it.