Steven Fulop had been mayor-elect for maybe one hour, and already there was a growing ring of tall, muscular, semi-aggressive off-duty Jersey City police officer-types elbowing the swarms of people trying to get up close as he moved through his victory party at Zeppelin Hall on Tuesday night.
“We just don’t want him to get crushed,” said one of Fulop’s bodyguards.
Two of them had done a fine job of protecting the man who had just denied Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy a third term in office. But as Fulop continued his victory walk through the biergarten, the number of handlers noticeably grew to half a dozen or more. Still several weeks away from being sworn in as mayor of New Jersey’s second largest city, Fulop was, at this moment, still the downtown city councilman who regularly strolled about City Hall, seemingly unconcerned for his safety, despite open threats from certain members of the public.
And yet, everything around him had changed.
“Hi! Congratulations! I’m ------’s daughter,” said one young woman, enthusiastically, hoping Fulop would make the connection.
He did, eventually, and thanked her profusely.
Zeppelin Hall was certainly packed with longtime Fulop supporters and friends, the old downtown crew who attended each and every one of his low-dollar fundraisers and volunteered for him when he was still the new kid on the political block. But on this particular night the crowd was swelled with many “newcomers.” Not the new-residents-of-Jersey-City newcomers that Healy had talked about on the campaign trail. No, these were the new-converts-to-Fulop newcomers who still mispronounced his name (Fill-up! Flip! Foll-Up!) as they cheered his victory over Healy.
The emerging scene at Zeppelin Hall had less to do with the candidate himself than it did with the people around him – people who will certainly try to claim a piece of his victory for themselves.
“He had a lot of law firms working for him on Election Day,” said one elected official who is not based in Jersey City. “I think you can expect all of the professional services contracts or professional service employees to be changed when he gets in.”
Fulop hasn’t said what he plans to do with the city’s professional services. That didn’t stop city Business Administrator Jack Kelly from ducking out of Healy’s party at Casino in the Park to make a timely appearance at Zeppelin Hall.
‘A different style of government’
Fulop’s victory at the polls is seen as a significant blow to the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).
Throughout the election, Fulop emphasized that, if elected, he and his City Council candidates would “professionalize” city government and the delivery of city services.
“I think I’m going to bring a different style of government to Jersey City, but there is still going to be a very human element to it,” Fulop said last week. “That said, you can’t just say that because so-and-so endorses me, or somebody supports me, the public is supposed to accept mediocre government or responsiveness. Under my administration, I think where you’re going to see a change in professionalism is in the area of constituency service. I want to be able to quantify and measure what we do, so we can hold people more accountable.”
Sandy and Al Green
Fulop’s win now brings the number of Hudson County mayors who are not allied with the HCDO up to five, something that would have been unheard of just five years ago.
For years, Healy, Fulop’s chief rival in the mayoral election, was adored for being everybody’s old loveable uncle. He possessed an uncanny ability to remember people’s names, family details, and other minutiae that gave him a familiarity that many residents liked.
If there is one moment that helped seal Healy’s fate, perhaps it was a chilly November night days after Hurricane Sandy hit. Much of the city was still without electricity, many homes had been flooded, possessions had been lost, and frustration was beginning to run high. But on this night, despite the situation, this reporter and two activists found Healy in the Astor Bar, singing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Fulop, meanwhile, spent the storm keeping his nose to the grindstone on Facebook and other social media tools, telling residents where to get food and other assistance.
‘I think I’m going to bring a different style of government to Jersey City, but there is still going to be a very human element to it.’ – Steven Fulop
Fulop is currently ending his second term as the Ward E representative on the City Council, to which he was elected in 2005 at age 27.
A self-described government reformer, he cut his teeth as a community activist by getting involved in neighborhood issues in the Paulus Hook community in which he lives. He later became president of the Historic Paulus Hook Association and the Downtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. When he joined the City Council eight years ago, he defeated Junior Maldonado, a Healy-allied HCDO candidate who later endorsed Fulop’s mayoral run.
Once on the council, the ex-Marine and Iraq War veteran became the most active council person, advancing ordinances and resolutions for stricter pay to play laws, better wages, and caps on perks for political appointees.
With more experience and time on the council, however, some of his former supporters believe that he has drifted from the core values that first got him elected. Within the past four years he has built his own political machine that is, arguably, more powerful than the HCDO, and while he may eschew many old school Hudson County bossism trappings, he has already demonstrated a willingness to cut deals in backrooms with key allies.
But the mayor-elect insists inclusion and transparency will be the hallmarks of his administration.
Fulop said he will spend the next few weeks meeting with Healy and ironing out a smooth transition for his new administration. He will also work to get his remaining City Council candidates elected since most of them are still currently scheduled to compete in a runoff election to be held on Tuesday, June 11 (see sidebar).
He said he has already sketched out the top priorities he wants to address first.
“There are a lot of things we put into our platform about bridging the gap in other communities and I’m very serious about that,” said Fulop. “So, there are areas of the city that have been neglected. We’re going to restructure the Police Department, after school programs, things like that. Because I think that if you level the playing field between the haves and the have nots that the whole city will benefit, ultimately.”
The consolidation of autonomous agencies will be another priority for the new administration, Fulop said.
Beyond that, there is speculation that the mayor-elect will use his new power – and possible City Council mandate – to press for political changes elsewhere in Hudson County. Fulop is expected to run a slate of candidates for the Jersey City Democratic Committee, as he did two years ago, and is expected to back his own pick for Hudson County Executive. He is also allied with Jersey City Heights attorney and 33rd District State Assembly candidate Peter Basso.
‘What can you do for us?’
The day after the election the mayor-elect spent the evening rush hour outside the Grove Street PATH Station. The appearance was, ostensibly, an opportunity for him to thank his core supporters for their help, and some well wishes were exchanged.
But the appearance also turned into an opportunity for residents to drop on Fulop’s doorstep a laundry list of issues and problems they’d like him to address, preferably sooner rather than later.
A young attractive well-groomed man approached Fulop and said, “I want to know what you plan to do about bringing more jobs and employment to Jersey City, especially for us young people. I’m out here myself looking for work and it’s very hard out here.”
“The employment training office is going to be among our first priorities. The employment training office here [on Newark Avenue] kind of underachieves, to be honest, as a job bank, on the [ex-offender] expungement stuff, on GED stuff,” Fulop told the Reporter later. “That office – which is federally funded, state, funded, city funded – is going to be entirely revamped.”
Fulop received 14,675 votes, earning more than 52 percent of the vote on Election Day to Healy’s 10,860 votes, which was slightly more than 37 percent of the vote. Two other mayoral candidates, Jeremiah “Jerry” Walker and Abdul Malik, finished in third and fourth place, respectively. (The final ballot numbers will be certified this week.)
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three JC council candidates rumored to concede, but must sue to have names kept off runoff ballot
While Mayor-elect Steven Fulop’s victory was solidified early on Election Day, as was that of his Ward E candidate Candice Osborne, his remaining ward candidates will face runoffs.
On Monday, May 20 at 3 p.m., the City Clerk will draw ballot positions for the June 11 runoff election. Some candidates whose names are expected to be placed on the ballot have, however, expressed an interest in conceding the election and abandoning their race, according to Deputy City Clerk Tolonda S. Griffin-Ross.
Griffin-Ross would not identify which specific candidates have approached the clerk’s office about dropping out of contention, although at least three candidates who ran on the slate of outgoing Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy are rumored to have conceded their races.
Getting off the ballot might not be so easy, however. According to Griffin-Ross, in order for a candidate to have his or her name excluded from the runoff ballot, the person “would have to sue [City Clerk Robert Byrne],” Griffin-Ross said. Since the ballot drawing is scheduled for Monday, these candidates probably needed to sue by Friday, May 17 to have a shot at formally dropping out of the race. At press time Friday, no one had filed a suit to be removed from the ballot.
“Robert [Byrne] is still looking into all the legalities of the ballot issue if a candidate drops out of a runoff, as is the law department,” said City Spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill on Friday.
Following last week’s municipal election, only two candidates, Fulop and Osborne, had passed the legally-required 50 percent plus one vote total threshold required to avoid a runoff. The top two vote getters in wards A, B, C, D, and F, and six of the at-large candidates, are currently expected to compete in the upcoming municipal runoff.
At present, unless candidates go to court to have their names removed from the ballot, the June 11 runoff will include the following candidates:
In Ward A, Charles Epps Jr. will compete in a runoff against Frank Gajewski. In Ward B, Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal is expected to face Gerald Meyers in the runoff. In Ward C, Richard Boggiano is schedule to go up against Nidia Lopez. In Ward D, Michael Yun is supposed to face Sean Connors. In Ward F, Diane Coleman will compete against Jermaine Robinson.
The runoff election for the City Council’s three at-large seats will include Joyce Watterman, Rolando Lavarro Jr., Daniel Rivera, Peter Brennan, Viola Richardson, and Omar Perez. – EAW