In the upcoming municipal election there are actually 10 seats up for grabs. But the drama surrounding the mayoral “Fulop v. Healy” match-up has at times threatened to overshadow the races among the 33 candidates vying for nine City Council seats. Yet the race for the City Council is no less intriguing than the mayoral battle, and could have significant repercussions for the next administration, no matter who is elected mayor.
With less than a month to go before the May 14 election, it appears the next City Council will be a mixture of candidates from the Steven Fulop and Jerramiah Healy slates, and could even include an upset victory from an independent – meaning the next mayor might not have control of the council majority. At present, some Fulop-allied council candidates appear to be ahead of their opponents, depending on the ward, while some Healy-allied candidates seem strong elsewhere in the city.
The City Council at-large race may come down to incumbency versus the coattail effect. Whatever weight voters ascribe to incumbency will favor Healy in the at-large race, since two of the current incumbents are running with him. But if voters decide to clean house of all things Healy and elect Fulop’s “change” slate, then incumbency won’t count for much in this race.
All three of the current council at-large incumbents – Peter Brennan, Viola Richardson, and Rolando Lavarro Jr. – are running for reelection in May. Brennan, a longtime Healy ally, is on the mayor’s slate, as is Richardson, who has had a much stormier relationship with Healy in recent years. Lavarro, who won his seat in a November 2011 special election bracketed with Richardson, is running on Fulop’s ticket for his first full term.
The City Council at-large race may come down to incumbency versus the coattail effect.
Mayoral contender Jerry Walker has two at-large candidates running on his slate, former city corporation counsel Sean Connelly and Jersey City Police Officer Ramon “Ray” Regalado.
Angling for attention on the campaign trail
The race for the council’s three at-large seats has been one of the most overlooked campaigns this year, and some of the candidates have admitted that it has been challenging sometimes to get their message out to voters who are either disengaged from the election or who are more focused on the mayoral campaign.
“It’s been a little difficult,” said Rivera, who said that he has still received “positive feedback” while campaigning across the city.
As president of the Roberto Clemente Little League and a longtime coach, Rivera said he often talks to residents and parents about the need for more recreation programs in the city.
“The city has recreation programs that end at age 16. But any parent will tell you, that’s the age when our youth needs an outlet like a recreation program the most,” Rivera said. “That’s the age when they become susceptible to street gangs, thugs in the community, hanging out with nothing to do but get in trouble.
He said that crime and quality of life issues were the top concerns of most voters he has met.
Perez, who is running with Healy, also admitted that “to some degree” it has been difficult getting his message out because of the attention being focused on the mayoral candidates.
“I think people don’t recognize that there are nine City Council seats that are running at the same time as the mayor,” Perez said. “A lot of my message is being carried out doing my door knocks and lit drops.”
Thus, he said he was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the recent at-large candidate forum held on April 18 at the Christa McAuliffe School.
“This gives us an opportunity to share our ideas and what we stand for.”
Although he is running with Healy, Perez has admitted that the city can do a better job of communicating with residents. During last week’s at-large candidate forum in the Heights he noted that information regarding such services as recreational programs and recycling is available through the city’s municipal website, but may not be reaching residents effectively enough – something he would work to improve upon, if elected.
In addition to crime and the usual quality of life issues (litter, graffiti, dog waste on sidewalks, etc.), Perez said residents have expressed concerns about the need for better parking options throughout the city. He said he would favor creating municipal parking lots for residents, as has been done in some other Hudson County cities.
Watterman, who has thus far concentrated her campaigning efforts in wards A, F, and B said public safety is by far the top concern of people she has spoken to, but also identified speeding on residential streets as an emerging problem in the city.
“People have children outside and it’s getting nice out,” said Watterman. “So, people are concerned about drag racing and speeding in general in the neighborhoods.” She said she wants to explore speed bump options in areas where speeding has become particularly troublesome.
Watterman was one of the few candidates who said she did not feel overshadowed by the mayoral race.
“There are people who are paying attention to the council races,” Watterman stated. “It’s all in the presentation. I know when I go out there campaigning, I try to present myself as part of a whole Team Fulop package.”
As one of the at-large candidates running with mayoral candidate Jerry Walker, Sean Connelly said his biggest challenge isn’t being overshadowed by the top of the ticket, but rather being overshadowed by the rival Healy and Fulop slates. Realistic about his chances of winning an at-large seat, Connelly said he is most concerned about his placement on the ballot.
“In times past, everybody had a column and the council candidates could look to the top of the ticket to carry them in. Now, it’s hopscotch. Like, I’m with Walker. He’s column A. I’m Column B. But what can you do? We’re all in that same boat.”
A lifelong downtown resident, Connelly has positioned himself as the taxpayer advocate on the Walker slate and he has picked up on the “two Jersey Cities” theme that has sometimes also been discussed by Fulop and Ward E City Council candidate Daniel Levin.
“We’ve become the city of the privileged on the waterfront, the city of the connected few, and the rest of us. That’s a problem that has to end,” Connelly said.
Referring to the tax abatements that have been given to a number of large residential projects downtown, Connelly added, “Big developers have come here and they have increased the burden on our school system, our sewers, our city services. But we know they are not paying their fair share of the taxes.”
If elected, he said he would oppose new abatements downtown, a stance he said has been popular with potential voters.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.