Whenever Jersey City’s political observers discuss the upcoming 2013 mayoral race, one question seems to come up more than any other: “Is Healy really running?”
It is an odd question, given that Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy announced in February that he was running and has reiterated his intention several times since.
Still, the question crops up, perhaps because until last week Healy’s reelection bid seemed almost nonexistent, particularly when compared to the campaign of Healy’s only opponent at this time, Ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop. Fulop officially launched his campaign in 2010 and has worked hard to raise both his citywide visibility and money.
Healy, by contrast, has run a half-hearted campaign at best.
“I’ve been kind of busy governing the great city of Jersey City,” Healy said last week from the Democratic National Convention last week, where he served as a New Jersey delegate. “I’ve never started a campaign in July for an election that I’m running for the next May. But good government is good politics. So, in doing that, in running the day-to-day affairs of the city, I’m talking to residents all the time. That’s what I do on a daily basis.”
Healy supporters expect the mayor to mount a forceful challenge to Fulop next May.
Because Fulop hit the campaign trail early, and because Healy has focused less on the upcoming matchup between them, Fulop’s base is organized and energized. Ironically, for all his talk about being a reform-oriented political outsider, at this stage Fulop is the mayoral candidate with the money and the machine. Two-term Mayor Healy, who served on the City Council for 10 years before becoming mayor, could be considered the current underdog in the race.
But the mayor’s supporters say it would be foolish to count him out. They expect Healy to mount a forceful challenge to Fulop that will lead to a come-from-behind victory for the incumbent next May.
‘No stranger to the people of Jersey City’
Despite being an attorney and former municipal court judge, Healy, a resident of the Jersey City Heights, comes across as a down-to-earth “regular guy.” He is also known to have a sharp memory and instant recall of personal details and tidbits about residents who he has met: Where the kids went to school, the sick mother in the hospital, the house that was being remodeled – Healy seems always able to pluck such facts from the back of his mind and knows how to casually ask about the son at Rutgers, the father in the nursing home.
Not only does he know the residents, Healy said the residents know him. “I am no stranger to the approximately 280,000 people of Jersey City,” Healy stated.
This familiarity, he said, gives him broad support among the city’s estimated 85,000 to 90,000 voters. “Everybody knows me. They know what they’re going to get from me.”
Fulop is running as a reform candidate challenging an insular and entrenched political machine, decades old, that many believe is run more like a private enterprise for insiders than for public service.
But Healy said he is not going to shy away from his record in office. He believes he has run a fiscally responsible city government during one of the worst economic crises the country and state have known.
“Time and again we’ve seen Steve vote against the interests of the city,” Healy insisted. “He voted against the transfer of an abatement from one entity to another. That transfer meant millions of dollars in the city coffers. He also voted against changing health care benefits for our retirees, which saved us $3.5 million a year.”
Although there have been tax increases for several of the years Healy has been in office, he insists his administration has held taxes stable, particularly given the amount of money the city has lost in state aid.
“We’ve been able to trim expenses and hold taxes steady even though the city has lost more than $70 million in funding from the state,” he maintained.
Fulop has successfully positioned himself as a fiscal conservative who targets waste in public spending and advocates greater government accountability. He has sponsored ordinances to consolidate city agencies that perform similar tasks and eliminate the use of city vehicles for personal needs. And while he supports tax breaks for development projects in inner city neighborhoods, he opposes them for waterfront developments in Ward E.
Healy believes his record will offset any negative campaigning he might receive from the notorious 2009 New Jersey corruption busts that led to the arrests of several Healy allies, including former Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and ex-City Council President Mariano Vega.
“I’ve been investigated. I have never been arrested, indicted, or convicted of any charge,” Healy said.
Healy said his campaign has not commissioned any voter polls, but he is familiar with the results of some other polls that have been conducted by others.
“We’re standing very well,” he said.
In addition to attracting voters, Healy believes he will also be able to secure the money, political support, and endorsements he needs to win. While some political observers believe it could take up to $2 million to win the Jersey City mayoral election next year, Healy disagrees.
“It’s hard to raise that kind of money in the current climate. I think a more realistic number is $700,000 to $800,000. We’ve had a couple of fundraisers so far. We’ve got some money in the bank. In the next five weeks we’ll have several other fundraisers,” the mayor said. “By the end of October, we’ll have $250,000. That’s a very good start. By the end of the year we should have about $400,000. I expect to have $700,000 early next year.”
He said he believes he won’t have much of a problem raising that target amount.
On Fulop’s most recent filing with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission he had $353,038 in the bank. Healy had $99,989.
Last week the Healy campaign announced the support of five Hudson County elected officials who have endorsed his campaign, including Bayonne Mayor and Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman Mark Smith; State Assemblyman Sean Connors (33rd Dist.-Jersey City); Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (31st Dist. -Bayonne); Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise; and Jersey City’s Democratic Chairman, Jeff Dublin.
Some of the endorsements are notable because they came from officials Fulop either helped in the past – like Dublin – or people he reportedly tried to cultivate for his own campaign. Several sources last week said Fulop placed a testy phone call to Smith after his endorsement of Healy was made public. Fulop had hoped that Smith would either endorse him or stay neutral in the Jersey City race for mayor.
Fulop and Connors – another pol Fulop tried to court for an endorsement – got into a war of words in the local media after the councilman dismissed Healy’s endorsements as coming from career politicians.
“Mr. Fulop once again displayed his lack of maturity and inability to cultivate healthy relationships with other leaders for the betterment of Jersey City,” Connors said in a statement.
Some Healy supporters describe the mayor as a gentleman statesman equally able to handle both policy and people. This, they say, could win out over the reform-oriented base Fulop is counting on to deliver a victory next year to him.
“The Fulop people come across as ‘our way or the highway’ zealots,” said one undecided voter who is leaning towards Healy. “I don’t agree with everything Healy does. But when I’ve talked to him and the people who work for him, I feel like they listen to me, even if I’m saying something they don’t want to hear…I’m not sure I’d get treated the same way by Fulop. I want to be respected by my government, even if I don’t agree with the government. You get that more with Healy than Fulop.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.