Ward D is the most northern section of Jersey City bounded by Manhattan Avenue in the south to the Union City border in the north and from the Hoboken border on the east to the Western Slope near Tonnelle Avenue.
This ward has a total population of about 41,000 people, 48 percent white, six percent African American, 16 percent Asian. Nearly 43 percent of the residents are Hispanic, a category that overlaps black and white.
Incumbent Michael Yun is being challenged by Moriah Kinberg, Rafael Torres, and Carmen Vega.
Moriah “Mo” Kinberg
Mo Kinberg moved to the Heights in 2010 and said she immediately got involved. In 2011 she started the Riverview Farmers Market, and has been involved in trying to solve community issues such as parking and trash removal. She has organized civic engagement forums to connect community members with elected officials and city departments and to get more people involved in the political process. She has also been involved with finding transportation alternatives and has worked to provide incentives for grocery stores to open in low income areas.
“I’m dedicated to community involvement,” she said. “I do a lot of what a council person does, from street signs to potholes, and I’ve done all this as a community member. But I realized I needed to do more than being an active citizen. I felt I needed to work within and use my skills to make the changes I want to see in this community.”
Although she launched her campaign in January with the support of her neighbors and friends as an independent candidate, a few months later, Mayor Steven Fulop asked her to join his ticket.
“I looked at his record and saw that he invested in parks, investment in the communities and recreation, and did all these things without raising taxes and I wanted to be a partner in that progress,” she said.
Rafael Torres is a retired Jersey City firefighter, who also served in the US. Air Force and has lived in Jersey City Heights for 30 years.
He said he worked as a volunteer in the community relations for Councilman Yun, putting in more than 1,000 volunteer hours.
“I was really able to see the grass root things that I want to take part in,” he said.
He previously ran for a Democratic committee seat in 2011, and lost, but then successfully won the seat in 2012.
“I saw how the Democratic Party and Jersey City could work together,” he said. “I tried to become Fulop’s candidate in the Ward D race.”
While he thinks Kinberg is a good candidate, Torres said believes the mayor made a mistake in choosing her.
“The Heights needs someone that’s a little bit different, who knows the difference between downtown and up here,” he said. “That’s why I’m running. Being here for my whole career in the fire department, I did really work the grass roots.”
Carmen Vega is an employee of Meadowview Hospital. She said she has lived in Jersey City Heights for more than 17 years.
“I know how to reach into the community,” she said. “I’m a product of the Jersey City school system, and being raised in Jersey City gives me the needed perspective to help people here,” she said
The former Jersey City Puerto Rican Day Parade president, Vega has been outspoken supporter of Latino diversity in the city, and a proponent of increased Latino representation in government.
“With 60,000 people living in Jersey City Heights, only three people are challenging me. This means I must be doing a good job,” Yun joked during his introduction.
As a councilman, he said has served the community for four years, but has been involved in the community for 34 years. An instrumental figure in the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, Yun said has been an advocate for transportation and clean streets. As a councilman he said has been able to fight for the community on the inside of government.
“What I learned about many politicians is that they lack common sense, and that’s been my role on the city council to provide common sense,” he said.
He said goal was to increase services to Jersey City Heights.
Although he has gone along with most ordinances and resolutions, he has stood firm against those things he believes were mistaken or wrong
“I could not support these because they hurt tax payers,” he said.
The lack of reliable public transportation in the Heights has been an issue for years, although in 2016, NJ Transit said it would expand services of the Number 119 bus, which runs primarily through the Central Avenue business district, to 24 hours between Jersey City and Manhattan. But bus service in the Heights remains unreliable and increasingly overcrowded. How would the candidates improve public transportation?
Torres said the issue can’t be solved by one level of government, but must involve a number of elected officials.
“But people will look to us for leadership to get it done,” he said.
He said there is a lot of work on Tonnelle Avenue, as well as ramp extension work to Route 3, all adding to local traffic congestion.
Vega argued for a transit study, to show where the needs are.
Yun also said a transit study is needed and noted that large development is being done without anyone knowing the overall impact.
Kinberg said the RNA is constantly complaining to NJ Transit about the problems with the bus service and to get improved service. She said it is important for local officials to listen to community voices and work with the state.
The candidates were also concerned about intra-Jersey City transportation, noting how difficult it is for someone to get from the Heights to other parts of Jersey City.
Vega said while mini buses serve in this role, they don’t always come on time, especially in the morning. Yun suggested the city work with Hudson County government to set up its own network of intra-county buses.
Kinberg said there needs to be a transportation system that connects the Heights with other parts of the city. She talked about a woman living in the Western Slope needing transportation to the other side of the Heights, and doesn’t have it.
“We need more public transportation,” she said. “We have one bus right now, the 86P, that goes downtown, and needs to improve that service as well.
Parking is a problem in The Heights
As in every other part of the city, the Heights faces a serious shortage of parking. Last spring, the city council authorized a stricter parking ordinance that would impose more restriction on out of town drivers and increased fines. This ordinance, however, does not go into effect until next spring if the city council agrees. Candidates were asked what they see in the future and if they will support this.
Vega said the city must enforce parking restrictions 24 hours a day seven days a week.
“We have new zone parking for the Heights taking effect in May, 2018.” Yun said. “But we have to change the regulations. New development must increase parking, and two family homes must be required to provide four (off street) parking spaces.”
Kinberg said Jersey City has to model itself after Hoboken and provide constant enforcement. Jersey City must also look to providing additional parking such as allowing parking in bus loading zones overnight. But she said ultimately, the best solution is better public transportation.
Torres was critical of large curb cuts that accommodate large developments while reducing the availability of street parking.
Affordable housing in the Heights?
Many people who have lived in Jersey City for generations are now find themselves being priced out. What solutions do the candidates offer?
Yun said changes to tax abatements in Jersey City require building affordable housing. This used to be 5 percent of units built, but under a proposal offered by Councilwoman Joyce Watterman, the city currently requires that 20 percent of the units fall under affordable guidelines.
Yun, however, said he is concerned about how these units are offered to the public.
“If you know somebody in City Hall, you get it,” he said “Everybody should have equal opportunity for affordable housing units.”
Kinberg said under Fulop, there has been more affordable housing built in the last three years than in the previous ten years.
“In 2013, there wasn’t a plan for affordable housing,” she said. “There is an extreme need in this community for affordable housing. I’ve been hearing about it from seniors and low income residents. People need to know their rights, especially tenants, so they are not forced out of their homes and we need provide other programs for seniors that can help keep them in their homes.”
She suggested forming an affordable housing commission that could make recommendations to the council, the zoning board and planning board, and new arts zoning in the Heights to advocate for affordable housing.
Torres credited Fulop with taking many strides new ways to get affordable paid for.
“It’s a good effort even outside the Gold Coast,” he said. “But we need to give more support to landlords so they can provide affordable housing.”
Vega said the city needs to create more affordable housing and to help people build more.
All the candidates agreed that the city needs to increase funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
“There’s not a lot of money in the fund,” he said.
Kinberg said those who are making the most money from the development in Jersey City should be contributing into the affordable trust fund
Torres said this is an emerging issue because the Heights historically has been one and two family homes, and not like other parts of the city. So there is less opportunity to get the benefit of new affordable housing built.
Vega was critical, however, of continued use of tax abatements, which reduce the overall revenue to the city. But she said affordable housing is very necessary in the Heights where rents are becoming too high.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.