Hudson County legislators have jumped into the “sanctuary city” movement with both feet. This is a safe move politically for many of the municipalities, such as Jersey City, Union City, and West New York, but somewhat risky in places like Bayonne and Secaucus where there was a relatively strong vote for Donald Trump for president.
Sanctuary cities are those whose leaders say they won’t direct local police to assist immigration investigators in looking for undocumented residents, unless they’ve committed serious crimes.
Union City has always been something of a sanctuary city, despite the fact that State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack embraced Republican Gov. Christopher Christie. Stack’s political base is strongly ethnic and so he can afford to take on the president of the United States without fear of being unseated. Stack has strengthened his position by endorsing Phil Murphy for governor, who is apparently very sympathetic to the immigrant cause.
The Board of Commissioners in Union City moved to officially give the city the designation last week.
Stack may feel a backlash from New Jersey Republicans for efforts to have the state of New Jersey make up for the federal funds that Trump has promised to withhold from cities providing sanctuary to immigrants. But Stack won’t be hurt politically. If anything, he becomes stronger.
Although Jersey City is perhaps the most diverse city in the state, much of the political pressure on Mayor Steven Fulop comes from his own extremely liberal base in Ward E, groups of activists that are extremely influential on policy in the city, and who turn out to the polls in estimable numbers.
Fulop needs a massive turnout in Ward E and other progressive enclaves in the city to retain his seat as mayor in November. But to say his motives are completely political is unfair, since he has espoused progressive policies since taking office in 2013.
Political opponents seeking to unseat Fulop in November said they will use Trump as an issue against him. It has yet to be determined how.
Politicians in places like Bayonne and Secaucus must tread carefully since each town has its own issues to contend with. The open opposition to a Muslim center in Bayonne has shown that sanctuary may not be a popular issue, and could actually force Mayor Jimmy Davis to take a side in an escalating conflict. Bayonne, which was the first stop on the Central Railroad line after Ellis Island, has a history of ethnic diversity. But since the attacks on 9/11, and given the historically conservative undercurrent in the city, don’t expect Bayonne to make the same declaration as Jersey City.
Secaucus has a similar conservative base, and has historically been less diverse than Bayonne. But the town has become more diverse over the last decade and half with the arrival of a large Indian population and the opening of an Indian temple there.
Hudson County government has its own issues, since it hosts one of four immigrant detention facilities in the state, and collects fees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for housing prisoners at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny. These fees offset some of the costs of operations, and the facility has become the target of activists seeking to have the county discontinue its cooperation with federal authorities.
While corrections officers do report the immigrant status of incoming prisoners to federal authorities, these are people already charged with a crime. Still, Hudson County freeholders who oversee the jail may be forced to choose, since some of them represent parts of the county with strong opinions on immigration and sanctuary cities.
Since all nine county freeholders seats are up this year, don’t be surprised if pressure is put on them to close down the immigration holding operation as the county jail, and to stop cooperating with federal authorities in other ways as well.
Democrats looking for younger leaders
With Stack as well as Assemblyman Raj Mukherji introducing legislation to allow the state to make up for lost federal revenue to sanctuary cities, New Jersey joins New York and other states in opposing federal immigration plans.
Politically, this sets the stage for rebuilding Democratic leadership that has been decimated over the last few years. The GOP nationally has seen a number of young people rising up in its ranks. For the most part, Democratic leadership has aged, and there will be a push to create new opportunities for young leaders to emerge.
Out of this, U.S. Senator Cory Booker appears to be emerging as a potential candidate for president in 2020. Also expect to see U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren emerge as a leading candidate, even if Hillary Clinton successfully runs for mayor of New York City as a platform for her own presidential bid.
Local Democrats say they intend to unveil a new generation of leaders over the next few years to rebuild the party.
Recently-elected Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Sudhan Thomas said he is running for a democratic leadership position in Jersey City with the aim of bringing younger people into the party.
Can the Secaucus Democrats rise again?
With Secaucus, the only local municipal election that is partisan, hope springs eternal for a rebirth of the Democratic Party there.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli is an independent, but he has close ties to both state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Sacco is one of the most prominent Democrats in Hudson County and Prieto is also the chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization. As chair, Prieto gets to say which candidates get county organization support, and he is the man who would oversee the Democratic revival in Secaucus. So it is hard to see how Democrats planning to run against Gonnelli in November can possibly reorganize with so much working against them. Oddly enough, Tom Troyer, a long-time Secaucus Republican, said he would be open to running on a Democratic ticket.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org