Mayor Steven Fulop swore in Yousef J. Saleh on Friday, May 1 after the Jersey City council appointed him to represent Ward D in a 6-2 vote during a special council meeting on April 30.
Council President Joyce Watterman nominated the first-generation American, who was born and raised in the Jersey City’s Heights neighborhood, to the position left vacant by the death of Councilman Michael Yun due to COVID-19.
On Nov. 3, the city will hold a special election to fill Yun’s seat for the remainder of his term which expires in December 2021.
Meet Mr. Saleh
Saleh graduated from McNair Academy in 2007 where he was elected to represent all 30,000 students district-wide as the Student Representative on the Jersey City Board of Education. He went on to obtain his Juris Doctorate from Rutgers Law School where he studied Corporate and Political Corruption.
He served as a law clerk in the Jersey City Department of Law from 2014-2015 where his duties included drafting ordinances and resolutions for the City Council.
At J.P. Morgan Chase, he works with businesses to maintain regulatory compliance and volunteers to similarly help small businesses on weekends.
Saleh volunteered as a board member and treasurer for the Riverview Farmers Market from 2015-2017, and he was a candidate for the Board of Education in 2018.
His resume states he served on and helped organize the Heights Community Board with Councilman Yun in January 2018 and helped Yun on the Board of Education referendum coming up in fall 2020. He volunteered and advocated for the payroll tax to increase funds for the public schools, Vote “yes” on the AirBnB referendum, and the school referendum, which will be on the ballot this fall.
Saleh will become the first Muslim appointed to the council. He’s been a community leader and advocate at Masjid Al Hoda in the Jersey City Heights, as well as for Muslims countywide.
He volunteers as emcee for the Ramadan Iftar that takes place in front of City Hall.
“I know Michael Yun stood for transparency,” Saleh said. “He stood for being the independent voice on the council, and that’s not lost on me. These are very big shoes to fill. I only have the best interest of the community at heart.”
During the virtual special council meeting, five other candidates vied for the seat, and some members of the public voiced concerns over transparency and the appointing process.
Some speakers urged the council to take its time and be thorough in appointing a new ward councilman, and some said the seat should be left empty until the public decides in the November election.
“From my experience, what I’ve learned, is when you lose somebody, it’s up to you to take on the fight that that person had,” said resident Mariah Kinberg. “Councilman Yun fought for transparency and accountability. So I’m asking each of you to take on his fight and continue that.”
She noted that the council could leave it up to the public during the November election.
“I’m definitely disappointed about the rush into appointing someone,” said resident Jeanne Daly. “I think its an insult to Mr. Yun’s memory to suddenly throw somebody in there. I think a lot more time should’ve been allotted to the process.”
She said that the nomination by Watterman with the support of Mayor Fulop was “a way to just airlift in a convenient chess piece to control more of the board.”
Councilman Rolando Lavarro read a letter into the record in which more than 200 signatories asked the council to postpone the vote until the regularly scheduled council meeting on May 6.
It asked the council to have an open and transparent process to fill the seat, consider all candidates, and not “rubber stamp” Fulop’s endorsement of Saleh.
Watterman said she began the process of interviewing candidates for the role early, noting that she spoke to every candidate.
Jocelyn Patrick, president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association, Patrick Ambrossi, Brian Rans, Rafael Torres, and Cynthia Hadjiyannis each tossed their hats in the ring.
Lavarro and Councilman James Solomon posted 30-minute interviews with each of the candidates online before the vote took place.
“I just feel Yousef will be better, that’s all,” said Watterman.“If Yousef does not meet the needs of the Heights, then in November the residents of the Heights can come out and vote against him.”
Lavarro and Solomon voted against the appointment.
They expressed disappointment with the process, noting that they would’ve liked to have had more time with an official vote on May 6 and motioned to table the resolution until then, but the motion failed 3-5.
Both supported Jocelyn Patrick.
“Jocelyn said one thing to me that stuck with me more than any of the other candidates,” Solomon said. “She mentioned specific parts of Councilman Yun’s legislative agenda that she wanted to advance,” adding that she also did not want to run in November, which would give other candidates a chance to focus on the election.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, who voted for Saleh, said he was “disappointed in the whole process and so are the people of the Heights.”
Councilwoman Denise Ridley, who supported Saleh, said the council “dropped the ball.”
“The council president didn’t drop the ball because she made the nomination,” she said. “So, this wasn’t something that was rushed, because we knew that we had a certain amount of time to fill this seat, and if there were other people that we wanted to nominate, if there was a process that we wanted to put in place, then we had time to do that – and we didn’t.”
Councilman Yun’s family issued a statement on Facebook congratulating Saleh.
“We wish you nothing but success in your new role representing the people of Ward D and Jersey City—because success of that kind would mean success for every resident of Jersey City—something especially worth hoping for during these unprecedented times,” they said. “Michael would never ask nor would he expect that his replacement be an exact facsimile of himself. All he would have hoped for is that whoever does replace him is one who will advocate passionately for the people of Jersey City and that the people’s work will always be done with honesty and integrity, fairness, and a never ending belief in the potential of the city.”