“The state of our city remains strong despite unprecedented challenges,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in his pre-recorded State of the City Address released this week.
In the State of the City, normally held in March but delayed due to the pandemic, Fulop reflected on 2020 and the many challenges the city addressed head on.
Fulop recalled the Dec. 10, 2019 domestic terrorist attack that left five dead and others wounded.
“That was the most difficult day I’ve ever experienced as mayor,” he said. “I take solace in the fact that our police officers and police leadership did an outstanding job in keeping a terrible situation from becoming much worse.”
He said while the city hoped to never need to use it, the city had made a “big investment” in active shooter training since he took office, so the police department was ready when the perpetrators opened fire on a Kosher market in Greenville.
He noted that he was the first official to call out the attack as a hate crime and further highlighted that the community has come together since that day, hosting shared religious services and more.
Education funding cuts
But as the city began to heal, it “rolled into the next crisis:” millions in state funding cuts to Jersey City public schools.
Fulop said his administration has worked with school leadership to help the district, including implementing a payroll tax and taking on the cost of crossing guards, trash pickup, and other services.
Recently Jersey City announced the second phase of a $3 million lead remediation project to help provide safe drinking water in schools.
He said that the city is being creative in helping the district enter into private-public partnerships with developers to create new public schools.
The next crisis to hit was the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 7,000 residents and caused the deaths of more than 500.
“Everyone in our city knows a family that has lost someone from COVID,” Fulop said. “And as a broader community, we lost some of our best from this terrible virus.”
He highlighted the deaths of Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, retired police officer Ray Regalado, former Councilwoman Viola Richardson, Jersey City International Film Festival President Craig Goletz, and his own grandmother Elizabeth Fulop.
But the pandemic also impacted the community and the city financially with officials projecting a $70 million municipal budget shortfall this year.
Despite the gap, the city was able to adopt a balanced budget of $658 million with no municipal tax increase.
The city took steps early on to help protect residents from the virus, becoming the first in the state to implement restrictions, provide testing for residents at various locations, stockpile PPE, and more.
“I took action in March before anyone in New Jersey, and at the time I was criticized by some businesses for overreacting, but I think the year has shown us that this was the right call at the time,” he said.
The city also helped businesses and non-profits remain open by distributing checks to small businesses in need and providing them with PPE as well as implementing streateries so they could operate outdoors.
Racial equality and policing
The national debate over police brutality and racial inequality spurred by the murder of George Floyd led to conversations and protest locally.
“We were no stranger to police reform,” Fulop said, highlighting the city’s work to diversify the police force as well as redoing the department’s Use of Force Guidelines, initiating de-escalation training for every officer, changing how officers are deployed, and expanding technology so that “residents and the city have more access to video whenever police engage the public.”
The city established a Quality of Life Division that can respond to certain resident issues without a police presence.
“While some of the country went in the defund-the-police direction, here in Jersey City we didn’t because I know how fragile the progress is that we’ve made and the real implications of draconian cuts,” Fulop said.
The year ahead
While Fulop discussed the progress of bike lanes, street repaving, sewer upgrades, and food distribution efforts to those in need, he also took a moment to look ahead to 2021.
Fulop named several projects the city will pursue, including developing new police stations, vertical farming, the renovation of the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza, and the renovation of Reservoir 3.
“Most cities would hope for one transformational project, but here in Jersey City we are underway with four major projects; each will be a billion-dollar-plus when completed,” he said. “There is no question that our city’s future remains bright.”
In the coming months, Fulop said the city will continue to address the pandemic, announcing a not-yet-launched rent relief program that would distribute one-time checks of $1,500 to those in need who qualify.
“I know there is much more work to do, but we as a community have taken an extremely difficult situation and actually turned it into a roadmap for progress,” he said.
To watch the state of the city go to www.jerseycitynj.gov.