Jersey City’s municipal elections this year could be described as an ideological showdown between the establishment and progressives, and the mayor’s office and all nine seats on the city council are up for contention.
Mayor Steve Fulop, running for a third term in office, is campaigning with many incumbents on his Team Fulop slate. Backed by a large war chest, they’re looking to keep their seats and stay in control of the city’s governance.
Mayor Fulop winning reelection is seen as the most likely scenario, but in the city council races, a slew of challengers who make up the progressive side of the race are challenging the incumbents, pursuing their own brand of ideas and seeking to change the course of the city.
The Fulop slate
Across the city, it’s hard not to see the bright blue campaign ads for Team Fulop across the city as much of the slate runs for reelection this year.
In the run-up to Election Day, the mayor and his incumbent allies have pitched their own track record over the past four years from the pandemic response to city developments as reasons they should stay in office.
“I believe that the team’s heart and effort is still in the right place,” said Council President Joyce Watterman, who’s running for reelection for an At-Large seat under the Fulop slate. She touted the city’s COVID-19 pandemic response such as sick paid leave, testing sites and vaccine availability.
“In the midst of an emergency or crisis, the team has been pretty much progressive with that,” she said. “We’re still in this pandemic, so you want to make sure that you’re still doing what you believe is best for the residents.”
Some of the slate members have said that it’s best when they’re able to move an agenda as a team. “I do think that the opposition serves a purpose,” said Councilman Yoseuf Saleh. “But I also believe that in order to get things done, you get them done together, and that’s the importance of a team.”
Saleh is running under Fulop’s slate for a full four-year term in Ward D after he was appointed in 2020 to take the place of the late Councilman Michael Yun and won a special election later that year.
“[Mayor Fulop] isn’t perfect, the team is imperfect,” Saleh continued. “But I think the key takeaway is we accomplished more working together than working in isolation.”
The many challengers looking to unseat the Fulop slate are rallying as progressives, seeking to push Jersey City in a new direction.
The candidates have gathered around policies such as affordable housing, public safety changes, and fully funding the city’s school district in what they see as efforts to end the tale of two cities.
“Anything that happens downtown – the streets being clean, the infrastructure being nice and neat, is not reflected throughout the city,” said Elvin Dominici, a banker at J.P. Morgan Chase who is challenging for an At-Large city council seat. “That’s the gap that we want to close.”
Some of the challengers have gotten backing from the two progressive incumbents in the city council – Rolando Lavarro of an At-Large seat and James Solomon of Ward E, who’ve been frequent critics of the Fulop administration.
Most of the media buzz in Jersey City has been focused on Ward B, where Joel Brooks, a labor organizer and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is running to unseat Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey.
“For me, democratic socialism means having economic and social justice for all residents of Jersey City,” said Brooks. “I don’t take money from corporations, real estate developers or corporate landlords. That is the distinguishing way that I approach running for office.”
The issues at stake
The two sides have argued their own takes on how they would handle the city’s most pressing issues.
One of them is affordable housing. Team Fulop’s members have said that they support it and point to a number of developments made under their tenure.
“My main concern with redevelopment in Ward A is making sure we can keep our long-standing residents in the community and not have them pushed out of their homes,” said Councilwoman Denise Ridley in an email interview. “One of the best ways to do this is by getting their input on upcoming projects.”
But hanging as a cloud over Fulop’s slate is the passing of a controversial inclusionary zone ordinance that they voted for last year, which contained a number of loopholes that would have allowed developers to avoid making affordable housing. It was ultimately overturned this summer by a judge.
Progressives have vowed to not take support from developers and real estate companies, and have rallied around Lavarro’s IZO proposal that includes no loopholes or passes for developers; his IZO failed to pass the city council.
“When I ran with the idea of ending the tale of two cities, we have not gone far enough on that,” said Lavarro. “Despite the platitudes and all of the proclamations from the incumbents, they have not done enough to address the affordable housing crisis here, and really bridging the tale of two cities. That’s always been my goal, and it will continue to be my goal should the voters re-elect me.”
On other issues, Fulop’s running mates have touted their efforts to work on police reform, crime prevention, and green infrastructure, while progressives have homed in on new public safety programs and initiatives as alternatives to policing, fully funding the city’s school district, pushing more aggressively on climate change, and being an independent voice on the city council.
Countdown to Election Day
As Election Day approaches, a few of the candidates on both sides had some sharp words towards each other.
Jake Hudnut, the Jersey City municipal prosecutor who’s running under the Fulop slate, criticized his opponent and incumbent Solomon in Ward E.
“I had conversations with the mayor, told him my ideas, told him where we could improve, and we worked together to solve those issues,” said Hudnut. “That’s not [Solomon’s] approach. He’s only interested in pointing out problems, he’s not interested in working toward a solution. So when I stepped back and looked at the landscape, Team Fulop is the team that’s interested in solving problems.”
Frank “Educational” Gilmore, an educator who’s running in Ward F, says that he’ll focus more on the everyday people as he runs against two people from the current government – Councilman Jermaine Robinson and challenger Vernon Richardson, an aide to Fulop.
“Progressives versus Team Fulop – that may be an accurate assessment,” said Gilmore. “It’s because we want to be unified, right? And we want to make sure that we’re advocating for the everyday citizen.”
Elections for the Jersey City mayor and city council will take place on Nov. 2, with early voting running from Oct. 23 to 31.