Jersey City groups and councilman sue to overturn city’s new ward map

A number of Jersey City organizations alongside Councilman Gilmore are suing to overturn the city's new ward map. Photo by Mark Koosau.

A coalition of Jersey City organizations alongside Councilman Frank Gilmore are suing the makers of Jersey City’s controversial new ward map to overturn it, arguing that it violates state law and the state constitution, and that it was politically retaliatory towards the councilman and his constituents.

In a lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court, the plaintiffs, which includes over 15 organizations and the councilman, are seeking to have the commission redraw the wards to comply with the Municipal Ward Law and the state Constitution, and to “ensuring that Jersey City is organized in six compact, equally populated wards that respect neighborhoods, natural dividers and communities that share similar municipal concerns.”

“Jersey City residents were appalled at the way in which our city was redistricted,” said former Councilman Chris Gadsden, who spoke on behalf of Jersey City United Against the New Ward Map and as the organizer of the groups in the lawsuit. “We are united in our dedication to seeing this map changed to something more fair and reflective of who we are as a city.”

The city’s new ward map was adopted in January earlier this year, with the boundaries required to be redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Census to ensure that all wards have the roughly same population. But the map had been lambasted by a chorus of residents due to a lack of transparency and accusations of gerrymandering, both politically and racially.

The plaintiffs are focused on the changes made to Ward F, which Gilmore represents, arguing that the “gross reconfiguration” of it was done as political retaliation to the ward residents’ support of Gilmore, who had unseated mayor-backed incumbent Jermaine Robinson in last year’s municipal elections.

The new ward map took parts of Ward F such as Bergen-Lafayette and Communipaw into Ward A, which is represented by Councilwoman Denise Ridley, who ran on Fulop’s slate last year, as well as adding parts of southern Downtown to Ward F.

Gilmore had questioned back then why a number of developments that he’s been critical of such as SciTech City and the Morris Canal Manor were drawn out of his ward, and called the changes “a slap in the face” to his constituents.

The plaintiffs are also arguing that the commission illegally excluded the public from attending their meetings prior to the Jan. 22 meeting where they adopted the map, and that their approval of the map violates the Open Public Meetings Act.

The lawsuit is focusing on the changes made to Ward F, which is represented by Gilmore. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“The revised map adopted by the ward commission tore apart what we knew to be Ward F and divides the historic community of Bergen-Lafayette, creating a new salamander which violates the laws requirement that wards be compact,” said Bill Matsikoudis of Matsikoudis & Fanciullo, who’s representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit lists the Jersey City Ward Commission as the defendants. The commission consists of City Clerk Sean Gallagher, who’s the secretary of the commission, and six members from the Hudson County Board of Elections that are appointed by the governor.

The six members are John Minella and Janet Lawra from Bayonne and Peter Horton from Jersey City, all Democrats; Daniel Miqueli from West New York, Daniel Beckelman from Jersey City, and Paul Castelli from Kearny, all Republicans. Minella, the chairman of the commission, is also Mayor Steven Fulop’s Chief of Staff.

Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione called the accusations against the new map ward “ridiculous.”

“First, John Minella was appointed by Governor Murphy to serve on that board long before he worked for Mayor Fulop,” she said. “Second, each councilperson has the exact same vote as every other councilperson, regardless if a project is in their ward or not. There is no veto or special privilege for a councilperson if a project is in their ward per the law in Jersey City, so clearly, his entire argument is just silly.”

The groups taking part as the plaintiffs include Jersey City United Against the New Ward Map, the Downtown Coalition of Neighborhood Association (and its six organizational members), the Greenville Neighborhood Alliance, the Friends of Berry Lane Park, the Riverview Neighborhood Association, the Pershing Field Neighborhood Association, the Sgt. Anthony Neighborhood Association, the Gardner Avenue Block Association, the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Watch, the Morris Canal Redevelopment CDC, the Harmon Street Block Association, the Crescent Avenue Block Association, and the Democratic Political Alliance.

The plaintiffs are also being represented by Renée Steinhagen of New Jersey Appleseed, and Brett Pugach and Yael Bromberg of Bromberg Law.

Gilmore could not be reached for comment. Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Mike Harper also did not respond for comment.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.