Embattled Jersey City Councilwoman Amy DeGise pushed back at the August 17 City Council meeting against numerous calls for her to resign after her hit-and-run accident with a bicyclist last month, saying that she does not plan to leave her position despite pressure from the public.
The controversy, which has roiled Jersey City and New Jersey’s political world and attracted national attention, dominated a five hour meeting at City Hall in a full council chamber covered by local news media, as well as TV crews from New Jersey and New York City news stations and a larger than usual police presence.
It was DeGise’s first public comment and her first appearance before the public since the incident, where she hit cyclist Andrew Black, who had run a red light without stopping, then had not reported it to police until six hours later.
Since CCTV footage of the incident was publicized, DeGise, who is a first-term at-large councilwoman allied with Mayor Steven Fulop but has deep connections to the political establishment in Hudson County, has faced numerous calls to step down from her post, which she listened to for multiple hours.
“I believe that our elected officials should represent the best of us, not just in here when writing our laws, but out there in showcasing the character of our community,” said former progressive congressional candidate David Ocampo Grajales, who was the first person at the meeting to call for her resignation.
“If you agree with that, then you must also agree with the fact that someone who drove away without checking whether the person they hit with a car is okay, someone like that can’t possibly represent us because that’s not who we are,” he continued. “That’s not the Jersey City that I know.”
Many people made numerous references to DeGise’s troubled history that have been reported by local media outlets, including attempting to use her connections to dispute her vehicle getting towed in Hoboken, living in a low-income apartment despite her $200,000 combined salary, and having numerous unpaid parking tickets and license suspensions.
“She shows she thinks a different set of rules apply to her and the politically privileged than the rest of us,” said Eleana Little, the president of the Harsimus Cove Association and a Democratic County committee person, referencing the Hoboken case.
In other instances, a number of comments for DeGise to resign also took aim at the city’s and the county’s political establishment, as well as Fulop’s allies for their silence on the matter.
“The deafening silence of inaction and cowardice when the majority of this body is deafened, and the rest of the political establishment is allowing our democratic institutions to waste away,” said progressive organizer Ricardo Rojas. “Our democracy is much more important than any one of you or your political careers.”
While they were vastly numbered by those calling for DeGise to resign, a few speakers came to her defense. One resident, James Francis Waddleton, called the entire controversy a “mob mentality.”
“Don’t be afraid of the mob, Amy, it’s just a mob” he said. “Who should suffer the consequences? Kid ran the red light, he broke the law! It’s over! Does a court of law decide the case or a mob?”
After public speaking ended, DeGise spoke publicly for the first time since the incident, saying that the past few weeks have been “the most difficult, traumatic times of my entire life,” and later added that she was limiting her comments at the advice of her attorneys. She also pointed out the numerous threats she received since the incident.
“To those of you who believe in me, thank you,” she said. “To those who don’t, I thank you as well for making me want to be a better leader. This has only made me stronger, and I will use that strength to fight for the issues that help every resident.”
So far, Councilmen James Solomon and Frank Gilmore have been the only two that have called for DeGise’s resignation. None of the other council members allied with Fulop made any comments on DeGise’s controversy during the meeting (Councilman Rich Boggiano was absent that night).
DeGise’s hit-and-run case has been moved to the Essex County Superior Court’s Special Remand Court. According to DeGise, a date for the case has not been set.