Ostensibly, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop are engaged in a polite exchange of ideas. In reality, the two are enmeshed an early battle for political positioning before next year’s mayoral race, with mutual contempt lurking barely beneath the surface.
Healy yesterday proposed an amendment to Fulop’s anti-pay-to-play ballot initiative that would, in effect, take it off the ballot in November if passed. Healy wants candidates to file financial disclosures. If they have a net worth of $2 million or make over $500,000 a year, he thinks they should be exempt from a ban on taking contributions from vendors that do business with the city.
Today, Fulop responded to Healy’s proposal by welcoming a dialogue on government reform, but wondering whether the proposal was meant to put prospective mayoral challenger Bret Schundler, a former Wall Street bond trader, at a disadvantage.
“I hope that your latest idea is a genuine effort to reform campaign finance and not a pointed attempt to put potential opponents who are running in next year's mayoral election, like former Mayor Bret Schundler, at a disadvantage,” wrote Fulop in a letter sent to Healy today.
Fulop said he would discuss Healy’s idea with him if the two also discussed making city council positions full time jobs and banning members accepting more than one public salary; removing perks elected officials receive like the use of city vehicles for trips outside of the city and publicly financed gas cards; and implementing new anti-nepotism standards.
While the Mayor’s proposed amendment could affect Schundler, sources say its political bite is aimed more immediately at Fulop, himself a Wall Street trader. Healy, who’s salary as Jersey City Mayor puts him well below the $500,000 mark, has raised $1 million already anyway. That could raise class issues in a city where Fulop tends to represent more affluent voters in the city’s downtown, while he’s little known outside of his home ward.
Fulop, however, said he’s be willing to file a financial disclosure – if family members disclose their finances as well.
“I’m willing to go a step further, and they should file with me family financial disclosures to show who’s on the public payroll,” he said. “The public will see these people have their entire families on the public payrolls for years. If they want transparency, I’m willing…. I’m ready to do it. Healy’s not. He’s the one who’s blowing smoke.”
Healy kept it civil in a response letter to Fulop today, arguing that the council should not be a full time job.
"This would foreclose the opportunity of many qualified people, like yourself, to serve in municipal government. Why should a doctor, teacher, lawyer or stockbroker, for example, be precluded from serving on their City Council," he wrote.
Healy also disputed the notion that public employees receive "perks," noting that they have to pay income tax on their usage of city vehicles, and that gas card usage is limited to 18 gallons per week (though it's unclear if those same standards apply to council members).
"I can assure you that the amendment that I have suggested is in good faith," he wrote. "If you truly want to discuss this amendment I will do so, but I think it is in everyone’s best interest to move this forward in a timely fashion."