There was one exception to the overwhelming victory of Mayor Jerramiah Healy and his slate in Jersey City last Tuesday.
For all but one council seat, candidates from Team Healy either won outright or were the top vote getters but still have to face a runoff next month. Only in Ward E did Healy’s candidate suffer a blow. With 63% of the vote, independent incumbent Councilman Steve Fulop, who has spent most of the last four years at odds with Healy, won reelection with a larger plurality than any other candidate in the city – including the Mayor himself.
Some Fulop supporters are already talking about Fulop running for mayor in 2013 as if it’s a done deal. Fulop, of course, won’t make that commitment yet, but he noted that he will be starting off his next term in a good position.
“We will grow from here,” he said during a conversation over Instant Messenger, adding that he has $175,000 left in his campaign coffers – about half of the total he raised for this election cycle.
But Politifax editor Nick Acocella, who lives in Hoboken and is well-versed in Hudson County politics, noted Jersey City’s notorious political unpredictability.
“Trying to figure out what's going to happen in Jersey City in 2013 is less productive than trying to predict the stock market four years out,” he said.
Fulop’s own case demonstrates that. Four years ago, he was a 28-year-old with no organization backing and political experience only as a kamikaze congressional candidate against Bob Menendez in 2004. But he managed to upset the machine-backed Junior Maldonado to win his seat.
This time, he was favored to win, though not with such a lopsided total, and not in all but one of his ward’s voting districts.
It showed that Fulop has a strong base of support in Ward E, which is made up mostly of the city’s more gentrified, white collar downtown section. Many of its residents, like Fulop, grew up somewhere else and work across the river in New York.
What remains unclear is whether Fulop will be able to expand his name recognition and reformist appeal beyond the like-minded downtown demographic.
“We won four years ago in an upset and have worked real hard,” said Fulop, who added that he won all but one of his ward’s districts – including those in heavily black and Latino sections. “I think we have tried to do the right thing, and a reasonable person would say that makes sense. It resonated.”
Fulop was widely considered likely to run for mayor this year, but ultimately declined. His case wasn’t helped by the failure to get two reform measures he was largely associated with on the ballot.
The two ballot questions, which were put together and promote with the help of CivicJC — a group headed by community activist and mayoral candidate Dan Levin — were meant, in part, to expand Fulop’s name recognition. They would have banned council members from holding more than one public job (most council members hold another job with either the city or Hudson County) and created pay-to-play restrictions. But the Healy Administration successfully challenged the number of necessary signatures needed for the ballot questions, successfully knocking them off the ballot. The city council eventually passed a similar pay-to-play ordinance.
Fulop said he felt a lot of pressure to run for mayor, and that he lost some political allies when he decided not to.
“I view it more of a cleansing, to be honest. You learn that people have all different motives on why they get on board. We weren’t about promising anything so people left, which is fine by me,” he said. ‘The reality is that I am still new to this. I’ve only been here for four short years and have more to do.”
Levin’s total of the vote, however, may not be encouraging to a downtown reformist hoping to make a mayoral run. His base overlaps with Fulop’s, but he only managed to get a little over five 5% of the vote citywide.
Fulop points out that Levin, while a “nice guy,” had few resources at his disposal.
“He had a handful of people with him, no challengers, very little in the street, no resources, he got 1,700 votes in ward E,” said Fulop. “We got 3,200.”
Now Fulop returns to a council that will have two new members, but largely resembles the one of the last four years. It will be him and eight Healy allies.
But Fulop’s relationship with the Mayor has improved over the last six months – and not, Fulop said, because of any deals to run a weak candidate against him. His opponent, Guy Catrillo, was well-funded by the Healy machine, and Healy even got Newark Mayor Cory Booker to campaign with him at the Grove Street PATH station.
“Yes, our relationship is much better but I am sure we will disagree when I feel he is wrong and agree when I think he is right,” he said. “I definitely won’t be the rubber stamp as that is not who I am, but our working relationship going forward has improved."
Reached for comment by email, however, Healy said that his relationship with Fulop had not noticeably improved. He also gave a relatively skeptical statement about Fulop's potential city-wide appeal.
"I am hopeful that Councilman Fulop will begin to work with the administration and his colleagues on the City Council," he said. "Jersey City is extremely diverse and there are five other wards that are very much different in make-up than Ward E. His potential to be a citywide candidate is yet to be seen."