A week and a half ago, David Donnelly, then an aide to Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, did not know there was going to be a vacancy on the Jersey City council.
Last night, he was sworn in to fill it.
“I certainly didn’t want to come to it this way,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly, 39, was recommended by Mayor Jerramiah Healy for the city’s Ward B council seat and approved by the council with seven yes votes and one abstention (Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson last night said she abstained because she felt the process was rushed).
The seat opened up after Councilman Phil Kenny – on the job just six months – made a surprise guilty plea last Tuesday to accepting $5,000 in bribes from a federal informant posing as a crooked developer. He resigned the next day.
Kenny was another casualty of the July corruption sting that stung Jersey City particularly hard, taking out two of the top three finishers in the May mayoral campaign, the city council president, a deputy mayor and a number of other officials and political players. Even Mayor Jerramiah Healy, never charged but named in a corruption complaint as “JC Official 4” and apparently under scrutiny by the FBI, did not escape the whiff of scandal. But Kenny was never arrested, and nobody knew that he was also caught up in the sweep.
Now Donnelly finds himself representing the city’s ethnically diverse west side, sometimes known as “the forgotten ward.” If he wants to hold on to the seat for more than a year, he will have to win a special election next November.
“First I want to focus on being an old style councilperson. I realize that might have a negative connotation, but I mean in the good sense,” said Donnelly, who said his wards problems are those “facing any inner-city.”
“They go from the mundane, such as trash along West Side Avenue to the bigger issues of fighting crime… It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure them out,” he said.
Donnelly’s mother, Mary, held his seat from 1997 to 2005, when she was replaced by Mary Spinello, who this year was pushed aside to make room for Kenny and given a job heading up the city’s parking authority.
When Mary Donnelly and her husband moved to Bayonne, David bought the Gautier Avenue home he grew up in.
Donnelly worked for Healy since 2006, leaving only for a five month stint working for Edison Mayor Jun Choi. It didn’t work out. Donnelly said he was looking to be a special assistant on policy matters, but wound up working more as a spokesman.
“I think Jun Choi is a very intelligent person, and there’s nobody who works harder than him. It just wasn’t the right fit for either of us,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly’s swearing in last night upset some Jersey City activists, but not because of Donnelly personally so much the way he was selected. It was the fact that he was the mayor’s hand-picked candidate, rushed through the selection process without much, if any, consideration for four others who were interested.
On JCList.com – an internet bulletin board – a thread about Donnelly was headlined “Healy endorses second-generation crony for vacant council seat.” Andrew Hubsch, a member of the reform group One Jersey City who ran for an at-large council seat in May, came to Donnelly’s defense on the thread – sort of – calling him “competent, committed, and earnest.”
“In my direct experience with him, he’s one of the more or most capable people that I’ve seen working the administration,” said Hubsch in a phone interview. “It’s nothing about his qualifications to be one of the choices, but the mechanics of how it was orchestrated to me were terribly disappointing.”
Councilman Steve Fulop, the body’s only Healy critic, even voted for Donnelly – with reservations.
“David is out of the mayor’s office. There’s no question about that. And we’ll kind of see where it goes from here,” he said. “The only thing I looked at yesterday was more chaos and more vacancies is not going to be a benefit for anybody.”
Donnelly, who had to resign from his job as an aide to the mayor to take the job, will now make about $32,000 a year as a councilman — way down from his previous salary of $74,000. Council members do get certain perks, like city cars (and most supplement their council incomes with other, better paying public jobs with Hudson County).
But Donnelly said that he’s willing to make the sacrifice.
“I’ve always wanted to serve in elected politics. I’ve always wanted to serve the people of Jersey City,” he said. “I know this sounds hokey, but you can ask my fiancé who I sometimes drive a little crazy — I love Jersey City so damn much.”