By Chase Brush
HAMILTON – Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop found himself flung far from the gleaming skyline of his home turf on the Hudson Tuesday night, when he appeared as guest speaker at a local Democrats’ event in Hamilton to talk about his rise in politics and his vision for the future of the Democratic Party in New Jersey.
“If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I would be the mayor of Jersey City, I would’ve said no. If you had asked me if I would be involved in elected office I would have said no. I never thought that I’d be in this situation,” Fulop, who referred to his political career as a series of “unexpected circumstances,” told the energized crowd of Mercer County Democrats in the ballroom at Stone Terrace.
And as assembly members worked frantically to come up with a fix for the state’s current budgetary woes just down the street and Republican Mayor Kelly Yaede appears entrenched in Town Hall, Fulop urged fellow Democrats — particularly in Mercer, which surprised political onlookers during this year’s primary when residents showed up in larger-than-usual numbers to deliver Bonnie Watson Coleman the Democratic nomination in CD12 — to stand by their principles.
“Some of the circumstances [I experienced] involved taking the road that was a little less predictable, and I think that’s one of the challenges Hamilton is going to have as we look to build a Democratic stronghold here,” Fulop said, adding later that Dems today “need to stick to what we stand for and not in the name of compromise give up what we believe — not in the name of bi-partisanship, not ‘go along to get along’.”
A 2001 U.S. Iraq War veteran and the son of Romanian immigrants, Fulop has been revered by Democrats statewide since he broke onto the scene in Jersey City, first as a councilman and later as mayor. Many look to his progressive politics and role in reinvigorating the state’s second largest city as evidence of his future potential as gubernatorial material.
There was no shortage of praise, then, for the party’s “Golden Boy” from the Mercer County Dems in the room.
“He could have run, biked, or swam the 60 or so miles to get here without breaking a sweat,” state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) said of Fulop as she introduced him.
She added that the 37-year-old’s resume, together with his work on issues like paid sick leave and prisoner rehabilitation in Hudson County, have “helped capture the imagination of the political world and a public hungry for real leadership in uncertain times.”
Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-14) of Hamilton echoed those sentiments, adding that the state’s current budget crisis shines a spotlight on the Democratic Party’s commitment to the state’s working class.
“We are at a very critical time in our state. It’s no coincidence that we are celebrating 350 years of statehood,” said Benson. “And everybody is celebrating in their own different ways. Fortunately Democrats are thankfully celebrating it by trying to keep our commitments for men and women of labor, for working families. Unfortunately, our governor looks like he will continue on a path of borrowing against future generations by not making pension payments, by doing other things that hurt working families, and that’s why I’m so glad to have Mayor Fulop here.”
In an interview with PolitickerNJ following the event, Fulop talked about how the outcome of this year’s primary, which saw Watson Coleman (with 15,121 votes) edge out Greenstein (with 9,974) in a county largely taken for granted.
The win put Mercer on the map.
“Mercer flexed its muscles and showed it is a county that needs to be recognized and be taken seriously and be given its due respect, and I think that’s a testament to their execution in this next election,” he said. “And I think that’s a significant shift.”
He added that he plans to work with Watson Coleman going into the November general, and, when asked what a Jersey City mayor was doing in Hamilton Township, said the event provided an opportunity to rally fellow Democrats.
“Anytime I have an opportunity to build and help organize a more progressive Democratic Party I’m interested,” Fulop said. “I think the Jersey City case study as it relates to being socially conscious and at the same time thinking about economic opportunities is a good model and something that can be replicated. You know, so we have a Democratic organization down here, and there’s been a good turnout. One person at a time is the way I look at it.”