As recently as two months ago, there was speculation that Jersey City would need to elect a new mayor in 2017 due to current Mayor Steve Fulop’s then impending entrance to the New Jersey gubernatorial race. However, following Fulop’s surprise September 28 departure from that race—and his support of former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy for the spot—the landscape of the November 2017 municipal election changed. While Fulop has vowed he will run as an incumbent, a number of others are positioning themselves to challenge him.
So far, both Bill Matsikoudis and former Assemblyman Charles Mainor have announced that they will be facing off against Fulop in November. Additionally, current Jersey City Councilman Michael Yun told Observer that he may also enter the mix and attempt to unseat the sitting mayor.
However, despite all the challenges to his pursuit of another term, Fulop spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said that crowded municipal races are par for the course in the booming Hudson River city. The sitting mayor was first elected in May 2013.
“We expect this race to be like every other past Jersey City mayoral race as there is always a crowded field. We welcome all candidates, ideas, and we look forward to a healthy dialogue as the city has experienced unprecedented progress since 2013. So far, this quarter, we have had our best fundraising effort in eight years and the overall response within the city has been overwhelming.” said Morrill.
According to Matsikoudis, Jersey City needs new leadership because he claims Fulop’s time in office has been too focused on politics. The lawyer was Fulop’s main opposition earlier this year during a push by the mayor to get the city council elections moved from May to November. That move passed, making this upcoming mayoral race the first to occur in November.
“Jersey City in many ways is doing well but the mayor has failed in his leadership and he has been overly consumed in politics and not governing,” Matisikoudis said. “Before he put his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office as mayor, he was already running for governor… I think the people of Jersey City will say that they don’t want to be Steve Fulop’s second choice.”
The challenger said he “extremely excited” for the upcoming election. He said that the economic growth experienced in Jersey City in recent years has little to do with current leadership.
“Jersey City has been growing economically for well over two decades and the best thing we can say about Fulop is that he hasn’t screwed that up. He has done some good things… but being mayor is about more than just applying a coat of paint,” Matsikoudis said.
When Mainor entered the race, the former legislator said that Jersey City needed more leadership in parts of the city where growth has not been as strong under Fulop’s administration. Mainor said that if elected he will focus on keeping the city affordable to make sure that renters are not “priced out” of their homes and increasing affordable housing options.
“I am running for mayor because I believe I can be the mayor for the entire city and level the playing field to give everybody the opportunity they all deserve,” Mainor said. “We need to pay attention to the entire city and pay attention to the middle class and lower income. They have been left out in the growth of Jersey City.”
According to a source close to Jersey City, Yun’s entrance in to the mayoral race is a strong possibility but one that will be undertaken with careful consideration. Yun has been a known opponent of Fulop’s on the council, particularly on tax abatements. However, according to the source, Yun’s entrance to the race may be hindered by a lack of citywide support. The source also said that Yun may struggle with timing because the council race and mayor’s race coincide in Jersey City so in order to run for mayor, Yun would need to abandon his hopes for council re-election.
Yun said that he is currently deciding between a mayoral run and a run for re-election to the Jersey City council. The Ward D councilman said he will likely make a decision and subsequent announcement by March 2017. He said that an announcement for the mayor’s race almost a year in advance would distract from his position as councilman and the work he aims to do in Ward D.
“What we can see so far is that in Jersey City more people are looking for walkers instead of talkers,” Yun said. “I will not make an announcement. There is almost one year left. We are talking this time to test waters and prepare for 2017. It is too early to make an announcement because you never know what things will change.”
According to documents filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Fulop has currently raised about $20,000. Matsikoudis has raised slightly over $151,000. Mainor has yet to file with ELEC. A document filed with ELEC on November 17 shows that Yun has raised over $200,000 for a municipal run in 2017 but, as he has not yet said if he will run for mayor, the councilman has yet to file anything with ELEC regarding the mayoral race.
Update: This article was updated to include comment from Yun. Initially, it was published before his response to inquiries.