JERSEY CITY - The recent public dust-up between City Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Fulop and Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis may stem from political animosity related to the upcoming May 2013 mayoral race.
The two clashed recently during a City Council meeting, ostensibly over a recommendation to amend the city's pay to play law this week. But Fulop's dig on Matsikoudis, that he is "supposed to work for the mayor and council,"
left some people wondering whether there was a subtext to the argument.
Apparently, there is.
The Fulop camp has recently alleged that Matsikoudis - an ally of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, Fulop's opponent in the upcoming May 2013 mayoral race - is managing the Healy campaign.
Fulop and his allies point to the fact that Matsikoudis has been seen around town fielding potential City Council candidates for the Healy slate. He was, for instance, recently spotted with Deputy Mayor Kevin Lyons having a meeting with a possible Ward B candidate at a popular downtown restaurant.
And Matsikoudis reportedly held similar meetings with downtown activist Dan Levin. Team Healy recently announced that Levin will run on the mayor's ticket as his Ward E City Council candidate.
The Fulop camp has alleged that Matsikoudis is acting as the de facto campaign manager for Healy's campaign, a charge Matsikoudis denies.
"No I am not," Matsikoudis said when asked whether or not he is serving as Healy's campaign manager.
An advisor, only
Joshua Henne, spokesman for Healy's re-election campaign, said, "Bill Matsikoudis is a long-time trusted advisor who has been instrumental in so many of the ways Mayor Healy has made progress in Jersey City - from environmental cleanups and creating parks, to reducing crime and stabilizing taxes. Bill will continue to advise on putting together a campaign team as we move into 2013."
The difference between an "advisor" and a "campaign manager" might be slight and in name only. After all, PolitckerNJ.com recently listed Matsikoudis among the state's most influential people, precisely because of his leadership role on the Healy campaign.
But Fulop said the attorney's work for his rival's campaign colors his work for the city.
"Whether it's his support for the continuation of pay to play, his argument against a study of the police department, or his defense of the mayor's decision to give free cars to supporters, Bill's track record is consistent in working in the political interests of the mayor, and not the residents of the city. While the council has limited ability to remove him, my belief is that if Bill wants to work to reelect the mayor he should be on the payroll of the campaign, not the city."
(In the months leading up to the 2009 City Council and mayoral elections, the Healy camp tried to get Fulop to join the mayor's slate that year.
Matsikoudis was among the Healy emissaries who were dispatched to meet with and woo Fulop at that time.) Matthew Weng, staff attorney with the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said Tuesday that even if Matsikoudis is working for the Healy campaign that work does not constitute a conflict of interest - "so long as he is working on his own time and when he is supposed to be on the clock," Weng said.
Healy recently told the Reporter that he would be focused on the Nov. 6 election and would not be focusing on his re-election effort for May 2013 until after those elections had passed. A campaign manager and other campaign staff, he said, will not be announced until after the New Year. - E. Assata Wright