Come July 1, with a little more than 18 months on the City Council, At-Large Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. will become the most senior member of the city’s nine-member governing body. The crew of new council representatives elected to office on May 14, and in the runoff election held this past Tuesday, represent a victory for voters who wanted to sweep City Hall of career politicians and others with ties to the Democratic Party’s old guard in Hudson County.
But to those who still harbor reservations about Mayor-elect Steven Fulop, the incoming council may offer little comfort in the way of providing checks and balances on the new administration.
Of the nine City Council members who will be sworn into office next month, seven ran on Fulop’s slate. Only two independent candidates – incoming Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano and newly-elected Ward D Councilman Michael Yun – do not owe their victories to the Fulop machine.
After the May 14 municipal election that catapulted Fulop to victory, it seemed evident that he would likely control the council majority. Candice Osborne, Fulop’s Ward E candidate, won her election outright on the first ballot and did not need to head into a runoff. His three at-large candidates were the top three vote-getters, as were his candidates in wards B and F.
Assuming these candidates – Lavarro, Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera, Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, and Diane Coleman, respectively – won in the runoff, Fulop was guaranteed to have a six-vote majority on the council.
Fulop has a near mandate to push through his agenda for change.
As it stands, Fulop has a near mandate to push through his agenda for change with few non-allied voices on the council to act as a counter balance to the administration.
Fulop: ‘I can work with all nine’
The mayor-elect said last week he believes the incoming council will neither deter nor rubber stamp his policy initiatives.
“My track record is to put the residents first. I would have liked to see all nine people get through. But we have seven people who I ran with, who I feel comfortable with. They all have different personalities and different interests, so that’s a positive. And I think I can work with [Boggiano and Yun], even though they weren’t my first choice. My goal is to work with all nine people on the City Council and I feel optimistic that I can.”
Fulop emphasized that the even the seven council members who ran with him are not a monolithic group who endorse all his opinions – or even the opinions of one another.
“We don’t agree on everything. We fight. We argue. But I think at the end of the day every one of those people believe in putting the residents of Jersey City first,” Fulop said. “And from my experience with Boggiano and Yun, I think they’re going to be the same way.”
The mayor-elect reached out to both men last week to congratulate them on their victories and plans to meet with each of them soon.
Yun, a Jersey City Heights newsstand owner who is also president of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, said he, too, is optimistic that he will be able to work with the new administration.
“When I ran, I did not run with anybody but the people. My vote on any issues or city policy will be based on my people, the people of Jersey City,” said Yun. “I plan to work closely with Steve Fulop and if his plan benefits the people of Jersey City, I will support it. If it’s not, he’s going to have a tough time getting my vote.”
Boggiano: ‘I will be very vocal’
During the municipal campaign, Fulop and his Ward C candidate, Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, portrayed Boggiano as someone who opposes the redevelopment of Journal Square, arguably Jersey City’s new frontier. Now that Lopez is out and Boggiano will take her seat on the council, Fulop is hoping the new Ward C councilman will rethink and moderate some of his past positions.
“I hope that some of the things he said during the campaign he’ll change his mind on, when he sees the grants coming from the state and some of the other investment that’s coming to Journal Square,” Fulop said of Boggiano, whom he described as a “workhorse.”
After his victory last week, however, Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police officer, made no apologies for his stance on development in Journal Square.
“My only concern is what is best for the city and Ward C,” said Boggiano, president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Organization. “If I feel that something is not right, for the communities or for Journal Square, I will be very vocal. I am not against development. I am pro development.”
He said that he would like for Journal Square to attract nice restaurants, name brand stores, and cultural events as the community did during its heyday.
However, Bogiano added, “Projects like the Robinhood Project I am dead against because the people in my neighborhood don’t want it. And people on the western side of Journal Square, they already have complaints about traffic and sewers…I am tired of engineers and surveyors coming in here saying, ‘There is no traffic problem.’ ‘The schools won’t be affected by this [development] project.’ People get sick and tired of that after a while. I want the truth. If I think a development is great, I’ll support it. But if there are objections from people, their voice has to be heard.”
He said he wants the Division of City Planning to be more accountable to community groups and residents when they flag concerns about specific development projects.
The preliminary, non-certified vote totals from the June 11 runoff were as follows, according to City Clerk’s Office:
In Ward A, Frank Gajewski, who ran with Fulop, received 2,101 votes. Epps received 1,380 votes. Gajewski’s runoff victory was one of the surprises of the election, particularly given that Epps had received more votes that Gajewski on the first ballot.
In Ward B, Ramchal received 1,493 votes, defeating community activist Esther Wintner, who received 539 votes.
In Ward C, Boggiano received 1,686 votes. Incumbent Nidia Lopez, who ran with Fulop, was defeated with 1,332 votes.
In Ward D, Yun garnered 1,833 votes to edge out Sean Connors, who ran on Fulop’s slate. Connors won 1,402 votes. A businessman of Korean descent, Yun is the second Asian elected to the council.
In Ward F, Fulop ally Diane Coleman ran unopposed and received 1,490 votes. Jermaine Robinson, who finished in second place on the first ballot, went to court last month to have his name officially removed from the runoff race, thus leaving only Coleman’s name on the runoff ballot.
In the at-large race, Lavarro, Watterman, and Rivera each received more than 11,000 votes. Fourth place finisher, At-large Councilwoman Viola Richardson, received 5,542 votes.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.