More questions were raised regarding a political ad released by the campaign of Ward E City Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Fulop that involves children and a well-known grassroots organization in Ward F. Additional questions were also raised about a policy paper Fulop’s campaign released recently on strategies to connect former prisoners with jobs upon their release from jail.
Fulop’s television ad, titled “How Many,” has drawn criticism for its use of black elementary school-aged children, whom some people feel were exploited for political purposes.
The ad begins with Fulop, seated next to an African American man in a Jersey City police officer uniform, asking the kids, “How many people have ever heard, in their neighborhood, gunshots?”
A majority of the children raise their hands.
At the time the ad was released, Fulop said they were Jersey City residents who came from “all over.” Some of the children, Fulop said, were recruited for the ad from churches, community groups, and summer camps he has been affiliated with over the years. Some of the children he said he had met through Friends of the Lifers, a community group in Jersey City that works with at-risk youth and recently released ex-offenders.
Joyner met with a group of Fulop’s high school interns, not with the councilman himself.
In the weeks surrounding the release of “How Many,” Fulop’s mayoral campaign also issued policy papers on crime/public safety and prisoner reentry. These three campaign pieces, and a fourth on economic development and job creation, were meant to dovetail one another and give an overview of how the candidate will address these challenging issues if elected. However, two of these campaign pieces have raised more questions about the candidate than the issues themselves.
Lifers head: ‘Baffling to me’
Annette Joyner, executive director of Friends of the Lifers, is the most recent resident to level criticisms.
Addressing Fulop at the March 13 City Council meeting and referencing Fulop’s question about gun violence in “How Many,” Joyner said, “That shouldn’t be asked of these youth. They have enough to deal with. They have enough with them going to school, fighting bullies. Some of these kids can’t even go home to a home-cooked meal.”
Another community activist, LaVerne Washington, has raised similar complaints.
Joyner, who was joined by several protesters at the council meeting, later said she felt “used” knowing that some of the children who had been involved in her program were recruited for the campaign piece.
She also took issue with the policy paper on prisoner reentry.
When asked several weeks ago by the Reporter who had been consulted when drafting the prisoner reentry paper, Fulop said Friends of the Lifers was among the groups he reached out to, in addition to people within the law enforcement community and court system.
Joyner disputed this account last week.
“His office called me last summer to come here [City Hall] and speak to him about reentry. His office said the city might want to help us with some of our work,” Joyner told the Reporter. She said she was under the impression the meeting would deal with funding opportunities for her organization.
At this meeting, Fulop acknowledges, Joyner met with a group of his high school interns, not with the councilman himself. The interns, he said, were there to gather information on prisoner reentry, not to discuss funding.
Fulop and Joyner had no further contact in the months that followed.
“Then I see his reentry plan as part of his [anti-crime] initiative,” said Joyner. “What’s baffling to me is, if he wants to do this reentry piece, and he knows that Friends of the Lifers is doing this work, ‘cause he put it in his [policy paper], why wouldn’t he come to the programs that are already doing this and bring everybody together to discuss reentry?”
Joyner added that some of the information she passed along to Fulop’s interns ended up being included in the policy paper, even though she and other community groups never had a sit-down meeting with Fulop personally.
The councilman believes the meeting between Joyner and the high school student interns means his office “reached out to her” for input on the policy paper; Joyner clearly believes it does not.
Fulop: It’s all political
Fulop remains unfazed by the controversy and believes the criticism is coming from people allied with his political opponents.
“I’m the only candidate in this race running on issues. You look at every one of the papers we’ve put out and they are all issue-oriented and solution-oriented,” he noted. “Compare that to what you have on the other side, which is nothing.”
The city administers the Second Chance Program, which was launched in 2001 by the late Glenn D. Cunningham when he was mayor. The program is viewed elsewhere as a model.
Fulop’s primary competitor in the race for mayor is incumbent Jerramiah T. Healy. Candidates Jerry Walker and Abdul Malik also filed petitions to run for mayor by the March 11 deadline.
Fulop dismissed Joyner’s criticisms last week, saying that she is motivated by “politics.”
“In my seven years on the City Council, this is the first time that she has shown up at the City Council meeting, and where her support is on the mayoral campaign is very clear,” Fulop stated. “Sixty days before an election, she shows up here with people with [protest] signs. This seems very, very politically motivated.”
Joyner is a supporter of at-large City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, who is running for reelection on Healy’s slate. But she insists she “usually don’t get involved with politics,” but plans to be active this year. She said Fulop and his Ward F candidate, City Councilwoman Diane Coleman, “won’t be getting many votes, not out of Ward F.”
Coleman has been criticized for stating several weeks ago that “everybody” in Ward F would be ineligible for a federally funded job training program since only people without a criminal record can participate in the program. She later explained that she had been joking when she made the statement.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.