This week, downtown activist and Ward E City Council candidate Dan Levin will circulate a letter in which he will explain to his friends, neighbors, and supporters some of the reasons he is running in the May 2013 election alongside Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy – a man he has often criticized in the past.
In the letter, which Levin shared with the Reporter last week, he is straightforward and unapologetic. He knows he will be criticized for joining the Healy slate, labeled a sellout and an opportunist who will do anything to get elected. He knows this largely because – ever since rumors began to circulate in late summer that he was open to running with Healy – these criticisms have already been made.
They’ve been made on JCList, the popular online community board that has an entire discussion thread dedicated to “Dan Levin.” (A typical comment? “The absolute height of hypocrisy.”) They’ve been made over coffee get-togethers at Beechwood, drinks at the Merchant. And they have probably been made during chats at the various local farmers markets.
But Levin is prepared to make his case.
“I am running for the Ward E council seat alongside Mayor Healy, perhaps…surprising our downtown community,” Levin writes in the letter that will be posted to www.onejerseycity.org this week. “While I have disagreed with him on some high profile issues over the years, and this move may initially appear to be politically risky, I am firmly committed to an established set of public values and goals that I believe can be achieved by working with the incumbent mayor on behalf of the residents of not just downtown, but Jersey City as a whole.”
Last week, the Healy campaign announced Levin as the first confirmed member of the mayor’s 2013 re-election slate.
Ahead of the official announcement, the Reporter asked whether any other council candidates would be announced at the same time.
“Oh, no,” said one campaign operative. “Levin is big. We want to do him separately.”
Getting Levin on the Healy slate is something of a coup for the mayor, who might benefit from Levin’s history as a “good government” advocate. Healy will face Councilman Steve Fulop for mayor, and is considered to be a Levin-style reformer as well.
When asked specifically why Levin was added to the Healy slate, and whether the mayor will really be able to work with him if the two are elected next year, one Healy advisor said, “They know they aren’t going to see eye to eye on everything, and I think the mayor will expect a little more independence [in terms of voting] from Levin.”
But, he said, Levin was selected because he has a “strong following in downtown Jersey City and that political pull makes him a strong candidate in Ward E” which Fulop represents.
And while Levin supported a taxpayer-led 2009 recall effort of Healy after the Operation Bid Rig corruption arrests that year, this aide said Levin has grown to respect Healy’s staunch opposition to the natural gas pipeline being built by Spectra Energy through Jersey City, his work to purchase and save the Sixth Street Embankment, and the recent renovation of Hamilton Park. These issues, he said, have given Healy and Levin some areas of common ground from which they can continue to build a relationship that benefits city residents.
Relationship with risks
The Healy-Levin alliance does not come without risks, particularly for Levin.
In the past, Levin has been more closely aligned with Fulop, and the sudden association with Healy – whom many Ward E residents perceive as the bogeyman – could backfire.
Levin has twice run as an independent for public office, including a run for mayor in 2009 against Healy. Last year Levin ran for a city council at-large seat during a special election. He lost both races.
In these races he built a reputation for himself as a fiscal conservative interested in prudent municipal spending and trimming taxes. He has advocated for pay-to-play legislation and transparency among public officials.
Last year, he was publicly critical of Healy’s municipal budget, which Levin said included a hidden tax increase. Given this history, he may now have difficulty highlighting his areas of common ground with Healy.
But Levin last week countered this assessment, saying, “Before I decided to join the mayor’s slate I talked to my wife and several of my supporters. There were two people who were very critical and said I shouldn’t do it. But everyone else has been really positive and have said, “Go for it. This sounds like a good opportunity.’”
But some of Levin’s supporters consider Healy to be the head of a hulking and wasteful Democratic machine that protects its cronies at the expense of taxpayers.
If elected, he said that he expects to be held accountable for everything he has stood for in the past. He pointed out that his views on everything from taxes to open space and government reforms are available online, so he knows his voting record on the council can be compared to comments he has made previously. Levin insists he will be an independent thinker and voter on the council and not a councilman who rubber stamps Healy’s agenda.
Convincing voters, who may see him as an opportunist, that he’ll be willing to break with the mayor could prove difficult.
Why not Fulop?
Levin’s inclusion on the Healy ticket will not sit well with Fulop supporters who thought the two men would eventually run together.
In 2010 Levin managed the successful Board of Education campaign of Carol Lester, whom Fulop ultimately endorsed. Last year, Levin endorsed all three of the school board candidates who were advanced by Fulop and his allies. Levin supported the pay-to-play legislation that Fulop introduced before the City Council, and has endorsed other Fulop policies.
The lack of an alliance between them now could strike many people as odd.
When asked why he didn’t select Levin for his slate, Fulop said, “Dan Levin never asked or expressed interest. We had a process on the website or he could have reached out. Up until recently he was coy about even running.”
Early this year Fulop announced that public relations professional Candace Osborne would be his Ward E council candidate.
Levin and his wife recently sold and moved from their Third Street house and for a time Levin was not sure whether his family would be able to remain in Ward E. Some of the places he and his wife considered moving to were in the section of downtown that is now in Ward F. Had that happened, Levin said he would probably have run for an at-large seat on the council. It was only recently that he was certain that he would remain in Ward E.
“I see the mayoral candidate as the captain,” Levin said in response to Fulop’s comment. “When I ran for mayor in 2009, I didn’t wait for people to approach me; I went out and I approached the people I wanted to run with. We obviously have a different approach to doing this. Steve made his [Ward E] decision fairly early, more than a year before the election. So, it’s not that I wasn’t open to running with him. By the time I was in a position to run, and knew where I was running and what I was running for, he had already made his decision.”
With a former ally now on the opposing slate, Fulop seems prepared to make the most of it.
“I wonder how Dan Levin can remain true to his principles when he is running on a ticket with a politician who he has vocally criticized in the recent past,” Fulop said last week. “How can he eviscerate Jersey City machine politicians one day, then jump in bed with them the next? What has changed is that a perennial candidate has traded in his values for the sake of political expediency. I’m confident the voters in Ward E will see right through this and elect Candice Osborne, the candidate who truly deserves this seat.”
The Healy-Levin alliance comes with some risks for Fulop, too. Levin could split the vote in Ward E, the area of town where Fulop’s base of support is the strongest.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.