Putting together their progressive credentials
Jul 29, 2018 | 1570 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Politics in Hudson County has turned into a sideshow of who can boast the most progressive credentials. This is particularly true in Jersey City and Hoboken, where politicians are looking ahead to future elections.

Mayor Steven Fulop, of course, is rumored to be seeking higher office. Unfortunately, this could be any office as long as it’s not the position he currently holds. Having failed to run for governor last year, and stymied by the fact that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez somehow miraculously survived a federal corruption witch hunt against him, Fulop may well look to run for the other U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Booker may seek to run for president in 2020, leaving a clear path for an urban progressive like Fulop.

Fulop, who has made moves to protect the rights of the LBTGQ immigrant and ex-offender communities, recently sought to decriminalize possession of marijuana in Jersey City, putting him on the forefront on most progressive issues.

While the state Attorney General has ruled that it will take an act of the state legislature to decriminalize marijuana, most progressives will likely give Fulop high marks for his effort.

The problem is that this attempt steps on the toes of Gov. Phil Murphy, who may also be running for president in 2020, and who needs to fulfill his progressive campaign promises – one of which is to legalize marijuana throughout the state. But there is a serious backlash against a statewide move, in part by legislators in the African-America community. State Sen. Ronald Rice and Jersey City Councilwoman Joyce Watterman have been very vocal in opposing legalized marijuana as proposed. Both Rice and Watterman are considered progressives. Opposition is even fiercer from conservative parts of the state.

Who is the real progressive?

In Hoboken, there is a fierce competition between Mayor Ravi Bhalla and 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco for bragging rights when it comes to LBTGQ issues. Other elected officials have chimed in on their own but it is clear that DeFusco – an openly gay public official who ran against Bhalla for mayor last year – feels shortchanged by Bhalla’s taking the lead on these. Sniping has been going on over relatively minor issues such as whether or not DeFusco should have been allowed to speak at a recent LBTGQ flag raising or whether Bhalla has acted quickly enough to designate gender-neutral public toilets in city buildings. Since Bhalla is expected to try to back a candidate to run against DeFusco in the 2019 ward council elections, you can expect the rhetoric to get even hotter as months go by.

While in most cases the mayor of a town usually has an advantage in presenting his or her case to the public, DeFusco has been very effective in dominating discussions in City Council meetings. But it is unlikely that he is winning over many of his council colleagues.

Hoboken, like Jersey City, is seen as a very progressive town, especially now that born-and-raised Hobokenites are fading away or moving out. Even those seen as Old Hoboken, such as Councilman Michael Russo and Freeholder Anthony Romano, are making moves to align themselves with progressives such as Bhalla. In fact, nearly all the current factions that make up municipal government are seen as progressive in one fashion or another.

Detainees will be a problem for DeGise

Romano, of course, was instrumental in helping to get Democratic committee votes in Hoboken lined up behind Amy DeGise in her recent successful fight to become chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) over powerful state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack.

DeGise ran her campaign as a progressive and raised many of the key issues that progressives are expected to raise. In particular, she hoped to turn the classic Democratic organization away from the predominately male (and frequently very white) political organization to one that embraces women as well as minorities.

Many, however, believe DeGise ran for the chair more to protect her father, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, whom Stack and Fulop hope to unseat as county executive in 2019.

As HCDO chair, Amy DeGise will have a strong say on which candidate gets HCDO support as well as a spot on the official Democratic line on the primary ballot in the 2019 primary.

But it may not be enough to save her father. Part of the reason is that Stack controls more than 10,000 votes in Union City as well as votes throughout his district, which includes half of Jersey City. Primary elections often have a low turnout. This will hurt Tom DeGise, since both Stack and Fulop will likely marshal their voters. While Amy DeGise was able to put together an impressive Democratic committee victory, she most likely won’t be able to overcome a Stack/Fulop alliance against her father.

Worse still for Tom DeGise was the county’s renewal of its agreement with the federal government to house immigrant detainees in the county jail. Few issues are as volatile in the progressive community as this one. While those loyal to Tom DeGise claim they supported the renewal so that detainees will not get transferred to other jails, many realize that federal money for detainees helps underwrite a huge jobs patronage system. The county jail, which was built to house about 2,000 inmates, has only about 1,200 currently – 800 of which are detainees. Without the $10 million the county expects to get from the feds over the next ten years, the county would have to downsize those patronage jobs – or significantly raise taxes.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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