The old adage of “practice makes perfect” certainly pertained to Councilman Steven Fulop’s victory over incumbent Jerramiah Healy in the May 14 mayor election. While Fulop people are spinning the victory as decisive, Healy supporters are saying it was relatively narrow. The victory was the result of years of intense organizing and overcoming last minute hurdles, not to mention mid-Election Day nail biting when the voter turnout seemed sparse, though the big numbers eventually rolled in.
Last year, when Fulop kicked off his campaign, many called his victory “inevitable.” But as the year progressed and the endorsements rolled in for Healy (including from the president), some outside observers began to see Healy as viable again. At least four political polls going into the last week showed Healy ahead. And then, his campaign hit a brick wall – although many people did not realize it.
His changing story over how he came to be photographed naked on his porch eight years ago appears to have resonated in some voters’ minds, suggesting they thought that Healy may well be an extremely likeable guy, but not the kind of mayor the city needs to move into the future.
Healy supporters in the aftermath of the election contend that this was less a vote for Fulop than it was for change. With four candidates to choose from, Healy people claim, Fulop was the most acceptable. One Healy supporter said voters may also have disliked Healy’s response to issues such as police overtime pay.
Democratic leaders who backed Healy attributed the change partially to an influx of Republican support over the last few weeks.
But Tom Bartoli, one of the key people in the Fulop team, said it was simply hard work.
“We kept rolling the stone up the hill until we got to the top,” he said.
Turnout was a huge factor.
The lower the turnout, the more Healy benefited. But as the numbers rose late in the day, people began to sense a turn of tide in favor of Fulop.
More than a few surprises
All three of Fulop’s at-large council candidates were in the lead. Though they will have run again in a runoff election in June, their victories were a shock to many, since Councilwoman Viola Richardson – running with Healy – finished fourth. This is not good news for State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, who many presumed supported Richardson and, by default, Healy. This, combined with Diane Coleman’s strong showing in Ward F, may indicate that Cunningham will be vulnerable to a state Senate challenge.
Bartoli attributed Coleman’s strong showing to “The Boys in Ward F:” Brian Struthers, Gene McKnight and Mohamed Akil.
“They helped her win in November and never stopped,” Bartoli said.
Healy candidates in Wards C and D also failed to make the runoff. In fact, non-aligned candidates Richard Boggiano and Michael Yun led the voting in both wards with Fulop candidates Nidia Lopez and Sean Connors finishing second in both races.
While Fulop people will likely support Lopez in the runoff, Connors shouldn’t look for a lot of support, since Yun, if elected to the council, will not pose a threat to Fulop. Connors has ambitions to become mayor and could use his council platform to launch a challenge to Fulop in 2017.
While some candidates who ran for council on the Healy ticket may win the runoff, such as Charles Epps in Ward A, most will likely see little or no organized support, giving a huge advantage to Fulop-backed candidates.
“Fulop with his use of technology was light years ahead of Healy in this election,” said one Healy supporter.
Winners and losers?
While the next few months will see a lot of overheated copy machines as city workers upgrade their resumes in anticipation of their exodus from municipal jobs, the political impact leaves a number of winners and losers.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea is one of the big winners in the Fulop victory since he will likely see employment as the city business administrator and perhaps later backing for higher office.
Sal Vega, who is seeking to regain his seat as mayor of West New York, may also benefit from future Fulop support.
Former Bayonne Councilman Gary LaPelusa may get Fulop support for a bid to run for Bayonne council or possibly mayor of Bayonne in next year’s municipal election thanks to his support of Fulop in this campaign. LaPelusa appears to be building a coalition of support since Rep. Donald Payne Jr. recently appeared at one of LaPelusa’s fundraisers.
Although state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco did not support either candidate in the Jersey City mayoral race, enough people connected with him supported Fulop to guarantee friendly relations between the two mayors.
Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason, who openly supported Healy, may feel the wrath of a future Fulop backlash, as may Rep. Albio Sires, as Fulop seeks to bring the congressional seat back to Jersey City. The question is: will Sires even run for another term, faced with opposition from a strong new Jersey City mayor? Will Cunningham?
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, who serves as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, may lose his chairmanship as Fulop flexes his muscles and seeks to become chairman or to name a close associate to that post – possibly former chairman, Bernard Kenny.
State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who stayed out of the Jersey City mayoral contest, may still exert his influence by possibly backing Yun in the runoff over Connors.
Yun spent a lot of money in this campaign, and seemed disappointed when he was forced into a runoff against Connors. But he had a professional team, people likely to get additional help from Fulop because they have become disenchanted with Connors. Expect Shawn Thomas Sullivan, known as “Sully,” a former Healy worker who delivered Jersey City Heights for Fulop, to play a key role in the runoff.
Bayonne Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell is expected to be challenged by former Hudson County Sheriff Juan Perez as an independent candidate backed by Fulop in November.