If there is any question that Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy wants – and believes he deserves – another term as mayor, Healy hammered the message home during the final moments of his State of the City Address, delivered Thursday.
“Jersey City is a leader in the state of New Jersey on nearly every front, whether it be in public safety, economic development, sustainability, the arts or entertainment,” he told a crowd of about 200 people at City Hall. “Together, over the next several years, we will continue to make this city an even more exciting place to live, work, visit, and do business.”
When asked by the Reporter whether he was indeed planning to seek a third term as mayor, Healy said, “Yes, I’m going to run for reelection. I think we can do a little more in Jersey City. There is tremendous potential here in this city, but there’s more work to be done…It’s early [in the campaign], but I feel confident about my chances.”
The next regular municipal election will be held in May 2013.
Much of Healy’s speech sounded like a rallying cry for his supporters, many of whom attended the annual address, which this year reflected on Healy’s tenure as mayor dating back to 2004.
Healy v. Fulop
This sets up a mayoral race that will pit Healy, currently serving his second term as mayor, against one of his chief critics, Ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop, who declared his candidacy for mayor last year. While other candidates are likely to join the race later this year, the Healy-Fulop match-up will certainly take center stage throughout the campaign.
Indeed, this race may be characterized as a David versus Goliath fight between Fulop’s populist grassroots campaign and Healy’s effort, which is all but certain to receive the backing of the politically powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization.
When asked for his response to the mayor’s announcement, Fulop said, “I am not surprised as I have been hearing rumblings. It’s good to get some clarity. Sadly, the Healy political machine is large. But I knew it was always going to be a tough election. I am just going to continue to work hard on our campaign focused on the things within our control and on improving the city.”
‘It’s early [in the campaign], but I feel confident about my chances.’ – Jerramiah T. Healy
Throughout his State of the City Address, Healy’s core message was that during his tenure as mayor Jersey City has lowered crime, attracted business, become more sustainable, and has added ratables to the tax base.
After noting that several companies – including Goya Foods, DeBragga & Spitler, and Fluitec – announced plans last year to move here, Healy added, “Jersey City has been a leader amongst the largest cities in New Jersey in creating new development, both commercial and residential. Last year, Jersey City approved construction permits for new residential and non-residential development representing more than $50 million in estimated construction costs.”
He said that due to changes made to the state’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program at the city’s urging, four companies have received $182 million from the state in tax credits. These companies, Healy said, will bring more than $400 million in capital to Jersey City.
In a nod to the city’s small business community and smaller development projects, Healy touted last summer’s expansion of downtown’s Restaurant Row and the recently approved McGinley Square Redevelopment Plan. In Restaurant Row, businesses with liquor licenses are allowed to be less than 520 feet apart. By expanding the Restaurant Row area, the city hopes to attract more eateries to the Grove Street, Newark Avenue, and Jersey Avenue corridors. The McGinley Square Redevelopment Plan seeks to revitalize the community surrounding St. Peter’s College.
On the major issue of crime, Healy said, “Since I took office in 2004, crime has dropped 33 percent. Last year, in 2011, crime was down 4 percent from the prior year, while homicides were down 25 percent.”
In recent weeks, several residents have voiced their concerns about crime after a string of highly publicized incidents throughout the city. Two weeks ago about 200 residents attended the Feb. 8 City Council meeting to demand that the Police Department redeploy its officers and be given more resources to fight crime. (For more on Healy’s plans to fight crime, see page 3.)
In one point in the speech, the mayor seemed to take an indirect jab at Fulop when he stated, “It’s easy to pay lip service to being a ‘fiscal conservative.’ But it’s an entirely different thing to have the fortitude to make the hard choices.”
He went on to list some of the ‘hard choices’ he has had to make during his current term as mayor, chief among them the decision to lay off 100 city workers last year and the imposition of furloughs on non-uniform employees.
“You have heard me say before that our city [has] been cut more than $70 million in state aid between direct funding to the city, direct funding to the Board of Education, and through the acquisition of Urban Enterprise Zone dollars by the state,” said Healy. “This came at a time when revenue from other areas, such as development, was already down. But…Jersey City managed to produce a budget without a municipal tax increase…Next week, my administration will again present a budget to the City Council that does not raise taxes and that maintains the same level of robust city services.”
Numbers will be debated
Quoting former President Ronald Reagan, Healy said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
As the 2013 mayoral campaign kicks into high gear, the Healy and Fulop campaigns are likely to battle over the “facts” as each man sees them.
“It is entertaining that he keeps saying crime is down and he says taxes were stable last year, when the budget clearly shows a huge increase year over year in the amount that was raised by taxes last year,” Fulop said in response the Healy’s address. “It is plain for anyone to see in the budget. I think the mayor takes the same approach on taxes and crime. He thinks that if he says [something] enough times people will be convinced.”
The amended calendar year 2011 municipal budget of $490 million, adopted last September, called for $215.1 million from the taxpayers. That was up from $185 million for fiscal year 2010-2011 and $151.2 million for 2009-2010 – but Healy’s administration has said the seeming increase had to do with the city’s transition from a fiscal year budget (June through July) to a calendar year budget. So the numbers from one budget to the next would have to be compared over the same 12-month periods.
There will be similar disagreements over tax breaks the city gave to Goya Foods last November. After the state approved $81.9 million in tax breaks to lure Goya to Jersey City from its current home in nearby Secaucus, the city approved a controversial 20-year tax abatement for the company. Fulop voted against the abatement deal when it came up before the City Council, arguing that this was an inappropriate use of a tax abatement.
The tax break requires Goya to pay $806,400 annually for the first six years the company is in Jersey City. In years seven through 12 the company will pay $892,950 each year. In years 13 through 20, Goya will pay $979,500 each year. The company is also being required to pay nominal fees for administrative cots and Hudson County taxes.
Currently, the city receives only $299,300 in property taxes on the County Road site where Goya will build its new 615,000 square foot headquarters.
While Healy said Thursday that Goya would “bring close to 500 permanent jobs” to Jersey City, the nonprofit think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective found that only about six new jobs would be created. The rest of the jobs that the company will bring to Jersey City are already held by employees who currently work at Goya facilities in Secaucus and Long Island.
Over the next year, both mayoral candidates will try to use these, and other, numbers to their advantage in an attempt to sway voters.
Council members weigh in on mayor’s speech
Depending on whom you listen to on the City Council, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy’s State of the City Address was either a smart and well-delivered overview of progress in Jersey City – or a narrow look at accomplishments downtown, in the city’s most affluent section of the city. Downtown, which encompasses the waterfront, is represented by Healy’s political opponent, Councilman Steven Fulop.
“I heard some good things in there, with regards to recreation and some work around open space and the environment,” said At-Large City Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. “But overall, what I heard was a tale of two cities. There was a lot of talk about all of the development downtown. There was the one mention of McGinley Square. But outside of downtown, I didn’t hear anything that addressed the issues of working families in the rest of the city.”
Other members of the council agreed with this assessment.
“There was not one word about Journal Square,” said Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, who represents Ward C, which includes Journal Square. “I was not happy about that.”
Once the economic heart of Jersey City, Journal Square today struggles as an economic hub; the city’s Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan for the area has languished for years, in part due to the bad economy.
But Healy ally and Ward A Councilman Michael Sottolano said, “I thought the speech was excellent.” He added, “I was delighted to hear that the proposed 2012 budget has no tax increase in it in this point in time. I hope that will give the council some flexibility to either make our own cuts or to shift spending among the different departments.”
Sottolano praised Healy for not making unrealistic promises to residents in a difficult fiscal climate, and was pleased that the mayor focused on the administration’s accomplishments over the last eight years.
Noting that she was actually pleased to hear the mayor’s comments regarding crime in the city, Ward F City Councilwoman Michele Massey said, “As far as the direction of the city, the state of the city, I was a little saddened because all of the major development is still happening downtown. We need more of those kinds of developments happening in the inner parts of the city. We’ve got some great locations and opportunities in Ward F, where we could use more economically diverse housing.”
Still, Massey said she was happy to hear Healy discuss the city’s plans for Berry Lane Park. This 13-acre park in the Bergen-Lafayette community is among six municipal parks that are currently being created by the city. The city is using money from a settled lawsuit with Pittsburgh Plate & Glass Industries to construct Berry Lane Park. – EAW
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