Those are some of the questions that have come up over downtown Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop's announcement of a new ordinance that would ban political contributions from developers looking to do redevelopment in Jersey City, one year prior to negotiations up to the completion of the redevelopment agreement.
"This ordinance should go a long way towards demonstrating to the public that political contributions and responsible government are happening in Jersey City independent of one another. Jersey City will be the largest city in the state adopting such substantial reform," said Fulop in a recent press release.
Fulop planned to introduce the ordinance at Jan. 10 City Council meeting, but he found that his colleagues on the City Council needed time to read the ordinance before they would agree to consider its introduction.
But it will be introduced at the upcoming Jan. 24 meeting.
However, Fulop's track record in trying to introduce good government measures has been unsuccessful because of opposition thrown his way.
And this time was no different as Mayor Jerramiah Healy and several of his City Council colleagues expressed their objections last week against the ordinance, but it will be introduced at the upcoming Jan. 24 meeting.
"Councilman Fulop's ordinance would give a disproportionate advantage to the wealthy that have the means to finance their own campaigns," stated Healy in a recent letter to local newspapers.
Fulop works for the New York City-based financial firm CitiGroup.Putting it on the level
Fulop said last week he had seen a presentation of the ordinance by the local civic group Civic JC in front of the City Council last summer.
Civic JC is a non-partisan, community-based group that promotes good government practices in the city.
Fulop said after hearing the presentation, he told Dan Levin, one of the founders of JC Civic, that he would be study the ordinance further.
Fulop then contacted Levin on New Year's Day with his decision that he would move to introduce the ordinance at the Jan. 10 City Council meeting.
For Fulop, it was an opportunity to address an issue he said that Governor Jon Corzine brought up in the recent State of the State Address, which was "the toxic mix of politics and money."
"I am not trying to stop developers from contributing - just those who do so while they have an agreement with the city and in the process of building something," said Fulop.
Fulop also dismissed the argument leveled by Healy and other officials that his ordinance would only allow wealthy people to run for political office since they have the upper hand in financing their own campaigns.
"The mayor's argument that with this ordinance you essentially allow rich people to benefit when it comes for running for political office is ridiculous," said Fulop. "If Mayor Healy doesn't push it forward, you wonder if he is sincere about transparency in government."
Fulop also pointed out that several New Jersey municipalities, including Newark, Asbury Park, and Hoboken, have adopted or are considering the adoption of similar ordinances.
Levin said the ordinance is necessary in a city that is still undergoing a substantial construction boom.
"So much of the city is in a redevelopment plan and I don't know why we don't believe in guaranteeing the best possible government," said Levin. "[Civic JC's] intention is to say either you are for reform or you are blocking reform. This is giving old-time politicians the opportunity to sign on to this change in politics."
Levin said if the ordinance had not got onto the current or future City Council agenda, there were other ways Civic JC could bring it to the public's attention.
"Our approach is that we will do whatever we can to make this a reality," said Levin. Creates an unleveled playing field
Healy, in his recent letter, responded sharply against the ordinance, which he sees as being detrimental to investment from developers designated by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA).
"The JCRA and private developers have historically partnered together to engage in development that is the envy of the entire state, and for Councilman Fulop to insinuate that the JCRA or the developers it has designated have acted improperly does a great disservice to this city," stated Healy in the letter.
Healy also took shot at Fulop, stating, "Councilman Fulop's proposal is particularly mystifying since a review of his [election] reports demonstrates that he has relied heavily upon donations from developers, as well as their consultants and lawyers."
Healy also said he asked the city's Law Department to prepare an ordinance requiring developers to disclose their contributions, but not ban them.
City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis in an e-mail to the Jersey City Reporter confirmed that the city is working on such an ordinance but offered few details.
City Council President Mariano Vega also looked unkindly on the ordinance.
"You are disenfranchising one class of people for another, and you have Fulop, who is probably the wealthiest member of the City Council who can raise money from other wealthy people when it comes time for him to run for a future office like mayor," said Vega. "Also, it put out there the assumption that we are a bunch of crooks and I know, myself personally, I have voted against developers that have contributed to me in the past." Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com