Is Jersey City Councilwoman Viola Richardson gearing up for a run for mayor next year?
Political observers have asked that question ever since Richardson won her at-large City Council seat in a special election in November, defeating two Hudson County Democratic Organization-backed incumbents for one of two citywide seats on the council.
The question is likely to get raised again now that Ward C City Councilwoman and Richardson ally Nidia Lopez has proposed making Richardson the City Council president.
“This is my thinking,” Lopez told the Reporter. “When you come to [City Council] meetings, you hear people asking for change in this city. So, even though it’s a small step, and it would only be for a short time, doing this would show people that change is possible in Jersey City…I also think women have a unique perspective to offer, and it would be nice to have a woman in that leadership position for a change.”
She has asked for the matter to be put on the agenda for the council’s Jan. 11 meeting.
The move would mean installing Richardson as council president and essentially demoting current Council President Peter Brennan, an ally of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy. Although Richardson has been allied with the mayor in the past, the two fell out after the 2010 retirement of At-large City Councilwoman Willie Flood.
After Flood retired from her post due to poor health, Richardson, the longtime Ward F representative, expressed interest in being appointed to the at-large seat – a seat to which she’d then have to be voted in a special election. However, Healy and his allies, including Brennan and Ward D City Councilman William Gaughan, backed attorney Kalimah Ahmad for the appointment, telling Richardson she was better suited to serve Ward F. According to Richardson, the mayor and his allies also questioned whether she had enough name recognition to be elected to an at-large seat.
Insulted, Richardson ran for the at-large seat without Healy’s support or that of the HCDO, and won, defeating Ahmad and Radames “Ray” Velazquez, another Healy appointee.
Emboldened by the victory, Richardson now appears poised to make another power play, one that may not stop at council president.
There has been speculation that state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, another Richardson ally, might run for mayor. But it’s just as likely that Cunningham will stay in Trenton, leaving Richardson to make a run for City Hall.
Interestingly, Ward E City Councilman and announced 2013 mayoral candidate Steven Fulop backs Richardson as Council President.
“Clearly the Healy-Brennan leadership combination has resulted in huge tax increases year after year,” Fulop said in a statement. “I don’t know where the mayor is living when he says taxes are stable, but this change for council presidency will both help get a new direction on taxes while also having needed diversity in leadership.”
If the council president post comes up for a vote, Lopez, Fulop, Rolando Lavarro Jr., and newly-appointed Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey would likely support Richardson for the position. Councilmen Gaughan and Michael Sottolano would likely oppose a change in the leadership. It’s unclear how Council David Donnelly would vote.
Richardson and Brennan could abstain from voting.
$165M temporary budget approved
The council passed on Tuesday a temporary budget of $165.1 million to sustain municipal operations until the city’s 2012 budget is officially adopted. This is only a portion of the year’s spending. By state law, the temporary budget cannot be 26.25 percent more than the previous year’s budget, which in 2011 was $490 million.
This temporary budget includes $97.4 million for operating expenses and $67.6 million for debt service.
The council approved the temporary budget by a vote of 7 to 0, with council members Lavarro and Gaughan missing the daytime meeting.
Perkins approved as Massey aide
The council also approved Iris Perkins to be an aide to Massey, who was sworn in as Ward F councilwoman on Dec. 22. Perkins will receive $15,000 a year in compensation, plus health benefits.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.