For the past several months, voters who were unsatisfied with the top two mayoral candidates, and the slates they were building, hoped and prayed a third “dream ticket” would materialize on the political scene.
The people doing this hoping and praying, largely at public meetings, appear to believe it’s time for a leadership change in Jersey City – and thus are not excited about a third term for Jerramiah T. Healy – but also don’t trust his chief opponent, City Councilman Steven Fulop, with the keys to City Hall.
A mythical “dream ticket” – which according to the dream would have been headed by State Sen. Sandra Cunningham and drawn candidates from both the Fulop and Healy slates – never came together.
It remains to be seen whether the voters who longed for a viable third option will embrace the slate of candidate Jerry Walker, who entered the race last week. It’s also unclear what impact, if any, various other “independent” candidates will have on Healy and Fulop, who remain the top contenders in the mayoral and City Council races in May.
But it is possible the independents could siphon enough voters from the frontrunners to have an impact. They could, for example, chip away at the top vote-getters, forcing them into a runoff election.
It is possible the independents could siphon enough voters from the frontrunners to have an impact.
‘Protest vote to the status quo’
In addition to Walker, who at press time had not announced his full slate, there are several other candidates who have announced plans to run or who are expected to file campaign petitions for mayor or council by the March 11 deadline. In addition to Walker, Michael Yun, Esther Wintner, Sterling Waterman, Imtiaz Syed, and Richard Boggiano have either announced plans to run or are expected to run for public office this spring.
Some candidates seem poised to frame themselves as an independent alternative to the current administration, a position that potentially hurts Healy more than Fulop.
When asked why he is running, expected Ward C candidate Syed said, “I believe that Jersey City voters want a change and an independent can win. You may call it a protest vote to the status quo.”
Syed is currently not part of a slate, he said, but would not be opposed to joining a slate of other “independents.”
Yun, a Jersey City Heights businessman who announced his candidacy for Ward D last May, believes, “the Healy administration has done little for the economic advancement of Ward D.”
He said that because the administration’s presence has been so small in recent years, his leadership of the Central Avenue Special District will garner him many votes in the ward.
Like most of the candidates running this year, Yun agrees that crime is the city’s biggest problem right now.
Walker also said he believes crime is the city’s top issue and is among the major issues he said his campaign will address, in addition to education, affordable housing, and economic development and job creation.
He added, “The normal person in Jersey City doesn’t really have a voice in City Hall, and that’s what I want to do, be that voice for those people. This is a big town and there are a lot of people who just aren’t being heard or represented.”
He expects African American and Latinos to be among his biggest supporters, two voting blocs that have traditionally been favorable to Healy. Walker, co-founder of the Jersey City-based nonprofit Team Walker, said he also expects to make inroads with the inner city youth vote thanks to the well-known after school program he has run since 1996. Team Walker has for years emphasized the importance of voter registration and voter participation among inner city teens and young adults.
Walker admits he was among those waiting to see whether Cunningham would jump into the mayoral race. He held off because he didn’t want to run if she did.
Former Fulop ally joins forces with Walker
At his official campaign launch on Jan. 15, Walker did not announce the rest of his slate and said he would announce his running mates in the coming weeks. One of his at-large candidates, current Board of Education Vice President Sterling Waterman, did announce that he will run with Walker, however.
A former Fulop ally who was part of a Fulop-backed slate for the Board of Education race in April 2010, Waterman has since fallen out with the downtown councilman and his camp. Over the past year Waterman has been critical of the way in which the school board has reached some of its decisions, including the hiring process that led to the selection of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles.
Waterman’s public criticism of the school board – most of whose members are allied with Fulop – has enabled Waterman to position himself as a whistle-blower and has drawn support from voters who are skeptical of Fulop’s involvement in school board governance. Waterman’s outlaw/outsider status on the school board has made him a hero to many voters who are critical of the current school board regime.
As an at-large candidate, Waterman could attract many votes. Ironically, Waterman’s base of support is more likely to hurt Healy than Fulop.
‘Doesn’t alter our platform’
Thus far, it appears the Fulop and Healy campaigns are more focused on each other than the independent candidates, and neither camp believes the independents will cut into their base of support.
“Regardless of who is in this race, it doesn’t alter our platform or change our strategy,” said Tedeschi, Fulop’s spokesman. “By the end of this campaign, voters will know that Steven is the only candidate in this race who has concrete plans to fight crime, reduce taxes, improve schools, and bolster the quality of life for all residents in Jersey City.”
Healy’s spokesman also believes the independents will not hurt the mayor’s chances for reelection.
“On Election Day, voters will have a clear choice and know the progress Jersey City made and continues to make under Mayor Healy,” said Joshua Henne. “Last year, Jersey City had the lowest homicide rate on record and the Healy administration continues to get guns off our streets – as evidenced by this month’s gun buyback which took in another 164 weapons in one day alone. Also, after a century going by without a new municipal park, there are currently five new parks in various stages of planning and construction. And, last year, Moody’s upgraded Jersey City’s bond outlook to positive.”
To win, candidates must receive at least 50 percent of the voter turnout, plus one. If no single candidate reaches this threshold, then the top two vote-getters must face each other in a runoff.
At the opening of his campaign headquarters on Jan. 12, Fulop said he is aiming for “unprecedented, historic record turnout,” that will deliver his candidates a decisive victory and negate the need for a runoff.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.