JERSEY CITY – More questions were raised Wednesday night regarding a political ad released by the campaign of mayoral candidate Steven Fulop two weeks ago. Additional questions were also raised about a policy paper Fulop’s campaign released recently on strategies to connect former prisoners with jobs upon their release from jail.
The political ad, titled “How Many,” has already been controversial and has drawn criticism for its use of black elementary school-aged children, who some people feel were exploited for political purposes.
The ad begins with Fulop, seated next to an African American man in a Jersey City police officer uniform, asking the kids, “How many people have ever heard, in their neighborhood, gunshots?”
A majority of the children raise their hands.
When asked by the Reporter two weeks ago where the children came from, Fulop said they were Jersey City residents who came from “all over.” Some of the children were recruited from churches, community groups, summer camps he has been affiliated with, and some, he said he had met through Friends of he Lifers, a community group in Jersey City that works with at-risk youth and recently released ex-offenders.
The parents of the children who were filmed in the commercial, he said, gave consent for their kids to be part of the commercial and were present, off-screen, when the political ad was taped.
But Annette Joyner, executive director of Friends of the Lifers, said at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, “That shouldn’t be asked of these youth. They have enough to deal with. They have enough with them going to school, fighting bullies. Some of kids can’t even go home to a home-cooked meal.”
Joyner also took issue with a policy paper on prisoner reentry that Fulop released recently. The paper is part of a series of policy papers the Fulop campaign is releasing ahead of the upcoming May 14 municipal elections. Thus far, he has released papers on crime, education, job creation, prisoner reentry, and streamlining city government.
When asked recently by the Reporter who had been consulted when drafting the prisoner reentry paper, Fulop said Friends of the Lifers was among the groups he reached out to, in addition to people within the law enforcement and court system.
Joyner, however disputed this account.
“His office called me last summer to come here [City Hall] and speak to him about reentry. His office said the city might want to help us with some of our work,” Joyner told the Reporter.
At this meeting, Fulop acknowledges, Joyner met with a group of his high school interns, not with the councilman himself. The interns, he said, were there to gather information on prisoner reentry, not to discuss funding for the organization.
Fulop and Joyner had no further contact in the months that followed.
“Then I see his reentry plan as part of his [anti-crime] initiative,” said Joyner. “What’s baffling to me is, if he wants to do this reentry piece, and he knows that Friends of the Lifers is doing this work, ‘cause he put it in his [policy paper], why wouldn’t he come to the programs that are already doing this and bring everybody together to discuss reentry?”
Fulop dismissed Joyner’s criticisms Wednesday night, saying that she is motivated by “politics.”
“In my seven years on the City Council, this is the first time that she has shown up at the City Council meeting, and where her support is on the mayoral campaign is very clear,” Fulop stated. “Sixty days before an election, she shows up here with people with [protest] signs. This seems very, very politically motivated.” – E. Assata Wright