If there is one thing the two main mayoral campaigns agree on it is this: there will be runoffs after Election Day, Tuesday, May 14, most likely in some of the city’s six wards. Hard campaigning among several unaffiliated independent candidates is apparently eating into the voting bases of candidates on the slates headed by Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and City Councilman Steven Fulop. If current predictions hold true, there could be runoffs in at least wards B, C, and D, and a runoff in Ward A has not been ruled out.
The six ward seats are particularly competitive this year, in part, because three incumbents – Michael Sottolano (Ward A), David Donnelly (Ward B), and William Gaughan (Ward D) – are not seeking reelection, and Fulop is giving up his Ward E seat to run for mayor. This leaves Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez as the only ward representative seeking to be reelected in her current seat.
“Our hope lies in high voter turnout,” Fulop said last week. “If we can get turnout of somewhere between 38,000 and 40,000, then we’re in really good shape. They’re hoping for the opposite. Low turnout favors them. They’d probably like to see turnout of somewhere around 28,000 to 32,000 across the city.”
The last citywide municipal election was in 2009, when a total of 32,552 ballots were cast, according to the Office of the City Clerk. At the time, there were 120,132 registered voters in the city, meaning that only 27.09 percent of registered voters participated in that election.
In January, Fulop told supporters that his campaign was aiming for “record, unprecedented turnout” across the city this year.
An aide working with the Healy campaign said the mayor is also aiming for high turnout, but hopes to see record voting numbers in wards A, C, D, and F – and low turnout in Fulop’s home base of Ward E.
“Obviously we know Fulop is going to do well in Ward E,” said this aide. “Our hope is that [Healy Ward E candidate] Dan Levin keeps Fulop’s numbers below a certain threshold. If we can keep him below 6,000, then he won’t be able to make up the deficit elsewhere in the city. We win. But if he gets record turnout in E, we’ll have a much harder time making that up in the other wards.”
Only 27.09 percent of registered voters participated in the May 2009 Jersey City municipal election.
Conventional wisdom holds that the candidate at the top of a slate has the greatest name recognition and has the power to pull other candidates on their ticket to victory in a coattail effect. In what may be one of the most fascinating campaigns to take place in Jersey City in a decade, it appears the both Healy and Fulop camps are relying on the ward candidates to pull votes to them as much as they are relying on the conventional formula.
Osborne acknowledged last week that for Fulop to get record numbers in his bid for mayor she has to run an exceptional get-out-the-vote drive.
“Getting out the vote is our main focus now. We know we need those numbers,” said Osborne. “We were able to register a lot of people. Now, we’ve got to get them to the polls. And you might be surprised to know that there are still a fair number of people, even in Ward E, who aren’t really focused on the election, or aren’t sure when it is. So, that’s something we’re really working on.”
But Ward E residents have a history in recent years of supporting candidates who did not run together, a fact that favors Levin.
“In the last two municipal elections, Ward E voters supported Steve for Ward E, but largely supported Healy for mayor,” said one Levin supporter, who asked not to be identified. “There’s no reason why people couldn’t do something similar this year. Support Steve for mayor and vote for Dan in Ward E. Voters here are sophisticated enough to do that.”
“Remember, I personally know a good portion of Steve’s downtown base and people have had seven months to get over the initial surprise of my running with Mayor Healy,” Levin said. “I think people are realizing that my background is with neighborhood associations and community groups, where I have to work with everyone, including the mayor, council, and administration on behalf of residents to get things done, and that I will be successful working with whomever is elected mayor and the other council positions to find consensus.”
He estimated that maybe one or two voters out of 10 give him a hard time for running with Healy. But the “overwhelmingly” majority of people respond favorably to him as he canvasses the ward, he said.
In addition to Osborne and Levin, a third candidate, Fletcher Gensamer, is also running for the Ward E City Council seat.
Headed to a second ballot?
Elsewhere in the city, un-slated independent ward candidates have been impressive enough in their campaigning that they may either get into a runoff with one of the ticketed candidates, or they may force a runoff between other candidates.
As early as March, the Fulop and Healy campaigns acknowledged that retired city Police Officer Richard Boggiano might put pressure on Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, who is running for her second term.
Lopez is running with Fulop. Boggiano, who is president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Association, is running on his own and is not affiliated with a mayoral candidate. Healy’s candidate in Ward C is Janet Chevres. The Ward C field also includes Adela Rohena, who is running with mayoral candidate Jerry Walker.
“We’ve done two mailers already and there’s a third one going out next week,” Boggiano said last week.
While Fulop has had a heavy presence in Ward C mailboxes, only recently have his mailers included Lopez. Boggiano, in contrast, has relied on low-cost fliers to help raise his visibility throughout the ward.
Volunteers for Boggiano and Lopez have been out walking the streets in full force over the last several weekends, stumping for votes.
“We’d like to win this on the first ballot,” said Boggiano, who ran unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat in 2011. “If it goes to a runoff, it goes to a runoff. But I think we can win on the first ballot.”
In Ward D, another independent candidate, Michael Yun, president of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, may force another Fulop candidate, Assemblyman Sean Connors, into a runoff. Both men are well-known throughout the Jersey City Heights and have their own strong cores of supporters.
Healy’s Ward D candidate, Mario Gonzales Jr., will likely get most of a potentially large Latino vote in the Heights. But Connors will likely win support from the ward’s huge Irish community and sizable bloc of Heights voters who used to live in Fulop’s Ward E.
As a small businessman who is generally well-regarded in the Heights business community, Yun’s support could cut across racial and ethnic lines and he could win the support of most “mom and pop” shopkeepers.
“Sean Connors is very strong in the Heights. But Michael Yun could trigger a runoff there,” Fulop acknowledged.
“If we win in a runoff, that is okay by me,” said Yun. “But I am confident that we can win.”
The Ward D race also includes Grace Giron, who is on Walker’s ticket.
In Ward B, independent candidate Esther Wintner – who is appealing to homeowners who are angry about high taxes and fearful of the property revaluation – may be eating into the voting base of Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, who is running with Fulop. Ramchal is also trying to appeal to Ward B voters who are fed up with the Healy administration.
This drain of votes could hurt Ramchal’s ability to reach the 50 percent plus one threshold needed for victory on the first ballot.
But Ramchal and Healy’s Ward B candidate, Gerry Meyers, each have something Wintner lacks: county co-workers. Both men are employed by Hudson County and come to the election with a base of support that could deliver victory to either them.
“It’s hard to tell what impact I'm having,” said Wintner, who spends 20 to 25 hours per week on the streets knocking on doors. “I must have spoken to hundreds of people. Four hundred people, maybe? The response is almost always positive…One woman I met is now a volunteer and another person defected from the opposition to join my team. I know that I'm making headway and only hope that I will be in the runoff.”
In Ward F, City Councilwoman Diane Coleman, who won her seat last November in a special election is running with Fulop for a full-term.
Her reelection bid has been under a microscope since the beginning of the year when she quipped that “everyone” in Ward F would be ineligible for a federal job training program because applicants could not have a criminal record. The comment led to some backlash against Coleman and several members of the community have said they will not vote for her because of the comment.
But last week Coleman said that most voters have forgiven her and have moved on.
“You know, most people understand what I was really trying to say and have actually thanked me for bringing this problem to light,” Coleman said. “Finding job opportunities for our people who have been incarcerated is hard and it’s led to high unemployment in Ward F. So, voters have thanked me for at least talking about this.”
However, Coleman’s rival on the Healy slate, Jermaine Robinson, said, “People were offended by that comment. I hear about it every day. We can talk about job for ex-offenders without hurting and insulting the community.”
Still, the Fulop camp believes Coleman is in a strong position to win reelection, despite the gaffe.
But the Healy campaign aide said that former Ward F City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, who is now an at-large representative who is running on Healy’s slate, said, “Viola is doing so well in her campaigning that we could see her coattails pull in Jermaine.”
“Ward A might be Healy’s best shot at winning a ward seat on the first ballot,” said Fulop, who is running former JCPD police chief Frank Gajewski as his Ward A candidate. Gajewski is running against former superintendent of schools, Dr. Charles Epps, who is running with Healy.
But, Fulop added, “If we make it to a runoff there, I think we’ll be fine.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.