Throughout the mayoral race, candidate Steven Fulop frequently said he wanted to “move Jersey City forward so it can be the best mid-sized city in America.” To win votes, the Fulop campaign issued several policy papers that sketched out his vision of what the “best mid-sized city in America” might look like.
Now, as the city’s mayor-elect, Fulop knows the devil will be in the details. So, to help his transition team begin the task of overhauling the government, Fulop is calling on residents to share with him their visions of what they think would make Jersey City a better place in which to live, raise a family, operate a business, or own a home.
On Wednesday, June 5, Fulop held the first in a series of town hall-style meetings with residents and asked them to share their ideas on ways Jersey City should be improved.
“This is going to be less about me speaking and an opportunity for you to give your vision of the long-term health and prosperity [of the city], in a perfect Jersey City,” Fulop told the assembled residents, the vast majority of whom were not regular attendees at City Council and other municipal meetings. “This is really about what you envision Jersey City to be.”
The meeting, which took place in City Hall, drew about 200 people, who addressed Fulop on everything from the city budget to speed bumps.
‘We want to be connected’
Residents who signed up were given three minutes to address Fulop and the rest of the community directly. Several members of Fulop’s transition team attended the meeting.
The need for better communication between the city and residents, more courtesy and responsiveness from city agencies, and the need to modernize the delivery of city services were recurring themes.
A number of residents also talked about the need to make the city budget more transparent and easier to understand, and the need to create and support positive, creative outlets for youth, especially those who may be at risk of being recruited into gangs.
“To my mind, I think that what we need is a much more citizen-friendly or customer-oriented city,” said resident Scott Mittman. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the city for one thing or another and I feel like they’re doing me a favor to give me the time of day. So, to that end, one of the things that would make the city appear more friendly is to have a much more comprehensive web site…It should be a repository of information, anything you want to find, from where to get your parking permits — Heck, you should be able to get your parking permits online.”
To applause, Mittman went on to express frustration at having to renew parking permits annually in person.
Full descriptions of city agencies, departments, and commissions should be posted to the city web site, Mittman added, in addition to what is expected of residents if they need to apply for permits or other city documents.
‘What I hear a lot here repeatedly is, we want to be connected.’ – Stephen Gucciardo
“I’d like to go to the Buildings Department,” said Colby Swanson, “and actually get help. Their first job is to be a community resource.”
A number of residents addressed the types of activities they’d like to see the city sponsor or co-sponsor with volunteers and community groups to deter young people from gangs and crime.
Linda June, a 25-year resident and psychology professor who has worked with juvenile offenders, said the city needs more programs for this population of kids and others who are at risk of joining gangs.
“I’m interested in a comprehensive gang prevention program,” said June. “We need more specialized programs that can be held after school and on the weekends. When I say specialized, I mean, when you’re dealing with kids who are angry, you have to be very careful with how you interact with them. Their self-esteem is very fragile. You want to interact with them in a way that’s going to encourage them to come back.”
Starting with kids as young as nine or 10, June said the city should improve communication between the schools, police department, court system, and community groups to steer kids away from gangs. This work, she added should include sports and arts programs, and should involve community members who are themselves former gang members or ex-offenders.
At least four other speakers at the town hall meeting also touched on this theme.
Jersey City lacking?
A few residents compared Jersey City, unfavorably, to other municipalities.
“My cousin lives in Secaucus and they have senior services there that are astounding,” said one resident who only gave her name as Rosalie. “I don’t know if our senior services even has a web site…[In Secaucus], they actually put out a newsletter. All of this may be going on [in Jersey City]. But…I can’t find this out. Why don’t they have a web site or a newsletter? They put the newsletter all over the town in Secaucus and there’s a calendar that says what’s going on.”
Later, another resident, Angel Jain, suggested that there be a master calendar posted on the city web site, regularly updated, that lists all municipal events.
“When I go to other neighboring cities, particularly Union City, the streets are nicer, particularly nicer to drive on, nicer to walk in because they have speed bumps on residential streets,” said another resident. “It would protect our children and it would make drivers drive slower and it would be safer for all citizens if we could have a good amount of speed bumps such as you find in everywhere but the streets of Jersey City.”
While many residents spoke of the need to improve the city web site, at least two, including Greenville resident Lisa Joseph, warned against an over-reliance on technology and social media.
Referring to Hurricane Sandy, which left most residents without electricity for many days, Joseph said, “Technology is great, but you can’t rely on technology if you don’t have power.”
“What I hear a lot here repeatedly is, we want to be connected,” said Stephen Gucciardo. “We want to be connected to the city and we want to be connected to each other.”
He suggested that the Fulop administration consider holding town hall meetings on a regular basis.
Thieroff: ‘This stuff is doable’
After the City Hall meeting, a somewhat drained Fulop assessed the residents’ comments, stating, “I thought it was good. I think it was positive. As I’ve said before, I think the best ideas will come from the residents.”
John Thieroff, who served as Fulop’s campaign manager and who is chairing a review of the city’s autonomous agencies for Fulop’s transition team, was more effusive.
“I think this was fantastic. I think there was a lot of energy,” Thieroff said. “There were a lot of people here tonight with a lot to say, whether it was frustration [or] whether it was ideas to take what’s already being done and moving them forward. I think one of the greatest things about the city is so many people have lived in other places. So, they come with that experience and they’ll say, ‘Why doesn’t this work,’ or, ‘Why is this this way?’ It’s not about creating the best ideas. There are great examples in other cities that we can take a look at. A lot of this stuff is doable.”
Three additional meetings planned
Residents who did not attend the session at City Hall will have three other opportunities to address Mayor-elect Fulop and his transition team before the end of the month.
The next town hall-style meeting will take place this Thursday (June 13) at the Bethune Life Center, 140 Martin Luther King Dr., at 7 p.m. Another meeting will be held on Thursday, June 20 at the Christa McAuliffe School (PS 28), 167 Hancock Ave., at 7 p.m. On Monday, June 24, there will be a meeting at the Hank Gallo Community Center in Lincoln Park at 7 p.m.
Residents who cannot attend any of these sessions are invited to submit their ideas online at http://stevenfulop.com/submit-your-suggestion.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.