Bill Matsikoudis, corporation counsel for Jersey City under former Mayor Jerramiah Healy, is actively raising money to run for mayor, according to Jake Hudnut, treasurer/campaign counsel for the Matsikoudis mayoral campaign committee.
“Right now Bill is the only mayoral candidate filed besides Mayor Fulop.” – Jake Hudnut
“Right now, Bill is the only mayoral candidate filed besides Mayor [Steven] Fulop, and we’re actively raising money to prepare for a more formal kickoff later this year,” Hudnut said. The campaign has already done the candidate’s paperwork with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
Currently the founding partner of Matsikoudis and Fanciullo, a law firm specializing in Environmental Litigation and Urban Redevelopment, he served as corporation counsel for the city between November 2004 and June 2013. Matsikoudis has won praise even from some of his political enemies for his abilities as a legal counsel.
Whether this translates into voter approval next year only time will tell.
As corporation counsel, Matsikoudis led the city’s legal challenge to force companies to clean up contaminated sites.
“This has led to the redevelopment of those properties as parks – such as Berry Lane Park – and other development,” he said.
Matsikoudis worked in various capacities in state government during the administration of Gov. James E. McGreevey, including as a senior deputy attorney general and assistant counsel in the governor’s office.
Donald Scarinci, managing partner at Scarinci Hollenbeck and a well-known supporter of Fulop’s gubernatorial plans, once called Matsikoudis “one of the most knowledgeable municipal attorneys and one of the most well-rounded attorneys in the state of New Jersey.”
“As a person, Bill Matsikoudis exhibits strong character and integrity to all who interact with him,” Scarinci said
Waiting out ballot question
Matsikoudis is awaiting the results of a referendum this fall on moving the 2017 election from May to November before making a formal announcement and unveiling a slate of potential council running mates.
Matsikoudis is among those who oppose the change, saying that a November municipal election would deny voters the focus on local issues.
“If the election is held in November, we will have more time (to develop a slate),” he said. “But even if it is held in May, I already have some ideas about what people would be good in what positions.”
Although not alone, Matsikoudis has emerged as a leading critic of Mayor Fulop, and currently leads a legal challenge to the language the Fulop Administration has recommended for the referendum. The suit claims the question is phrased to lead voters to approve the resolution.
A court ruled in favor of Matsikoudis last year over a similar issue involving a non-binding referendum on the election that voters narrowly approved in November 2015.
But Matsikoudis said his campaign will raise a number of issues concerning Fulop’s use of tax abatements and pay to play – a practice that awards contracts to firms doing business with the city in exchange for campaign contributions.
Although many of his supporters originated in the Healy camp, Matsikoudis said he will draw voters from throughout the city, including former Fulop supporters he claims have become disillusioned with the first term mayor, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in next year’s June primary.
Why is Matsikoudis running?
Matsikoudis spoke with The Jersey City Reporter last week about why he wants to become mayor.
“It’s a combination of dissatisfaction with the way things are run now,” Matsikoudis said. “I see an opportunity to truly make a difference in the community and make Jersey City a world class city.”
He said since he started speaking out publically in opposition to certain actions taken by the Fulop Administration, people have expressed support for him to run for mayor.
His campaign, Matsikoudis said, would partly focus on the disparities between Fulop’s proposals as a candidate and what actually transpired when Fulop became mayor.
“Although he ran as a reformer, Steve has become a transactional political figure,” said Matsikoudis. “Every job and contract seems to go as a reward to someone who supported him as mayor or someone who can help make him governor.”
Matsikoudis said Fulop has made “horrible political appointments,” that have resulted in six high officials stepping down, including the police chief.
“This has affected morale on the police department,” Matsikoudis said, “and we’ve seen homicides go up every year under Mayor Fulop. The city budget is bloated with a payroll for political patronage, and he snuck in a tax increase as soon as he took office that has allowed him not to raise taxes over the last two years.”
What will he do if elected mayor?
Matsikoudis said as mayor he would run the city with restraint, seek property tax relief for home owners, and would seek to implement “true community policing,” not just foot patrols.
“We need to improve relations between the police and the community they serve,” he said.
Matsikoudis said he is also concerned about the impact of the pending property tax revaluation and would as mayor seek a way to avoid having the reval “reek havoc” overnight on long-time home owners with huge tax bills.
He said more needs to be done to make sure parks are kept clean and well-maintained and to fulfill the promise of future parks, such as the Sixth Street Embankment, Reservoir No. 3, and the Skyway Riverfront Park.
“We need to find a way to connect the riverfront walkway to Liberty State Park,” he said.
Abatement reform is also necessary, in particular in regard to the schools. He said because some abatements bring to the city more than the city would get in normal taxes, there is a temptation by the city to give unnecessary abatements. State law, he said, already requires the abatements to pay a small portion to the county.
“I think we need to get the state legislature to change the abatement laws in order to make sure schools get a portion as well,” Matsikoudis said.
This would discourage unneeded abatements and would give the schools revenue from new projects as well.
“I think the writing is on the wall that state aid to public schools is going to be cut,” he said. “There is zero rationale for not sharing with the schools.”
Not just support from former Healy voters
Matsikoudis believes he can gather support from throughout the city
“My family had a business here, my parents raised us here, my grandfather worked for the city, my brother is a cop in Jersey City,” he said. “I have lived all over this city from Greenville to the West Side, from Downtown to McGinley Square. I have ties to a number of people and I have reached out to every leader in the community.”
He said he believes he can appeal to even those voters who did not support Healy in the last election, even in the Downtown area, considered a strong Fulop base.
“I have friendships with many Fulop supporters,” he said, noting that many of these have been disappointed by the difference between Fulop as candidate and Fulop as mayor.
“I think the biggest thing is the shock some people feel by a guy who held pay to play as his signature achievement, but now seems to be giving jobs and contracts to people who will support his political career,” Matsikoudis said.
Matsikoudis is the first of a number of potential candidates who may run for mayor next year, including Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, state Senator Sandy Cunningham, Freeholder Bill O’Dea, Council President Rolando Lavarro, Councilman Richard Boggiano, Councilman Michael Yun, former Assemblyman Sean Conner, and Police Captain James Carroll.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org