By David Cruz
Jerry Walker came to Journal Square, what used to be the central business district here, to kick off his campaign, making the point that there are two Jersey Cities — one downtown, where office towers have replaced the factories and warehouses and condo buildings beckon newcomers, and the rest of the city, where unemployment and crime are the major issues.
“We definitely want to bring more development throughout the city, as opposed to just downtown and the waterfront because there’s more to us than just the waterfront,” said Walker. “There are people throughout the whole city that are just feeling neglected at this point, so we want to bring a voice to those people.”
Walker, who starred at basketball powerhouse St. Anthony High and then Seton Hall University, is considered a long shot in this game. He’s way behind in fundraising and organization, not to mention political experience. His opponents? Councilman Steve Fulop, who’s raised close to $2 million and this week opened a new campaign headquarters. The other is incumbent Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who won a first ballot victory four years ago, before a corruption scandal implicated several of his key allies. Still, he says neither of these guys worries him.
“As long as a person has a residency in this city and the 1,300 plus signatures from registered voters and submits them, they’re entitled to run and that includes Mr. Fulop, Mr. Walker and anyone else who wants to join the race,” said a confident Mayor Healy. “What I’m going to focus is on is what we’ve been doing here in Jersey City for over eight years now.”
As the only black candidate in a city where ethnic and racial identities have driven voting decisions for decades, Walker doesn’t want the limits that being the “black” candidate can impose on a campaign, although the work of his non-profit “Team Walker” has been in the city’s minority communities.
“I don’t just think as one race,” he said. “I think it’s about everybody. I think it’s about us coming together, making our city a better city and working together.”
Fulop says he doesn’t see Walker that way, either. But the location of Fulop’s campaign headquarters — near the heart of the city’s black community — is seen at least partly as an effort to expand his base, which has mostly been in the city’s more affluent downtown.
“We’ve won citywide elections. We’ve won elections on the south side of the city,” said Fulop. “We’ve won elections in areas where people don’t think we can win, but, you know, people still continue to say the same things about obstacles that we have as far as expanding our base.”
Fulop has been preparing for this run for several years now and support for Healy has been eroding steadily, but it’s a long time to the May election and, in this city, politics makes for stranger bedfellows than most and many observers think that the field could still get even more crowded. The city’s last mayoral election drew six candidates.
Coming out of high school and college, Walker was considered too short to have much of a shot at a pro career. Yet he went on to play several years professionally overseas and founded a successful non-profit here at home. He says that’s the kind of blue collar effort he’ll bring to his job as mayor.