By David Cruz
When he was sworn in on this date last year, Steve Fulop attracted political heavyweights including, at that time, one of the nation’s biggest. But it was only a couple of weeks later — after he decided not to endorse the governor’s reelection bid — that Fulop says Christie administration officials cancelled scheduled meetings in political retaliation.
Cruz: Has your relationship with the state improved?
Fulop: Drastically. My relationship with the state administration is the same within the governor’s office. We don’t really have a relationship. But the commissioners have been very responsive this year.
Cruz: More so than that period when they weren’t returning your calls and canceling meetings?
Fulop: It only could’ve improved! If you look at where we are today, they have been very responsive. I think they recognize that Jersey City’s fate is tied very much to the state’s fate and the state’s fate is tied very much to Jersey City’s fate. I mean we are an economic engine for the state, and they need us to do well.
And by almost any measure, the city has done well, says Fulop.
There are 5,600 new residential units under construction, with 17,000 already approved, and 8,500 new workers in the city. Most come from corporate relocations, but every one a customer for local small business, creating a vibrant downtown that would be the envy of most mayors.
Fulop: We are literally from a construction standpoint to a job creation standpoint outpacing everyone in the region. It’s a really great story.
But the man who has become the mayor’s most vocal critic on the council says Fulop is only telling half the story. Former detective and now Councilman Richard Boggiano says Fulop has shown himself to be a developer-friendly mayor who has yet to prove that he can spread economic growth into the inner city.
“A perfect example is, there’s a hotel being built downtown and it’s [getting] a 20-year abatement. Why do we have to give a hotel a 20-year abatement along the waterfront? That hotel is going to make a fortune,” he said. “You know, we taxpayers need a break. We have to stop worrying about developers; we have to stop worrying about abatements; we have to start taking care of the people.”
Cruz: Some people have suggested that you went against what you said your stated policy was when you said you were going to de-emphasize the waterfront and re-emphasize the inner city. There’s this whole question about the abatement that’s coming for this hotel downtown.
Fulop: The hotel projects are great projects because they create jobs, they don’t use our schools, they don’t use our recreation, they don’t use our facilities, they pay a hotel tax and they relieve the tax burden on our residents, so this is a good thing. If we could get more hotels it’s a good thing for everyone who lives in Jersey City.
Fulop points to Journal Square, where developers have broken ground on highrise developments that will bring thousands of new residents to the city’s center. And last week, the city announced a new deal to finally restore and reopen the Loew’s Jersey, turning the landmark theater into a viable rival to other major arts centers in the region.
Fulop: We’re going to be investing $20 million into a destination theater, 3,000 seats, larger than NJPAC, right on top of the PATH station and what you’re gonna see is by having arts and culture and development there is that soon enough you’re going to start having restaurants and coffee shops and the goal is to bring Journal Square back to being the heart of the city like it was when many of the old-timers were children.
Jersey Journal columnist Earl Morgan has spent his career writing for the paper after which Journal Square is named. His beat has been the city’s poor and minority communities, the south side, where a major development hasn’t been seen in generations. The number one obstacle here is crime.
“What he promised and has not yet delivered is a promise that he would have so-called community policing, which most people interpreted as cops on the beat and that hasn’t happened. He has increased the number. You see more cops around every once in a while but that’s in reaction to an increase crime activity. That’s not a strategy,” said Morgan. “And the other thing is, we have an awfully high unemployment rate here. Again that’s not unusual for this area where the unemployment figures are off the chart — 13, 14 percent.”
Cruz: The south side of the city, that’s one of the things that you really need to get going on is that side of town.
Fulop: Yeah, so I think it starts with safety. Once communities are safe, not only statistically safe, but that they feel safe, then investment and dollars follow. We need them to feel safe, believe they’re safe — outside of statistics — and then from there we’re gonna be effective in attracting dollars.
Cruz: One of the criticism is that — since you got here — you’ve been running for governor.
Fulop: It’s funny. All you do is say criticisms.
Cruz: I said something nice about the Square!
Fulop: If I told you today that I never think about it, you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you at the same time that I think about it, I’m doing a disservice to my job, so it’s really a no-win for me ultimately.
A year ago a couple of thousand people were gathered outside City Hall, waiting to greet their new mayor. Today, Mayor Fulop was in Newark, a featured guest at the inaugural of Mayor Ras Baraka, a man he helped elect. It’s a further indication that this mayor sees a role for himself beyond city hall.