POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

9/11 Terrorist Attacks Changed Course of Jersey City Mayor’s Life

On this 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Americans are reflecting on how their lives have changed since that day. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was on a much different life path before planes hit the Twin Towers 12 years ago. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that after the 9/11 attacks, the whole trajectory of his life changed.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Fulop worked at Goldman Sachs. “I was first generation American so that was kind of my dream job, making a lot of money. After 9/11, I left that job and enlisted in the Marine Corps, deployed to Iraq and then subsequently found myself in public service,” he said.

Fulop said he always believed military service was important. During the 1990s when there was peace, he said he always thought that if he was needed, he would serve. “After 9/11, I looked at my life and said I felt it was appropriate. It’s not the only way to give back obviously, but where I was situated I felt it was appropriate and I made that decision,” he said.

Fulop was deployed to Iraq after joining the Marines. That deployment was criticized politically after the fact, but Fulop said he doesn’t second guess his decision. “I think as an enlisted guy you just kind of say, look the commander in chief, whoever’s there — whether it’s President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush — you respect their decision and that was the decision for us to go. So I don’t look back, I don’t second guess,” he said. “I signed up to wear the uniform and they told me this is where I belong and that’s what I did.”

While Fulop said at the time he had two master’s degrees and could’ve qualified to be an officer, he decided to join on the enlisted side. The experience opened Fulop up to a whole new perspective and said it probably paved the way for his time in public service.

“My whole mentality changed as a result of my time in the Marine Corps. I would never have anticipated 9/11 that today I’d be the mayor of Jersey City or even involved in politics. I wasn’t registered to vote. It was one of the things that was used against me in the campaign. I registered very late, right before I ran for office actually. So there was no political motivation. It was just kind of something that sparked an interest,” Fulop said. “And today it’s an opportunity to really think about the service people and their families and the impact there.”

Fulop said seeing the new New York City skyline without the Twin Towers and with the new Freedom Tower is emotional. “I was two blocks away in lower Manhattan from where the planes hit. I was on the ferry right in front of where the first tower came down. Everybody has an experience from that day,” he said. “When I look across there, I’m proud of this country. That really is how I feel. I really feel we’re lucky to be here, we’re a resilient country. There’s a lot to be proud of and today’s a great day for reflection.”

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 dramatically changed security in this country. Fulop said his administration gets briefings frequently about safety. “Our public safety director was involved in the terrorism task force in New York City, actually ran it. So we’re engaged, we’re aware. That’s the world we live in today. And we live with it and try to make sure the city’s safe. We think about that stuff constantly, where potential targets are,” he said. “We have the Holland Tunnel, we have the five biggest buildings in the state. So we have a lot of high value targets as we would say, so we’re conscious of it.”

Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation requiring out-of-state police agencies to register in advance with New Jersey State Police before conducting any surveillance. That measure came out of the NYPD conducting surveillance in New Jersey without officials’ knowledge. Fulop said while he doesn’t know the specifics of the legislation, he agrees with the intent.

“You want to respect every community in our city. We have the most diverse city in the state probably and so we’re conscious of that community. We value it,” Fulop said. “So surveillance or assumption of guilt because of race, ethnicity or religion is not something that this country’s about.”