Latino Voters Seen As Key to Mayor’s Race in Jersey City

By David Cruz
NJ Today

A race for the hearts and minds of the new and the old Jersey City is coming down to the wire. The incumbent — Jerramiah Healy — is seeking a third term and his endorsement by President Obama last month seemed to recharge his then slumping campaign. He points to the city’s booming waterfront development as a record that deserves reelection.

“The biggest thing for our city is the continued investment and development of our city, and it’s not just Ward E. It’s all over the city now and people still want to come here, do business here, invest here and build here,” boasts Healy.

But his challenger — Steve Fulop — sees things differently. A reform-minded two-term councilman, he’s been running for mayor for more than a year now. He says — despite the Obama endorsement — Healy’s lost the credibility to ask for Jersey City votes.

“I think that that endorsement allowed people to take a second look at a mayor with a failed record, and they said, ‘You know the president is saying it’s OK, so let me take a look,’ and they took a look and are saying, ‘You know what? The president doesn’t live here,’” says Fulop, who admits the endorsement helped the incumbent. “[Voters say] I may support the president but he doesn’t live in Jersey City and see what I see, whether it’s in the Heights or Greeneville or whatever, so that’s what I learned in this election to say the least.”

There are officially four candidates running for mayor here, but medical doctor Abdul Malik and former NBA player Jerry Walker are not expected to be a major factor. This is mostly a two-man race and like a lot of races here, ethnic politics will be a determining factor.

On Election Day Tuesday all eyes will be on one particular ethnic group — Latinos — whose political power has been growing to the point where both sides acknowledge that they will likely be the deciding factor in this race.

“The current Latino leadership in Jersey City has been stagnant from the standpoint that it’s been the same people for a very long time and the perception in the rank and file people is that they’ve been more self-absorbed,” says Fulop, who has been endorsed by one faction of Latinos in the city.

Healy says he’s appointed more Latinos to positions throughout the city than any other mayor. “A great barometer of the Hispanic importance to our city can be seen by the numbers of police and firefighters,” he says. “As you know, I’ve been swearing them in for almost nine years. And the last three or four years, the biggest ethnic group — and it’s not even close — of firefighters and police, has been Latinos.”

Jose Arango, a Republican in this mostly Democratic city where elections are officially non-partisan, says he doesn’t have a dog in this fight but adds that the candidate who takes Latinos for granted does so at his peril.

“Everybody has some group of Hispanics,” he notes. “Now, who’s going to have the biggest, that’s up to the people. I can’t say because the campaigns haven’t been really clear about what they’re going to do for anybody, so that’s what I see. It’s been a very poor campaign, no matter who’s running.”

Another key demographic in this race is newcomers to Jersey City. They are expected to be mostly supporting Fulop, but have yet to show that they will come out to the polls en masse, which in a close race like this one, makes Tuesday’s Get Out the Vote effort that much more critical.