By David Cruz
He was never a candidate for governor officially, but today Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop sent shockwaves through the state’s political nervous system when he announced that, in fact, he is not a candidate for governor and will instead endorse ambassador Phil Murphy.
“Today I just wanted to make unequivocally clear that I’ll be running for re-election in Jersey City and unequivocally clear that I will be supporting for New Jersey governor, a good friend here, Phil Murphy,” Fulop said.
Almost immediately the rumor mill went into overdrive. Was he facing legal troubles? Is there a revelation coming in the Bridgegate trial? And more, and worse. The mayor said it’s all just rumors and that his main reason is bringing unity to the state’s Democratic Party as it approaches a crucial election year.
“When I look at the landscape today and understanding how the party is fractured and my core beliefs on that, I don’t see any winners ultimately in a very bloody primary and the hope today is to ultimately unite people in a common cause,” Fulop said.
Just this month, Murphy had filed a complaint against Fulop for what he said was a violation of election law because Fulop used mayoral campaign funds to run for governor. Today, that was all a distant memory.
“That complaint is moot, particularly based on the discussion we’re having here today. I also want to reiterate, a day in politics is a lifetime, so never mind 18 days. But also the comment the mayor just said and he referred to in his remarks and I did in mine. The notion is about the prospect to unite our party,” Murphy said.
Fulop represents the highest profile endorsement yet for Murphy, the first declared candidate and the one with all the momentum at the moment. Jersey City is the state’s second largest municipality and its most vibrant economy. Another big city mayor, Ras Baraka of Newark, is also on Murphy’s target list.
“I spoke to Ras this morning; he and I had breakfast. I think Phil’s been doing a pretty good job in Newark, he’s been organizing and building. I think it’s pretty clear that there are different people aligned with different people today. The hope is that everybody comes behind one candidate. I think that’s going to be the process over the next couple of weeks,” Fulop said.
“Our objective is to get on the same side of the table and do just what the mayor has just said. Let’s get united and go after what we really have to go after which is standing up on behalf of the people of this state,” Murphy said.
Cruz: So the theme is unity but for Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who joins us live now, it’s got to be a little bit of a disappointment today.
Fulop: I wouldn’t use the word disappointment. You know, it’s a tough day from the standpoint that we’ve built a lot of relationships around New Jersey. But sometimes you got to make a decision for the greater good and I think looking to bring the Democratic Party together is a good thing.
Cruz: It seemed really sudden and some of the members of your administration who we talked to today were in the dark about this even asking me what you were going to be announcing at 2 o’clock. Why the secrecy? Or what was that all about?
Fulop: So, I think that’s a good thing. We try to separate politics from government a little bit. So that’s a positive. You know, we had a lot of conversations about it on the political side and thinking what’s best and we ultimately decided I still got work to do here in Jersey City. We’ve done a lot. And I’m thankful for the job. We have a commitment to the people here and we’re going to fill it and continue to move forward.
Cruz: But in terms of even your political people. Let me ask you this. When did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
Fulop: So we officially decided yesterday. And we were in conversations and finalized it yesterday. The way things work is there’s a lot of information leakage. So when you make a decision, you go forward with it. I’m comfortable with the decision. I feel like it’s the right decision for Jersey City and the state. And here we are.
Cruz: So I want to quote Senate President Steve Sweeney said today when Brenda Flanagan asked him about today’s announcement. He says, “It’s no surprise to see two Goldman Sachs people embrace each other.”
Fulop: Look, I mean, come on, Goldman Sachs guys. I mean, look, we’re going to throw stones and throw mud at each other, I get it. I’ve served the country most of my adult life from Marine Corps to City Hall as a councilman. I think it’s not beneficial for Steve Sweeney or Phil Murphy to throw mud. They should have a conversation based on the merits of what’s best for New Jersey.
Cruz: You’re talking about unity. Can you say right now, maybe Steve Sweeney’s watching right now, you want to suggest what he might want to do?
Fulop: Look, you know, I think that it’s really important that we come behind one candidate. And a messy primary with negative campaigning benefits nobody. I think that hopefully this sparks conversations where collectively we get behind Phil Murphy.
Cruz: You said it was clear today from what you had heard at the Bridgegate trial so far that you were mistreated but there’s also been some testimony that you were kind of flirting with the governor in terms of supporting him for re-election. Can you say that there was a point that you thought about it?
Fulop: I mean, look, the guy was at 80 percent approval, just finished Sandy. You had a governor who was hyper popular and my interest is who’s going to have the best relationship for Jersey City? And you know, you get solicited by people, you listen to them ultimately and then I decided to back Barbara Buono. That’s a responsible dialogue to listen and have and go from there. It doesn’t give people the right to act inappropriately. And I think that’s what the trial’s about.
Cruz: You are going to run for a second term, which is the other thing that I guess is the news today. In 30 seconds, name your top three priorities.
Fulop: I mean we’re really just going to focus on quality of life and reduction in crime and focus again on quality of life. I mean, we’ve done a lot on the progressive front, a lot of the construction, on the employment, on the financial front, but we just want to do the basic blocking and tackling.
Cruz: All right. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop announcing today that he is endorsing ambassador Phil Murphy for governor.