New Jersey Mayor Thinks Big - NBC 10 Philadelphia

New Jersey Mayor Thinks Big



    New Jersey Mayor Thinks Big
    Office of the Mayor of Jersey City

    Steven Fulop, the mayor of New Jersey's second-largest city, doesn't always get recognized. People mistake the baby-faced former Marine and Goldman Sachs trader for a staffer, asking him when the mayor will arrive.

    But Fulop, 36, who took office July 1, has certainly been getting attention in New Jersey political circles.

    In his short time leading the city that was home to Frank ``Boss'' Hague and is as well-known for its political shenanigans as its sweeping views of the New York City skyline, Fulop has not been afraid to break some dishes.

    He sued the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for $400 million, claiming it hasn't coughed up payments in lieu of taxes. Fulop claims others were prevented from suing by the political influence of the agency, which operates the New York area's airports, bridges, tunnels, ports and the PATH subway system.

    Fulop also has proposed dissolving the city's debt-ridden parking authority, which a city spokeswoman called a ``cesspool of political patronage.'' He also wants to reform how off-duty police officers work special details.

    ``The gravy train is over,'' Fulop said during an interview in his City Hall office.

    The son of immigrants from Romania and Israel and grandson of Holocaust survivors, Fulop grew up in Edison, N.J., and moved to Jersey City in 2000.

    The city was beginning to attract the affluent young people that have populated its waterfront, where many financial firms relocated after Sept. 11, and its downtown of quaint brownstones. A plethora of restaurants, boutiques, doggie day cares and bars have opened.

    Fulop joined the Marine Corps after Sept. 11, 2001 and was among the first Marines to head into Iraq.

    When he returned, then-Mayor Glenn Cunningham awarded Fulop a proclamation for his service. Cunningham, a political rival of then-U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, recruited Fulop to run against him in the Democratic primary. Fulop, who wasn't yet registered to vote, accepted the challenge.

    ``I thought it was a story I'd tell my grandkids,'' Fulop said.

    He campaigned after his days at Goldman and lost, badly. But he said he loved meeting people and having the chance to help them. He won a city council seat in 2005.

    After winning his second term, Fulop became frustrated with council politics _ he was not aligned with Mayor Jerramiah Healy, and found it hard to get things done. He decided to run for mayor.

    The race against fellow Democrat Healy, an entrenched member of the powerful north Jersey political machine, was intense, expensive and brutal. Fulop accused Healy of being tainted by corruption. A number of Jersey City officials _ though not Healy _ were arrested in 2009 during operation Bid Rig, an effort to root out political corruption in New Jersey.

    Fulop said the campaign had short highs and deep lows, like when President Barack Obama took the unusual step of wading into a local mayoral race and endorsed Healy. Fulop was a major supporter of Hillary Clinton and asked if she and Bill would get involved in the campaign, but to no avail.

    Fulop handily beat Healy, 52 percent to 38 percent, which he credits to amassing a massive city-wide volunteer base. Both Clintons called to congratulate him, and Bill Clinton will host a fundraiser to help Fulop pay off campaign debt this week.

    Fulop wants to improve the city's schools, which are under state control, and is a supporter of charter schools. He wants to increase the number of public-private partnerships in education. He revamped the city's tax system to incentivize development in interior areas of the city, not just the waterfront and downtown, and for developers to build affordable housing in the city's more affluent areas. He also made Jersey City the first in the state to require private business to allow employees to earn sick time.

    There are many hurdles. The city has a $16.5 million budget shortfall, crime is high in certain neighborhoods and some worry that the influx of well-off people downtown could price out longtime residents in other parts of the city.

    Despite only having had his job for 5 months, Fulop's name is already being bandied about as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2017.

    Fulop said he sees Jersey City, which has 250,000 residents, as eventually being a creative mecca like Austin, Tex., or Portland, Ore., and ``one of the best mid-sized cities in the country.''

    ``We want to do things,'' he said, ``that think big.'