2014 in New Jersey: The Year of Steven Fulop

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Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City is New Jersey’s political wunderkind. He is a political consultant’s dream candidate: a combination of populist, intellectual, ex-Marine Iraq war veteran, triathlete, and ex- Goldman Sachs financial wizard.

2014 was a year of remarkable governmental and political triumph for Steve Fulop. As mayor of Jersey City, he launched new measures in property tax reduction, urban parks, inner city revitalization, and prisoner reentry into society occupational training. His image as an urban reformer was indeed further enhanced in 2014.

Yet it was the political arena in 2014 in which Steve Fulop enjoyed his greatest success. He won new key political allies in Essex, Passaic, and Bergen counties by his campaign activities on behalf of winning candidates, most notably 1) Mayors Ras Baraka in Newark and Joey Torres in Paterson, and 2) Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.

If Fulop’s new allies enable him to get the Democratic organizational support and line in Essex, Passaic, and Bergen counties, as well as his home county of Hudson in the 2017 Democratic primary, he will be the party’s likely gubernatorial nominee. For a plethora of reasons, the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nominee will be heavily favored to defeat his Republican opponent. Accordingly, there may be a Governor Fulop in New Jersey’s future.

There are, however, two other, top-tier gubernatorial candidates with whom Fulop will have to compete: New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive Phillip D. Murphy. Both individuals are men of integrity with outstanding records of achievement. Sweeney may well be New Jersey’s most effective state senate president over the past five decades. Murphy’s superb record of accomplishment in both the public and private sectors is strong evidence of his executive talent that would be a definite asset to him as governor. Both prospective candidates have retained highly competent political and policy advisors. Steve Sweeney will have an excellent team of fundraisers, led by South Jersey’s George Norcross. Phil Murphy can easily self-fund a gubernatorial campaign with tens of millions of dollars.

Yet both Sweeney and Murphy each has a substantial political handicap, which can be summarized in two words. For Sweeney, the two words are “South Jersey.” North Jersey Democratic political leaders almost unanimously assert that they do not want a South Jersey person as their 2017 gubernatorial nominee. For Murphy, the two words are “Jon Corzine.” Democrats are wary of any candidate who in the least resembles Murphy’s former fellow Goldman Sachs executive. Certainly, Murphy has a more charismatic personality than the former Governor and U.S. Senator. Yet his past support for asset monetization as a solution to the state pension fund deficit brings back unpleasant memories of Corzine’s advocacy of same, in the form of the sale and privatization of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Timing is everything in politics, and Steve Fulop ends 2014 as the chief opponent of the plan of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to eliminate or substantially reduce PATH train service between New Jersey and Manhattan after midnight. This is a definite winning issue for him, certain to enhance both his visibility and stature as a populist champion of the middle class.
In any event, in 2014, Fulop solidified his stature as a top tier 2017 gubernatorial candidate. New Jersey’s political spotlight is on him as we begin 2015. Steve Fulop thus far has demonstrated that on the media and political stage, he is indeed a top-flight performer.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.

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