Steven Fulop may have ended his political career on the front steps of City Hall this week, announcing that he would seek reelection as mayor of Jersey City instead of running in the primary next June to seek the Democratic nod for governor, but alienating many of the very people he may need to continue his career.
Not only did he withdraw his name from consideration, but he endorsed Phil Murphy, in what appears to have been an agreement between the two men.
On the side lines, grinning as if he just won the lottery, was former Police Chief Thomas Cowen, demoted by Fulop last year in a fight over control of the police department.
Cowen has since moved on to start his own private investigation firm, and apparently has joined the Murphy campaign, offering Murphy perhaps some key insights that helped bring about the Fulop’s decision to withdraw.
The press conference and Fulop’s announcement apparently came as a surprise to some of his key political people, who noted that Fulop did not inform his political allies around the county before making his decision, suggesting that the move came in a panic.
“He did this all on his own,” one key Fulop person said.
Some of the most powerful people in the county were left out of the loop, including U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, as well as the members of the House of Representatives, and mayors of other towns who gave support to Fulop during his mayoral election in 2013. Many of these same people, including the mayors of Newark and Paterson, were supporting his bid for governor.
Fulop said the move had nothing to do with his scheduled appearance next week as a witness in the Bridgegate Trial. Disclosures are already emerging from the testimony as to what Gov. Christopher Christie knew about the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge three years ago, supposedly orchestrated by members of his administration to punish the Fort Lee mayor for his refusal to endorse Christie for reelection.
Fulop is expected to testify that he too had suffered retribution by the Christie Administration for failure to endorse him.
Insiders claim Murphy was about to launch – possibly with Cowen’s help – an aggressive anti-Fulop negative campaign to coincide with the Bridgegate trial. Murphy, of course, has been eating away at a voting base Fulop hoped to secure in his run for governor. Hudson County is split and a number of key leaders, including possibly State Senator Sandra Cunningham, state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and possibly others, seem to be leaning towards state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, meaning that there will be a significant battle for the Democratic nomination anyway.
Fulop will push to have election in November
Now that Fulop has decided to give up his gubernatorial ambitions, he said he will continue to push to move the May municipal election to November in 2017.
Some of his supporters claim that a May election benefits his opponents by reducing the voter turn out, although others dispute this, claiming the May election allows voters to focus on local issues rather than having them distracted by state or national campaigns.
Voters narrowly approved the change in a non-binding referendum last November, but disputes over the outcome pushed the City Council and Fulop to ask voters to approve a binding referendum requiring the change when they go to the polls Nov. 8.
Opponents of the referendum recently lost a court challenge that would require the question to make clear whether a change would affect a runoff election. Under the current form of government, a candidate for mayor or city council must get more than 50 percent of the overall vote. If not, then the top two vote-getters face off in a second election to determine the winner. If the voters approve the referendum for the move, then there is a presumption that runoff elections would be held in early December.
Many of the people opposed to the change of election date wanted to force Fulop to decide between running for mayor or governor. There are a number of potential candidates who wanted to see Fulop forced out of the local race. And Fulop may need more time to rebuild the trust with some of his campaign people, some of whom may be reluctant to work for his reelection, feeling betrayed by his withdrawing suddenly from the governor’s race.
Shakeup in Secaucus?
The resignation of Secaucus Town Administrator David Drumeler has started the rumor mill churning, partly because it comes on the heels of Mayor Michael Gonnelli’s stroke and recovery. While Gonnelli has had a miraculous recovery from a stroke that might have killed him, rumors are circulating as to whether he will seek reelection in 2018, and if not, who will replace him.
Gonnelli said even he is surprised at his recovery, since the stroke was considered major and at the time, some of his medical advisors seemed to believe he would not recover as well or as quickly as he had. He said he was in a coma and still managed to get back on his feet, taking up his regular duties as mayor within a few months. Knowing Gonnelli, he will try to retain his seat as mayor, but this does not stop the rumors.
Drumeler, who replaced Anthony Iacono in 2008, recently left his Secaucus job to return to a job working for Hudson County. Drumeler previously served on several levels including as chief of staff to County Executive Robert Janiszewski in the 1990s. One of the more juicer rumors would have Councilman Gary Jeffas taking the position vacated by Drumeler’s resignation; this would leave a vacancy on the council. Reports suggests that Assistant Town Attorney Michael Bukatman may also be eyeing Drumeler’s seat, setting the stage for a potential internal feud among Gonnelli’s otherwise peaceful kingdom.
Meanwhile, former Gonnelli adversary Mark Buccino may be one of the few viable challengers to Gonnelli, a Democrat who retained credibility after the demise of the Democratic Party in Secaucus in 2009.
John Shinnick, former member of the Secaucus Board of Education, dispelled a rumor that he is under consideration to become the new superintendent of Secaucus schools. Secaucus has been struggling to keep its superintendents since Superintendent Gus Scerbo retired in 2008.
Roque set for trial in November
West New York Mayor Felix Roque will be going to trial in November. He has been accused of accepting $250, 000 in bribes in a medical kickback scheme that has already seen a number of other doctors convicted.
Prosecutors claim that from 2007 to 2012, Roque, who operates the Pain Relief Center, allegedly agreed to refer patients needing MRIand CT scans to a certain center in exchange for cash and campaign contributions. According to the allegations, the owner of Diagnostic Imaging Affiliates, Rehan Zuberi of Boonton, allegedly made monthly payments before and after Roque took office as mayor in 2011, and allegedly even delivered them to Town Hall. But two of the three charges originally filed against Roque were dropped earlier this year, giving some credibility to Roque’s claim that he was not involved in the scheme. At one point, Roque told The Hudson Reporter that he will be able to prove his innocence.
The big question around Town Hall these days is about who might replace Roque if he is convicted.
Roque successfully defended himself against charges three years ago that he allegedly conspired to hack into a website of a political enemy. Some of his most ardent supporters hope he repeats this success against the current charges.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org