Although Mayor Steven Fulop’s decision not to run for reelection may well be the right choice Mayor personally, some political observers believe it may be a political disaster announcing it when he did.
Fulop’s announcement last week threw open the doors to wild speculation about who would replace him, but also raised private concerns about his ability to continue have the same political clout ahead of what many believe will be another run for governor.
Fulop, who backed out of a gubernatorial run five years ago when Phil Murphy became the frontrunner, choosing to run for a third consecutive term as mayor.
But in many ways, Fulop’s being mayor is something of a dead end, when he clearly has had ambitions for higher office.
Being mayor may be attractive to someone like Rep. Albio Sires, for whom becoming mayor was always one of his major political ambitions, Fulop always seemed on the fast track to some higher office.
But his announcement not to run for mayor again may well be a disservice to his ambitions.
Being mayor of the state’s second largest city gave Fulop political clout his announcement may deprive him of in the future.
A mayor’s ability to provide political patronage is one of the most important tools in any future candidate’s tool box.
Important funders and others talk to mayors in order to ingratiate themselves for future contracts, jobs, and such – even in this age of pay to play.
But announcing you will no longer be mayor this far ahead of a potential municipal election is akin to making yourself into a lame duck.
Why would powerful political people want to talk to you when they know you won’t be around later to give them what they really want?
Many of these people may not be willing to risk investing in Fulop’s gubernatorial run when it is far less certain at providing them with patronage than when he rules as mayor.
Fulop may well have cast himself in the role of Shakespeare’s King Lear, who spread out his power among his daughters, only to find in the end he had no more power.
Some political observers believe Fulop announced his intentions way too soon and should have told his loyal followers his future plans privately – in order to benefit from foreknowledge and prepare for a mayoral run. This might have allowed Fulop to back out of the decision later if he wanted to.
But this may be the issue. Fulop may actually want to avoid this easy political out – one he took five years ago and may be forcing himself to commit to a gubernatorial run, backing himself into a corner so that he can’t back out of the race.
Win or lose for governor, Fulop gets to get on with his life. He has a young family and a possible future in the financial sector, free from the burden of caretaking the day-to-day grind of running a city.
Of course, future candidates are already lining up.
While Councilman Daniel Rivera said publicly that it is too early to announce his intentions, he clearly would like to become the first Latino mayor a city with a massive Latino population.
Councilman James Solomon has not said if he will seek to become mayor, following Fulop’s footsteps using progressive Ward E as his launching pad. Even former Councilman Rolando Lavarro is rumored as a possible candidate.
Council President Joyce Watterman has always been seen as a possible mayoral contender, although some believe she might step up and become a candidate for the state assembly in the 31st district – although County Commissioner Bill O’Dea reportedly has his eye on that seat.
But political tea leaves readers believe, O’Dea may not be able to.
O’Dea’s political fortunes have been the stuff of prediction for years. He was once seen as a possible candidate for Hudson County Executive. More recently, the man who might replace Fulop as mayor, and currently, seen as a possible replacement for State Senator Sandra Cunningham, who apparently will not seek reelection due to ill health.
But insiders believe O’Dea will not bet the senate seat.
Even though O’Dea is considered the most progressive of the county commissioners, he cannot overcome one huge hurtle.
Cunningham is an African American, and political observers believe nobody will support a causation male – no matter how progressive – to fill a seat held by an African American woman.
O’Dea said this week that the issue isn’t settled, but he still has the option to run for reelection as a county commissioner.