Fulop: The Resurrection and the Two Political Hurdles on the Path to Drumthwacket
I began writing about the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial campaign by meeting in 2015 and 2016 with various Democratic county chairs. One response has stayed with me: “Alan, we are not going to allow a South Jersey Democrat to be nominated for governor.”
Indeed, the Northern New Jersey County Democratic Chairs were united in their antipathy to South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross, and they were determined to defeat his endorsed gubernatorial candidate from Gloucester County, State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Initially, they united behind Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop as their standard bearer for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Ultimately, the anti-Norcross chairs prevailed, and Steve Sweeney was forced to withdraw from the race in October, 2016, in the face of overwhelming opposition from the aforesaid North Jersey Democratic chairs. But Steve Fulop never made it to the starting gate, either.
In September, 2016, Fulop also announced a pull-out from the Democratic primary in favor of Phil Murphy. He did this suddenly, without giving advance notice to the county Democratic chairs and fundraisers who had committed to supporting him.
The revulsion against Fulop on the part of his erstwhile supporters was palpable. They felt betrayal and that they were left holding the political bag. The consensus in the New Jersey political community then was that Steve Fulop had forfeited all chances of ever running successfully for New Jersey statewide office. The Fulop supporters switched their allegiance to the ultimate 2017 gubernatorial victor, Phil Murphy.
Today, the reverse situation prevails. Steve Fulop is now deemed to be one of the three early top tier candidates for the New Jersey Democratic nomination for Governor in 2025, the other two being Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill from New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
The comeback of Fulop constitutes a remarkable political resurrection. He achieved this, as will be explained in depth hereinbelow, by his continuing remarkable policy and administrative success as mayor of Jersey City and his demonstrated fundraising potential, unsurpassed by any of the other present gubernatorial prospects.
For the record, it must be mentioned that there are three others mentioned as possible Democratic nominees for New Jersey governor in 2025, but only one with potential top tier status, Montclair mayor Sean Spiller, who is also more significantly, the president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the largest and most politically influential union in the state, with a membership of approximately 200,000.
Spiller has demonstrated prodigious fundraising capacity, and with the right media advisor could produce effective television advertisements that would make him a substantial factor in the race. His administration in Montclair, however, has been plagued by allegations of scandal with the potential to disable any Spiller campaign from the outset.
The other two potential candidates are the aforementioned Steve Sweeney and State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. A word is in order as to each.
Steve Sweeney has historic significance as the longest serving State Senate president, having held that position from 2010 until 2022. He was supremely effective in that role and has all the experience and encyclopedic knowledge of state issues to be an outstanding New Jersey governor. He continues to maintain a campaign war chest of approximately $1 million.
Yet there are two factors that appear to constitute perhaps insurmountable obstacles to a Sweeney comeback.
The first is the antipathy that North Jersey political leaders continue to have towards George Norcross and by extension, Steve Sweeney. This antipathy, as stated above, compelled Sweeney to withdraw from the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Very little has changed since then in this attitude towards Norcross and Sweeney.
The second factor is the devastating loss incurred by Sweeney in his 2021 State Senate reelection campaign to a relatively unknown ultraconservative GOP Gloucester County truck driver, Edward Durr, who had never held elective office and spent less than $2,300 on that campaign, as opposed to the approximate Sweeney campaign expenditure of $305,000. This loss will significantly hamper the ability of Sweeney to maintain credibility as a gubernatorial candidate.
Craig Coughlin has been a highly successful Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. He is well liked and has very few significant political enemies.
A Coughlin campaign, however, will be hampered by a significant historical precedent. Former Assembly Speakers, with the notable exception of Republican Tom Kean, have very rarely achieved success in gubernatorial campaign ventures.
A quintessential example of this is the case of the late former Assembly Speaker Alan Karcher, who represented the same Middlesex County 19th Legislative District currently represented by Coughlin. Karcher, in the view of most New Jersey political historians, was the most effective modern New Jersey Speaker of the Assembly. He never came close to winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
The general consensus of most knowledgeable observers of Middlesex County politics is that the current professed support of a Coughlin gubernatorial candidacy by the Middlesex County Democratic establishment is a holding action. The real prize that the Middlesex Democrats are eventually seeking is the State Senate presidency, as portions of Middlesex County are located in six of New Jersey’s forty legislative districts.
Middlesex County has become a significant fulcrum of modern New Jersey Democratic politics. The endorsement of the Middlesex County Democratic establishment and in particular their very powerful County Democratic chair, Kevin McCabe will doubtless have a critical impact on the 2025 Democratic gubernatorial nomination contest.
Now back to Fulop.
Fulop’s success as mayor of Jersey City has placed him in the forefront of modern outstanding New Jersey mayors. He has a record of landmark accomplishments in the control of development growth, budgetary and tax discipline, the environment, social services, and minimum wage.
Of all the potential 2025 candidates for governor, Fulop has the most enthusiastic support from mainstream progressives. This is highly significant, because as I have written, progressives will have a most significant impact in the 2025 gubernatorial primary.
Fulop has attracted this progressive support without succumbing to the “defund the police” ideology preached by extremist AOC- style progressives.
Perhaps the most remarkable tribute to Fulop’s mayoral tenure was a statement made to me by Republican former Jersey City mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler, as follows:
Will Steve Fulop be a strong candidate for Governor? Yes…and I think he has a good chance of winning.
He’s been a good mayor for Jersey City. We disagree on many issues, but he’s approachable and I think he tries to be responsive and fair to our very diverse citizens, who have come from all throughout the world and have very diverse values and viewpoints.
In the course of the Steve Fulop resurrection, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to attract campaign financial support. Three entities supportive, yet independent of Fulop have raised approximately nine million dollars.
I had lunch in my home town of Highland Park at the restaurant where I “hold court,” the Bridge, with Fulop and former State Senator Bernie Kenny on Tuesday, January 10. Without going into the substance of our discussion, there is absolutely no doubt that he has the “fire in the belly” for a run for governor in 2025. I have not observed such a “fire in the belly” for a gubernatorial run on the part of either Mikie Sherrill or Ras Baraka.
By contrast, I am convinced that Fulop is “all in” for the 2025 gubernatorial race. His announcement last week that he will not seek reelection for Jersey City mayor is further evidence of this. Sherrill and Baraka will have to make their intentions known shortly after the legislative contests in 2023.
At this point, I am not sure either Sherrill or Baraka is running for governor. In any event, I plan to author another column comparing and contrasting the prospects of the three top tier 2025 potential Democratic gubernatorial prospects.
Speaking of Bernie Kenny, he is a very close confidante of Fulop and will doubtless be the ultimate senior advisor of any Fulop gubernatorial campaign. Bernie was a state senator of the highest ethics, competency, and accomplishment. He has superb political knowledge and instincts and will be a most valuable asset to a Fulop gubernatorial campaign.
Yet on the road to the governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket, there are two significant strategic hurdles Fulop must clear.
The first is that he must “shore up his base” and garner the virtual unanimous support of Hudson County Democrats. Hudson is a fascinating land of political fiefdoms, most significantly the twelve different mayors. At this point, Fulop does not have such unanimity of Hudson Democratic support.
The key for Fulop in this regard is to obtain the endorsement of State Senator Brian Stack, who also serves as mayor of Union City. Up to this point, Stack is noncommittal on the race. If Fulop gets the Stack endorsement, the unanimity of Democratic support he needs in Hudson County will be virtually guaranteed.
To utilize one of my famed sports analogies, I can quote the words of my all-time favorite baseball announcer, Walter Lanier “Red” Barber, the legendary voice of the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers: Brian Stack is in the catbird seat!
When Bobby Kennedy was running for the Democratic nomination for president prior to his assassination in 1968, he made this statement regarding Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley: “Dick Daley is the ball game.” In Hudson County, New Jersey, Brian Stack is the ball game. Outside of the governorship, Brian Stack is the most effective power broker in New Jersey.
The second is to obtain the endorsement of a powerful Democratic county chair whose political blessing could most significantly influence other county Democratic chairs to likewise endorse Fulop. The county chair whose endorsement could best achieve this result for Fulop is Middlesex Democratic chair Kevin McCabe. Many of these chairs are reluctant to endorse Fulop because of his 2017 campaign withdrawal. A McCabe endorsement could be most reassuring to them. At this point, however, as stated above, McCabe is involved in the Coughlin “holding action” and is totally noncommittal as to whom he would endorse if and when Coughlin withdraws from gubernatorial consideration.
If Fulop fails to obtain the Stack endorsement, he will face overwhelming odds against his quest for the Jersey governorship. If he gets the Stack and McCabe endorsements, he will be the front runner in the race to become New Jersey’s next governor.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
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Steve Sweetney is definitely corrupt also his buddy Senator Norcross; Norcross, Murphy, Sweetney, Christie put over 2 billion in Cooper hospital; Norcross pet project while in the past Sweetney, christe, attorney General during christe time; they tried to commit financial rape of Saint Michael’s Hospital, newark, nj; i,john ware, called chief Justice John Robert’s to block the conspiracy; Sweetney sent the State police to arrest me!
The headline begins with the word “Fulop” and ends with the word “Drumthwacket”. It’s like a review for a bawdy, Renaissance play.
I enjoyed this column, found it interesting, insightful, and informative.
Regardless, Truth be told, I am going to vote for ANY Democratic Candidate for Governor.
I am so tired, extremely weary, of Trump, Trumpers, Trumpists, MAGA, Ultra MAGA, etc., etc..
I am never going to vote for a Republican the rest of my life. As a Senior Plus, Plus, (age 91) I realize that this is not much of a threat.
So bring on the Democratic Candidate for Governor,
I am ready!!!