History doesn’t always repeat itself, but sometimes what happens today strongly resembles what has happened in the past.
And this has never been more appropriate than with the mayoral conflict underway in Jersey City.
Shockingly, candidates are declaring for an election a whole year before they might have in past elections, partly because incumbent Mayor Steven Fulop has decided to play the role of King Lear and announced well in advance that he would not seek reelection for his fourth term, leaving a host of princes scrambling to get their name out into the public realm because things get muddy in the midst of parade of potential candidates.
With a power vacuum, people will seek to fill it.
This is not new, even if the plunge into the election cycle comes far earlier than elections in the past, and unfortunately, this will force many political people to take sides, and in this case, sometimes against those people with whom they were previously aligned.
While most people today won’t remember the scandal that led to Paul Jordan’s election as mayor in the early 1970s, many of those in the current race have a living memory of the vacancy left by Thomas Smith in the early 1980s who decided to run for governor and failed, leaving a vacancy at the top, and eventually led to the election of Gerry McCann* (see below) as mayor – a deep divisions in the Democratic ranks, and the coronation of Bob Janiszewski as County Executive – causing a sometimes vicious war for control of the party between Janiszewski and McCann, which Janiszewski ultimately won but only because questionable charges were brought out against McCann at a convenient time to force another vacancy in the mayor’s seat – and the election of Republican Bret Schindler as mayor – leaving Janiszewski, Bruce Walters of Union City, and others heir apparent leaders of the party. Aligned with these, oddly enough were people like then Hudson County Freeholder Lou Manzo, who later ran for mayor himself, but failed.
In the wings were people like Bill O’Dea, Tom DeGise, Glenn Cunningham and others, who had to decide their loyalties in and out of the Democratic Party.
Schindler seemed to follow the Tom Smith model and gave up his mayoral seat in a failed attempt to run for governor, creating a new civil war and a battle between DeGise and Cummingham for mayor, which Cunningham ultimately won, although the forced resignation of Janiszewski – convicted of corruption – led to DeGise’s return to power as county executive – where he managed the Democratic Party as a kind of father figure.
Cunningham’s death in 2004 created another vacuum at the top in Jersey City, and a scramble that eventually led to the election of Jerremiah Healy as Mayor, who in 2013 was unseated by upstart and Cunningham ally, Fulop.
The problem in the upcoming election is that many of the people who were involved in the previous fights to control Jersey City are being forced to decide between former Gov. Jim McGreevey and O’Dea (so far, the only two declared mayoral candidates, although clearly not the last.)
Craig Guy, chief of staff to DeGise, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, state Senator Brian Stack (the heir of Bruce Walters) and other top Democratic leaders have endorsed McGreevey, whose political guru strangely is Jerry McCann.
On the other side, Manzo – who has had strong ties to O’Dea over the years – returned to Jersey City for O’Dea’s announcement. At O’Dea’s side is County Clerk Junior Maldonado (who lost his council seat to Fulop and then became a strong Fulop ally), County Registrar Jeff Dublin, not to mention the teacher’s union and building trades unions, who traditionally have backed winning candidates.
There are people on both sides who can trace their political linage back to Janiszewski or even one time County Executive Eddy Clark.
With Guy as the newly elected county executive on one side, and many of the other top county elected officials on the other, the rank and file political people are going to be hard pressed to pick one candidate over the other, a kind of problem many faced in previous political civil wars.
On top of all this, most expect Council President Joyce Watterman to announce her intention to run for mayor in Jersey City as well, causing a major divide in the African American community, who might love the good deeds McGreevey had done, but would prefer an African American mayor.
And still another shoe may drop if Ward E Councilman James Solomon leaps into the race, hoping to mobilize the growing progressive movement in the state’s second largest city, attempting to broker his downtown seat to become mayor the way Fulop did before him.
This could hurt O’Dea, since O’Dea has positioned himself as a progressive candidate. Indeed, as his rally this week he said, “I was a progressive before there were progressives.”
In the end, the fight will likely become one of political base – The progressive base Solomon has established, and the long time West Side base O’Dea has spent the last 30 years building.
Who all these candidates choose to run on their tickets for council will be all important when it comes to solidifying their hold on the town overall.
Dublin said O’Dea will have a strong ticket but did not mention names. McGreevey, will likely see many familiar faces that have worked with Craig Guy in the past. Watterman, who is a minister, will likely get support from the ministers in the African American Community, and Solomon will likely see support from progressives in Journal Square area, the Riverside section and, of course, the very progressive Ward E.
Will all this be enough? Who can say. But a lot of people will be approached by all sides, and there will be some bitterness regardless of what choice rank and file political people make – as is the case in all civil wars.
*While McCann and others said McCann is advising McGreevey, McGreevey said he’s not a primary adviser, just somebody who has come out to support McGreevey’s campaign.