Mr. Fulop vs. Mr. Trump

A federal judge who dismissed a lawsuit brought by Charles Kushner against Jersey City and Mayor Steven Fulop may have mixed up his elections – confusing the 2016 presidential election for the 2017 that saw Fulop reelected.

Kushner Cos. – overseen by Charles Kushner — sued Jersey City claiming that a Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) 2018 decision to cancel approvals for a development of a luxury high rise at 2 Journal Square was due to politics.

Jared Kushner, Charles Kushner’s son, is also the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, and the lawsuit claimed that Fulop – a progressive – allegedly cancelled approvals for a 30-year-abatement and a $9 million loan because of this relationship.

U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled that too much time has passed between the election of Donald Trump as president in November 2016 and the canceling of approvals by Jersey City in March 2018 to justify the allegation against Fulop and Jersey City.

This ruling, however, appears to have ignored the fact that Fulop ran for reelection as a progressive a few months before the JCRA ruling at a time when anti-Trump activists lobbied Fulop to stop doing business with the Kushner family.

Fulop claims the city canceled approvals because Kushner Cos. operated by Charles Kushner failed to meet the timeline at proposed in the original agreement.

Although Fulop and Charles Kushner have a strained relationship, this was not always the case. Charles Kushner donated heavily to Fulop when Fulop was still considering a run for governor in 2016.

In fact, in 2014, Fulop and the Kushner family appeared to be on the best of terms when the Fulop Administration supported a move by the city council to approve a five-year tax abatement on the second of two towers on Bay Street. Fulop then called it “a great addition to the Jersey City Skyline.”

Also, in 2014, Kushner Cos also helped rescue a floundering project at 2 Journal Square, which had become a key piece in Fulop’s campaign for mayor in 2013.

Fulop had used the vacant property as an issue against then Mayor Jeramiah Healy, who had promised in 2009 to develop the site but never did.

The site, which once housed a hotel and a string of stores, had become symbolic of lack of vision and progress by the Healy Administration. Fulop saw this as his opportunity to expand development in Jersey City to locations other than the waterfront. Development in Journal Square became the center piece of his first term in office.

So, when the Kushners took ownership of the property Fulop said “We could not be more excited; it’s a huge thing.”

This was manna from heaven, allowing Fulop to fulfill his campaign promise.

As if part of the political backdrop, the Kushner family donated $10,000 to the Hudson County Democratic Organization.

Everything seem to be on the roll with Kushner Cos and the JCRA coming to an agreement on the project in early 2015. But according to the lawsuit filed against the city, the deal went sour when Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president a few months later. Although the city’s planning board gave its blessing in August 2015, the suit claims that the mayor’s office – through a deputy mayor – said the 30-abatement would be a hard sell with Trump running for president.

When Trump won the presidential election in November 2016, local activists began to pressure Fulop to cease doing business with the Kushners. Protesters appeared in front of the Bay Street Trump property, and in the Pedestrian Plaza near the Grove Street PATH station.

But these activists confused some of the projects in Jersey City where there are two separate Kushner developers, the “good Kushners” and “bad Kushners.”

Murray Kushner, brother of Charles, and his son, Jonathan (with whom Fulop attended school) are considered the good Kushners, while Charles and his son Jared, the bad Kushners.

Both of the Kushner companies have developed throughout Jersey City, and both had projects slated for Journal Square.

Murray Kushner took the lead with KRE to develop a three-tower project near the PATH station, while Charles proposed a two-tower project one block away at 2 Journal Square.

When Jared took a position in the Trump White House in early 2017, he was required to sever his connection with Kushner Cos. But this did not stop his sister from seeking funders in China for the project and using Jared’s name as if to suggest the investors could some how rely on special treatment from the Trump White House.

Charles Kushner filed suit in 2018 against Fulop and Jersey City claiming politics was to blame for the city’s decision to cancel pending approvals for the project. In an article published in the New York Times in 2018, Charles Kushner said the project was “shovel ready” and only needed the 30-year abatement and a $9 million load from the city to move ahead.

Fulop argument at the time that there was never any formal agreement with Kushner Cos because the Kushners never completed the application process.

In dismissing the suit, Judge Vazquez claimed that too much time had passed between the time Trump was elected and the yanking of the approvals. But the judge apparently ignored new moves by progressive groups in Jersey City to force the city to cease doing business with the Kushner family. One such group formed in early 2017 just as Fulop’s reelection campaign was gearing up.

Although always seen as a progressive, Fulop has played political games, giving the impression at one point that he might step over party lines to endorse the reelection of Gov. Christopher Christie.

But by his second term, Fulop had cloaked himself fully in a progressive agenda and he could not afford to be seen doing business with Trump’s son-in-law.

The question remains how much the anti-Kushner protestors influence Fulop’s decision to cancel approvals for 2 Journal Square. Spokespeople for the Kushner Cos claim it influenced him a lot. While a court may have tossed out the suit, the issue will resurface as Kushner Cos regroup for another try.

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