The Democratic power brokers are vastly underrating Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and his campaign for the 2025 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
I know these power brokers, and I like almost all of them personally. When it comes to Steve Fulop, however, they have an unbelievable arrogance. They flat out do not like him. Their view is that they can determine the outcome of the 2025 Democratic gubernatorial primary based on the endorsements of the county Democratic chairs alone.
Not so fast, folks.
The Fulop campaign is a virtual replica of the successful 2001 outsider Republican gubernatorial primary campaign of another Jersey City mayor, Bret Schundler. In that primary, Schundler only had the county GOP organizational line endorsement in one county, Monmouth. Yet he won the June, 2001 primary over the GOP establishment candidate, the late Congressman Bob Franks by a double-digit margin.
The main difference between Schundler and Fulop is that Bret lost the general election to the Democratic victor, Jim McGreevey due to the gun issue and the huge Democratic registration edge. In the 2025 gubernatorial general election, Fulop would have no such obstacles, thus enabling him to be a virtual prohibitive favorite over his Republican opponent.
To win a primary, especially against the establishment organization, you need three things: Money, message, and organization. If you have these three assets, your need of the county party organization line ballot position is very substantially diminished. And at this point, Steve Fulop has a very good head start on all three of these components over his prospective primary opponents. And he still will have the county Democratic endorsement line position in his home county of Hudson. If you have superior money, message, and organization over your primary opponents, who needs the line anyway?
When it comes to raising money for campaigns, Steve Fulop is a phenomenon, one of the most prodigious fundraisers you will ever see. His head start on all his potential primary opponents has already enabled him to raise $2.2 million as of the first quarter of 2023, a full two years before the 2025 primary. He has no need whatsoever for the Democratic power brokers to assist in his fundraising.
In the area of messaging, Fulop has one extremely effective message that neither the Democratic power brokers, nor his prospective primary opponents will be able to counter. As a highly effective mayor of Jersey City, Fulop has a record of success in the executive branch of government that none of his prospective primary opponents can come close to matching.
And now, Steve Fulop has a particular silver bullet message in view of the Menendez scandal. He is the one Democratic primary candidate who has courageously stood up to the coercive pressure of Bob Menendez and never gave in.
The New York Times yesterday described how in 2004 after Fulop announced his primary campaign for Congress against the incumbent Bob Menendez, “Big Bob,” as he was known, called Steve’s employer, Goldman Sachs, in an effort to pressure him to withdraw his candidacy. Fulop, however refused and remained on the ballot. He will be able to run commercials in the primary as the man who stood up to Bob Menendez.
It is in the arena of organization that an outsider challenger candidate has his most significant task. He must build a parallel organization. This was the key to Schundler’s 2001 primary victory, and Bret built his parallel organization in the same way that Fulop is building his, with the core being the mayors throughout the state.
Bret explained to me today the philosophy behind the involvement of the mayors. As he put it, in localities throughout the state, residents hold their mayors – more than their state legislators – primarily accountable for dealing on their behalf with state officials and agencies. If the mayor is popular, his or her endorsement will have a huge impact on the local gubernatorial primary vote.
Fulop already has the endorsement of the following New Jersey mayors:
Atlantic City – Marty Small
Westfield – Shelley Brindle
Clinton – Janice Kovach
South Orange – Sheena Collum (Village President)
Hillside – Dahlia Vertreese
Trenton – Reed Gusciora
Summit – Nora Radest
Morristown – Tim Dougherty
Garwood – Jen Blumenstock
Chatham Borough – Thad Kobylarz
Lambertville – Andrew Nowick
High Bridge – Michele Lee
Mt. Holly – Chris Banks
Burlington City – Barry Conaway
These endorsements, in themselves, guarantee Fulop a solid primary base.
It is said that the Democratic power brokers do not like Fulop. The Menendez scandal, however is having a spillover effect in discrediting Democratic political power brokers in general. Fulop can wear their antipathy almost as a badge of honor.
The year 2025 looks like the ideal year for a Democratic “outsider” to mount a successful challenge to the party establishment. Fulop is the ideal candidate to do that. The Democratic power brokers will have to wake up to this before it is too late. And in this regard, they must study the Schundler primary campaign of 2001. Who knows – Bret Schundler may make an ideal chair of Republicans for Fulop in general election 2025!
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park 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.