The election night celebration in Bayonne of the Democratic sweep that brought Craig Guy into his own as the future Hudson County Executive wasn’t merely notable for the change of leadership at the top of the ticket, but for the fact that the two leading contenders for mayor of Jersey City were in the same room at the same time – former Governor Jim McGreevey and Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea.
Both were expected to announce their candidacy this week for the 2025 municipal election.
But ironically, both will be running in an election that marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Glenn Cunningham, first and only elected African mayor of Jersey City.
In an era in which Democrats boast of diversity – indeed, some of Guy’s victory speech touched upon supporting of minority and women’s rights – both McGreevey and O’Dea are white.
While both men had incredibly strong minority credentials as liberal legislators, it is clear that they both will need to broker deals with local black leaders if they hope to achieve their dream of ascending to the mayoral seat.
McGreevey supporters believe he’s already locked up the election because nearly all the mayors of the state’s most Democratic county have come out on his behalf – especially the very powerful Brian Stack, state senator and mayor of Union City.
Yet this might not yet be the case, and these two are not the only potential candidates in a city known for its diversity. Indeed, Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker loomed large in that room that night, even going so far as to mention the fact that he previously ran for mayor of Jersey City in 2013 – losing eventually to the incumbent Mayor, Steve Fulop.
Fulop, of course, cleared the way for a new mayor by announcing very early that he would not seek reelection to his fourth term, but will seek election as governor instead. Although some critics believe this announcement was a mistake since Fulop will be out of office as mayor or a critical year ahead of the gubernatorial election in 2025, his war chest as well as numerous endorsements from around the state appear to make him the frontrunner in that election.
Fulop’s endorsement of his replacement as mayor, however, is still in doubt, since he’s had a falling out with McGreevey in the past, even though former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann (a key political operative in the Fulop camp) is working for McGreevey’s election.
And there are other potential candidates who could derail both McGreevey and O’Dea, such as Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman, who as a black woman embodies the whole idea of diversity in the most diverse city in the nation.
As a minister in the Greenville section of the city, she could sway the all important black ministers to abandon McGreevy and O’Dea, should she decide to seek the mayoral.
Also in the mix is Councilman Daniel Rivera, who would like to become the first Latino mayor in a city with a huge Latino population.
And because Fulop left the field of battle so early, the field of potential candidates will likely be very large, and will most certainly bring about a runoff election, leaving the fundamental question as to who will be left standing after the first round of elections to run in a runoff.
While McGreevey has left his mark around the state and in Jersey City for his work former prisoners, it remains uncertain as to what is base actually looks like, and whether he can rely on an army of political workers from Stack to counter the very powerful political machine O’Dea has on the west side of the city, or to challenge the powerful presence in the black community of Watterman and Walker, or any still unforeseen minority candidate.
You have to believe that there is a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering, especially in the Greenville section of the city.
This is not to discount Councilman James Solomon, who represents the progressives with his base in Ward E, who may be seeking to use Ward E as a launching pad to the mayoral seat the way Fulop did in 2013.
If progressives, who are scattered around the city, side with Solomon, then a huge portion of support for O’Dea and McGreevey vanishes, at least, during the first round, and could propel Solomon into a runoff in which he might face off against either O’Dea or McGreevey – which again would be an ironic statement on diversity on the anniversary of Glenn Cunningham’s death.