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Mayor Steven Fulop Aims to Reinvent Jersey City

Buzz surrounds the new mayor–a Goldman Sachs alum and Iraq War vet

Adam Chandler
November 19, 2013

At 36, Steven Fulop has one of those jaw-dropping resumes specially reserved for rising politicians. Oxford. NYU Stern. Columbia. Goldman Sachs. The United States Marine Corps. Iraq. Jersey City’s youngest ever city councilman. The story ain’t bad either. As the Observer gushed:

Steve Fulop’s biography reads likes Horatio Alger: he grew up in middle-class Edison, N.J., the second of three sons of Israeli and Hungarian immigrants. His parents owned a deli in Newark, where Steve worked as a teenager. His grandparents were Holocaust survivors who the Fulop family says came to America penniless.

In May, Fulop was elected mayor of Jersey City. It was a bizarre, special election in which Fulop defeated the incumbent, Jerramiah Healy, who had (amazingly enough) been convicted of obstruction of justice earlier in his mayoral term and refused to resign. Despite this, Fulop remained something of an outsider in the race and won without the backing of the political establishment. His critics charge that he’s too friendly with Wall Street while his admirers see a striking resemblance between Fulop and former Newark mayor and newly minted New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who is also young, cozy with the finance service industry, and very active on social media. (Booker supported Healy in the special election, but the two men have since had a bro date that included jogging and some artisanal ice cream.)

When I met Fulop at his office at City Hall last month, he expounded a bit on his outsider status. “When my family came here, they thought it was important that I have a Jewish education,” Fulop told me. “So I went to Orthodox day school up until 8th grade.” Fulop confessed that it had “kind of a strange experience” because his family wasn’t religious. He added: “I remember kids would come over to my house and play and I would always have to pretend or hide the Oreo cookies.”

Only a few months into his first term as mayor, the picture of Fulop is still inchoate. In addition to tackling education reform, Fulop says he wants to turn Jersey City–the state’s second-biggest city–into the next Austin or Portland. A medium-sized city whose vigor is restored by the arrival of young professionals and artists. Jersey City has a lot going for it. It boasts cheap real estate and an unacknowledged proximity to Manhattan. As Tablet contributor Nona Willis Aronowitz recently noted:

It has the dual upsides of being smaller (its population is right around 250,000), cheaper, and more community-oriented than its gargantuan neighbor—yet closer to the tip of Manhattan than some places in Brooklyn and the upper Island. Real estate prices in downtown Jersey City, which has experienced rapid development over the past few years, can rival yuppie Brooklyn’s, but residential neighborhoods like Jersey City Heights are starting to entice young people with actual cheap rent, laid-back bars, and a cornucopia of inexpensive ethnic restaurants.

As Fulop and Jersey City try to make the case to disenchanted New Yorkers who are being squeezed out of the outer-boroughs, there remains a stigma among some that Jersey City is…well…a little bit weird. Not liable to help is a story about how Jersey City’s City Hall was evacuated yesterday after someone sent Fulop an envelope with mysterious white powder and a picture of erstwhile New York Jets quarterback and part-time pastor Tim Tebow.

The shocked aide quickly called police, triggering a response from police, the fire department, the city bomb squad, the hazmat unit and ambulances that circled city hall. [Jersey City Public Safety Director James] Shea said those in the room where the envelope was opened were segregated and all others in the building were evacuated.

Two tests performed on the powder revealed it was harmless and by 3:15 p.m. City Hall workers were called to the building’s steps where they were told the good news was the powder is harmless and the bad news was they had to go back to work.

Fulop had this to say about the incident.

Every single day is something new in this job. This is from today @TimTebow #JerseyCity

— Steven (Steve) Fulop (@StevenFulop) November 18, 2013

And with that, Fulop was off to light the Jersey City menorah with his mom and dad.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.