Is He the Next Governor of NJ? Major City Mayor Declares Bid to Replace Murphy
The 2025 New Jersey gubernatorial race is more than two years away but one candidate has already thrown his hat into the ring to replace Gov. Murphy when the Democrat's second term comes to an end.
Steven Fulop is in his third term as the Democratic mayor of Jersey City, the state's second most populous city with more than 283,000 people, according to census data. Fulop first took office as mayor on July 1, 2013, though he had been on city council since 2005.
A campaign video announcing the mayor's candidacy includes more than a dozen supporters, including veterans, crediting his character. Fulop joined the U.S. Marines following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and served in Iraq.
"I believe leadership is about standing up for what you believe in even when it's not popular and then fighting successfully to get it done," Fulop said.
Jersey City mayor boasts record
In his State of the City address on March 28, Fulop reflected on a decade as the city's mayor.
"We've achieved so much in a relatively short period of time," Fulop said. "We've not only met almost every goal we've set out to achieve, but we've also exceeded even the most ambitious expectations."
The speech focused on economic growth, affordable housing, public safety, and other issues. Proof of the economic boon is evident in the city's new, modern skyline. And Fulop said that homicides were nearly 50% lower in 2022 than in his first full year in office in 2014.
Jersey City's dramatic change in the 2010s
Jersey City has transformed considerably in the past decade under Fulop's leadership
Critics frequently cite rapidly rising rents. Different studies have come up with varying average rent prices but they reach similar conclusions: Jersey City is one of the most expensive places to rent in the country. An October report from Zumper put the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $2,650, the second-highest in the state.
The city has also become popular with millionaires. A Rent Café study released earlier this year found there were more than 100 millionaires living in rentals in Jersey City as of 2019 — a drastic change as not a single millionaire rented in the city before 2015. And with more well-off residents, home prices rose 50% in just five years.
Property taxes have also increased at staggering rates. Jersey City property taxes rose by 33% from 2021 to 2022 for an average tax of $9,853.
But some residents and visitors say a couple of reasons for the skyrocketing cost of living are the quality of life and closeness to New York City. The website Money ranked Jersey City as the best place to live in New Jersey last year and the tenth best place to live throughout the entire country.
Jersey City is also home to the tallest building in the state, the Liberty Science Center, and one of the best pizza places in the state. The city launched an advertising campaign this year calling itself the "most livable place in NJ."
Murphy vs Fulop
Though Fulop will not be running against Murphy in 2025, they have butted heads in the past. Their most prominent disagreements in recent memory were over pandemic policies.
On March 15, 2020, Fulop issued an executive order closing more than 160 daycares throughout Jersey City in response to the pandemic, leaving none open. The New Jersey Globe reported that Murphy sued the city because Fulop's order conflicted with one of the governor's orders allowing child care centers to stay open under certain conditions.
Then in November 2020, Fulop criticized Murphy for imposing curfews on restaurants and bars.
But the disagreement never amounted to a serious feud and Murphy later agreed with some of Fulop's concerns, according to the Hudson County View.
Taxpayers paid $3.8M for a 'reval' that didn't happen
Longtime Jersey City residents may remember one of Fulop's first decisions as mayor in 2013 when he axed a nearly-complete revaluation. Fulop told the Jersey Journal that the reval was a "back-door tax hike" done by his predecessor Jerramiah Healy and called into question a potential conflict of interest.
The mayor's first decision ended up being one of the most costly for taxpayers. After a court rejected that there could be a conflict, the city was forced to pay nearly $3.8 million for a job that was never done. Jersey City ended up approving a $4.4 million contract for another reval with a different company.
Delaying the reval also impacted taxpayers stuck with out-of-date property values. This most benefited residents in the now-wealthy Downtown area.
Estimates done by former New Jersey state auditor Caroline Jones for the Jersey City Times showed that, between 2014 and 2017, Wards A, B, C, and D paid out $143 million more in taxes than they would have if the initial reval had been completed. And the least affluent ward, Ward A, faced the biggest part of the hardship at $81 million.
Jersey City PILOTs
Another possible point of critique is that it took nearly a full term for Fulop to fulfill a major campaign promise regarding PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes.
And as a mayoral candidate in early 2013, Fulop promised to divert PILOT funding to education. The Jersey Journal reported that it took four years for him to direct 10% of PILOT funding to public schools, and only after he was mocked by constituents including a former political ally.
In more recent times, Fulop noticeably refrained from calling for the resignation of political ally Councilwoman Amy DeGise following a hit-and-run last summer. In a recent interview with Beyond the Box host David Cruz on PBS, Fulop called DeGise's actions "difficult to defend" but said that demanding her to step down was not in his purview.
As a less scandalous controversy, Fulop made headlines for stepping into a battle over public parking in New England. Fulop bought a beach house for $820,000 in his wife's hometown of Narragansett, Rhode Island in 2018. He spoke as a citizen at two public council meetings and got into a verbal spat with a councilman, according to the New York Post.