Jersey City—Steven Fulop handily beat Jersey City’s incumbent Mayor Jerammiah Healy, despite Healy’s endorsements from Pres. Obama and other Democratic leaders. Fulop was the only Independent in New Jersey to win a mayoral election last year and you might know him from interviews about scheduled meetings with high state officials being cancelled after he didn’t endorse Chris Christie for re-election. That led other Jersey mayors to tell about their own election run-ins. But if that is all you know about Mayor Steven Michael Fulop, then you know very little about him. In an exclusive interview with JLBC, the young mayor discussed his plans to make Jersey City safer and talked a little about his background.
Fulop is trying to prevent gun violence in his city. He is adding questions about social responsibilities to requests for bids from arms manufacturers for weapons for the city’s police force. Any bid that does not include responses to these questions will be passed over. Realizing that he alone does not have the power to force gun makers to change their policies, but he hopes to open a dialogue with the industry and tconvince other mayors to join him in keeping guns out of the hands of unqualified individuals and by making guns safer to own.
Fulop works in concert with New Jersey Together, an organization led by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher of Congregation Shir Shalom Beth Haverim in Mahwah. NJ Together is a project of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which operates in nine states. Rabbi Mosbacher’s program is spreading to other regions and states. The organization is now asking the grassroots talk to mayors and police chiefs about reviewing their gun purchasing policies and to ask them to ask the manufacturers about their social responsibilities vis a vis the sale of weapons.
In a meeting of over 150 people in Temple Bnai Keshet in Montclair recently, Fulop’s representative announced that Jersey City was the first city to adopt and implement this program. Fulop has been waiting for responses to his requests for information, but is hoping that the spread of this program will alter the balance. Fulop, NYC Mayor Bill di Blasio and 10 other mayors recently met with Pres. Obama to discuss ways of curbing gun violence. Jersey City’s gun violence crime rate is relatively low compared to cities like Newark, but the mayor wants to reduce it at much as possible, since Jersey City is developing so quickly that they will be bigger than Newark within 20 years.
As an anti-gun activist, Fulop’s family history came into play. Because he is a grandson of Holocaust survivors, the NRA said that he should know that people need to own guns to protect themselves. He responds that European Jews had little access to guns and that large standing armies in Europe could not stop the Nazis. What chance did mostly untrained and widely-scattered civilians have to stop them? He was publicly backed up in this confrontation by Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, of which he is a member, and the Anti-Defamation League.
Steven Fulop is indeed the grandchild of four Romanian Holocaust survivors. Both his parents were born there after the war and met in the United States. Fulop and his brother grew up in Edison, NJ. His father owned a deli in Newark, where Fulop often worked, and his mother worked in an immigration services office helping other immigrants gain citizenship. Fulop attended Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Highland Park and in seventh grade transferred to Solomon Schechter in West Orange. He graduated from SUNY - Binghamton in 1999, and in 2006 completed Masters degrees from NYU’s Stern School of Business and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After graduating Binghamton, Fulop joined Goldman Sachs, an investment banking firm, working at various times in Chicago, New York, and finally in Jersey City.
Fulop worked near the World Trade Center, and after 9/11, he left his lucrative job, joined the Marines to fight for God and Country, and was deployed to Iraq in 2003, where he served in a highly-decorated engineering support battalion for six months. Fulop’s first foray into elected politics was a 2006 run for a congressional seat which he decisively lost to the incumbent—who is now Senator Robert Menendez. But in May 2005, he was an upset winner against an incumbent councilman in Jersey City who had been endorsed by the Democratic establishment of Hudson County. Fulop was sworn into office at age 28. In 2009, he was re-elected with 63% of the vote. Since 2010 he has backed all the winning candidates for Jersey City’s Board of Education. On May 14, 2013, Fulop beat sitting mayor Jerramiah T. Healy by 15% to become Jersey City’s new mayor.
He has introduced an ambitious platform. It starts with ethics reforms in city government; improving public safety by making the police department more responsive; eliminating pockets of unemployment, such as among veterans, and expanding job training opportunities; improving the transparency and efficiency of his government to better provide services to the community; supporting a progressive public education system to strengthen a stable tax base, provide job skills, and reduce crime; and proactively improve the city’s infrastructure, including mass transit.
Fulop says that ensuring the safety of the city’s residents is his most important job. Crime, and law enforcement are big drains on the city’s resources, so the effort must start with having a properly-staffed and well-run police department. Fulop hopes to strengthen community policing and patrolling, expand the use of reserve police officers, address youth and gang violence by providing the city’s youth with more recreational opportunities from an early age and summer employment for the teenagers.
Because since Newtown, Congress has failed to enact a single reform to make children safer from gun violence, and there are limits to what the state legislature can do about the problem, especially concerning trafficking from out of state, Fulop maintains that change must come at the local level. Police departments are huge buyers of guns and ammunition, so they have the power to demand change from gun manufacturers. His social responsibility program is believed to be a first-of-its-kind policy statement in any city. All bidders are asked six socially responsible questions. What do you do to combat illegal gun trafficking and illegal gun crime? Do you make and sell assault weapons for civilian use? Do you agree not to sell certain models of firearms for civilian use? Are you requiring your dealers to conduct background checks? Do you fund research related to gun violence and smart gun technology? Will you commit to prohibiting your brand name from being used in violent video games?
The young mayor is very active. He is a former board member of the Learning Community Charter School, which has been recognized as a premiere charter school. He has led efforts to oppose the construction of a gas pipeline through downtown Jersey City. In his first two years on the City Council, he donated his salary to the York Street Project, which helps women and children break the cycle of poverty. And in his spare time, he has run the NYC Marathon in 3:44 hours to raise money for the Hudson County Child Abuse Prevention Center and competed in the NYC Ironman Championship to raise money for veterans. He is reviewing a program that rehabilitates unemployed veterans by putting them in military-style units which perform public service.
Influential people think he has a good chance to be a candidate for the governorship in 2017.
By Stephen Tencer