The tragic death of Jersey City Councilman Michael Yun on Monday for an illness related to COVID-19 creates a vacant seat that will have a major impact on local politics in New Jersey’s second largest city.
Voters will fill the remainder of Yun’s term in a special election set for November 2020.
Yun was fiercely independent and sometimes could be a thorn in Mayor Steve Fulop’s side – over the last year the two have enjoyed a significantly strong working relationship – but now Fulop allies on the city council are positioned to flip the Ward D seat to expand their own informal caucus.
The addition of The Heights council seat to the Fulop coalition – Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera, Denise Ridley, Mira Prinz-Arey and Jermaine Robinson – could give Fulop enough votes to prevent the override of his veto.
The remaining eight city council members will vote to fill Yun’s Ward D seat sometime in the next 30 days. The appointed councilmember will serve until the certification of the special election winner.
Fulop and his council allies have two options: pick a caretaker to take Yun’s seat until November, or appoint a new councilmember who would be positioned to hold the seat in the special election.
The challenge for Fulop is to pick a candidate who can satisfy Yun’s constituency, which is not necessarily the same as Fulop’s. Yun’s closest friend and ally on the council, Richard Boggiano, is a Fulop opponent. The two frequently battled the mayor on budget issues.
Yun won re-election in 2017 by a 58%-30% margin against community organizer Moriah Kinberg, who ran on Fulop’s slate.
The Heights is an eclectic neighborhood of long-time white Jersey City residents – that’s where Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise lives – with Latinos and millennials moving into gentrified areas of the neighborhood.
Several Hudson political personalities told the Globe that they could see a call for a Ward D seat to go to a Latino, perhaps more specifically the appointment of Jersey City’s first Dominican council member.
The winner of the November special will serve until the council elected in 2021 is seated.