Steve Fulop’s response to a powerful opinion piece on recent deaths at the Hudson County jail might be interpreted as a signal that the Jersey City mayor is open to backing a candidate against County Executive Tom DeGise in the June 2019 Democratic primary.
Jersey City attorney/activist Jake Hudnut wrote an Op-Ed for the Jersey Journal strongly criticizing the county’s response to four deaths at the county jail over the last eight months – “none of them were accused of violent crimes, and the oldest among them was just 48 years old,” Hudnut wrote.
In a Tweet later in the day, Hudnut said that Hudson County leaders are “less progressive” than Fulop and Gov. Phil Murphy. He called on Fulop to “step up the response here before more lives are lost.”
Fulop’s Tweet in response: “I agree with everything you wrote.” Fulop said that Freeholder Bill O’Dea would “be pushing aggressively at the next freeholder meeting for changes.”
“Clearly what is happening there isn’t acceptable,” Fulop wrote.
As the issue continues to garner attention in Jersey City and around the state, Fulop is being cast as the likely reformer – even though the county jail is not under his purview.
Hudnut wrote that Fulop “has a strong pulpit to call on county leadership to step up the response.”
“This issue is not far outside his wheelhouse,” Hudnut wrote. “His administration has demonstrated a progressive commitment to re-entry and job placement for offenders returning from jail and prison. That’s an important cause, but it’s meaningless if the conditions in these facilities are such that re-entry into society becomes a moot point.”
So forcefully and respectfully – and not necessarily on purpose – Hudnut has put Fulop in a position of responsibility to address the county jail issues. And one option for Fulop may be to back another candidate – if one were to come forward – against DeGise.
With the nine-member Board of Freeholders are not up for election until 2020, DeGise is the only real target. And if activists like Hudnut continue to raise awareness, Fulop may have no choice but to take an active role.
The jail has been a tough department for DeGise. Last summer, he helped push the county corrections director, Tish Castillo Nalls, into retirement after “she was allegedly involved in an expletive and racially charged confrontation with a Hudson County sheriff’s officer.” The new director, Ronald Edwards, is DeGise’s guy.
DeGise, 66, is expected to seek re-election to a sixth term next year. A former Jersey City council president, DeGise ran for mayor in 2001, but lost the runoff to Glenn Cunningham. County Executive was his consolation prize; he won a 2002 special election after Bob Janiszewski resignation and has been re-elected four times.