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Round 1: The Race for Acting Mayor of Jersey City

If Fulop runs for Congress, it would create a January 2019 vacancy

By David Wildstein, March 17 2018 4:04 pm

Let’s pretend Steve Fulop isn’t being totally straightforward — that he runs for Congress in 2018 and wins.  That would trigger a special election for Mayor of Jersey City in 2019.

After January 3, 2019, when Fulop would resign to take his seat in Congress, the City Council President – right now that’s Rolando Lavarro — becomes the acting mayor.    The council has thirty days to appoint a new acting mayor.  If no candidate emerges with a majority of the eight remaining councilmembers, the council president holds the post until the results of a November 5, 2019 special election are certified.

When Gerald McCann was removed from office in February 1992 after his criminal conviction, Council President Marilyn Roman became acting mayor.  The council interviewed more than a dozen potential mayoral candidates – that number included four incumbent councilmen – but were unable to agree on any one of them.  The one who came closest was Harold Ruvoldt, a former Hudson County prosecutor who was corporation counsel under McCann.

Roman was the mayor for five months but was effectively removed when five members of the City Council got together on July 1 and elected Joseph Rankowski as the new council president.  That made Rankowski mayor until the November special election.

Following the death of Glenn Cunningham in May 2004, Council President L. Harvey Smith became acting mayor.  He held the post until Jerramiah Healy won the post in a November special election.

In November 2017, Fulop’s slate of City Council candidates won six of nine seats, but alliances have shifted slightly since then.  Lavarro would probably push to be acting mayor, but his ability to swing five votes could depend on whether he views himself as a caretaker or if he would run for the job in the special election.

There are probably a plethora of candidates for the short-term gig.  One of them is Jersey City Democratic Municipal Chair Barbara McCann Stamato, an aide to Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley and the sister of Gerry McCann.

Another interesting scenario: County Executive Tom DeGise would step down in January to become the acting Mayor of Jersey City.  DeGise is a former council president and this is the job he wanted in the first place – he won 47% in a mayoral runoff against Cunningham in 2001.  Spending nearly a year as mayor might be enough of a parting gift to entice DeGise to retire and stop the Hudson County warette from becoming a war.

If that happens, the Hudson County Democratic Committee – by then presumably run by Brian Stack – would appoint an interim county executive to replace DeGise.  That could be the candidate Democrats intend to run in November, or just a caretaker.

After Bob Janiszewski resigned in 2001, Hudson Democrats appointed lawyer Bernard Hartnett, a remnant of the old Mayor Paul Jordan days, to replace him.  That created a warette between Cunningham, the mayor, and then-Congressman Bob Menendez.  Cunningham backed Hartnett and Menendez supported DeGise.  DeGise beat Hartnett in the 2002 Democratic primary by a 3-1 margin, a plurality of over 22,000 votes.

Out of contention to be the acting Mayor of Jersey City would be anyone already holding a public office, like State Sen. Sandra Cunningham or Freeholder Bill O’Dea – unless they would resign their post to comply with New Jersey’s dual officeholder ban.  That would be highly unlikely.

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