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Round 2: The Special Election for Mayor of Jersey City

With no runoff, anyone cold win a race to succeed Fulop

By David Wildstein, March 17 2018 4:04 pm

Editor’s Note: Read Round 1 first.

After Steve Fulop’s imaginary congressional run – he says he’s not a candidate for Albio Sires’ seat, but whatever – and after the City Council figures out who will fill a short ten-month stint as mayor, voters in Jersey City would elect a new mayor in a November 2019 special election to fill the remaining 26 months of Fulop’s term.

The most monumentally important thing to know about special mayoral elections in Jersey City is this: the top vote-getter wins.  There is no runoff.   Anyone can win, if there is a large field of candidates.

That is the environment that allowed Bret Schundler, a conservative Republican, to get elected mayor with 24% of the vote in a technically non-partisan election.  When Gerald McCann was removed following his criminal conviction, eleven candidates ran in a November 1992 special election to replace him. Schundler beat Freeholder Louis Manzo by 1,643 votes (23%-20%), with City Councilwoman Marilyn Roman (who spent five months as acting mayor after McCann’s departure) finishing third with 16%.  They were followed by six-term Assemblyman Joseph Charles (16%), City Councilwoman Willie Flood (13%), and Jersey City Democratic Municipal Chairman Allen Manzo – the brother of Louis Manzo (10%).  The other candidates barely registered.

When Glenn Cunningham died in office twelve years later, Jerramiah Healy won the 2004 special election by 2,242 votes (28%-24%) against Louis Manzo. Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith finished third with 22%, followed by Flood (15%), Councilman Steve Lipski (6%) and six others.

In a special election, Fulop’s 2017 challenger, former Jersey City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis, could emerge as one of the top contenders.  Sources say that Matsikoudis would likely run in a special election.

Matsikoudis won 22% last year; his 8,452 votes were just 998 votes less than Schundler, and he raised $500,000 despite facing an uphill battle against the incumbent.  The key for Matsikoudis would be to retain his anti-Fulop voters from 2017, add to those who backed Fulop last year and don’t anymore – like Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise’s Jersey City backers — and hope that this is enough to win a crowded field.

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham has eyed running for mayor in the past, and this time she would not have to give up her Senate seat to do it.  Most insiders say Cunningham would be extraordinarily formidable.  If she wins, she would be able to name her own successor to the State Senate.

Members of city council could run without having to give up their own seats.  That could put Council President Rolando Lavarro in the race, as well as Councilman-At-Large Danny Rivera.  Look for Ward D Councilman Michael Yun to also get in the race.

Assembly Majority Whip Raj Mukherji, who served as deputy mayor under Healy, could also emerge as a strong candidate.  Jersey City has a growing Asian Indian community that makes up about 10% of the city’s population.  The 33-year-old Mukherji, who is well liked by most political factions in the city, would likely have to give up his Assembly seat to run for mayor – although he could run for both under last year’s court decision that allowed Anthony Romano to run for both Hudson County Freeholder and Mayor of Hoboken.

Bill O’Dea, a Hudson County Freeholder since 1997, has been looking to move up for a long time – either as mayor or county executive.  He was the first major Jersey City official to endorse Fulop against Healy in 2013 and is politically close to the mayor.

One wildcard in a 2019 race for mayor is Ward E Councilman James Solomon, viewed by many as a rising star in Jersey City politics.  The college professor had a meteoric rise in city politics: he moved to Jersey City in 2014, led a fight against awarding tax breaks to politically connected developers, and then beat the establishment candidate in a 2017 runoff.  Solomon, 33, has already proven some fundraising prowess, and could forge a coalition between anti-Fulop voters and downtown residents in the heart of Fulop’s old downtown base.

Editor’s Note: An early version of this story incorrectly identified Lavarro as Hispanic.  He is Filippino.

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