Mayor of Jersey City talks political ethics
Steven Fulop, mayor of Jersey City, was an Iraq War veteran and former investment banker with Goldman Sachs before he assumed his post less than a year ago.
Fulop addressed the Rutgers community in the Douglass Campus Center Tuesday evening for the Arthur J. Holland Program on Ethics in Government.
John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, introduced Fulop after honoring the memory of former Mayor of Trenton, Arthur Holland, known for his openness to the public and the ethical standards of his administration.
“Consistent with his life … the Holland Program on Ethics in Government seeks to promote integrity in public affairs and improve public policy and government practices by seeking ways to replace cynicism and apathy with awareness, understanding and anxiousness,” Weingart said.
Fulop said he views himself as a pragmatic problem solver.
He quoted Michael Yudelson, Supervisor of Henrietta, invoking the idea that a democratic or republican way to plow streets does not exist.
Fulop said an ethical government was one for the people and by the people and transparency is key. His administration uses data to be as open as possible with the Jersey City public.
“Something I think we’re very proud of in Jersey City is really focusing on the transparency component, and it’s something I think we’ve tried to go above and beyond any other municipality in the state of New Jersey,” he said.
That process began with the aggregation of data and making that information easily accessible to the public.
Fulop touted Jersey City’s new paid sick leave mandate, the first of its kind in New Jersey, as well as strong pay to play laws and a push by the municipality to regain local controls over public schools.
Jersey City schools, Fulop said, have been largely under state control since the late 1980s.
Fulop said income inequality measures, such as paid sick leave or raising the minimum wage, were not damaging the business community as many suggested and were necessary for working-class families.
“Jersey City was the first city in the state of New Jersey this year to implement paid sick leave,” he said. “It was prompted by my belief that a family member — a mother — should not have to choose between the well-being of her child or someone in her immediate family and her employment.”
Fulop said increasing community involvement in the school system was also a key achievement of his election. The amount of votes in school board elections have doubled thanks to administration efforts, but they were still not enough in a city of approximately 300,000 people.
Fulop repeatedly pointed to his time in the U.S. Marine Corps as developing the ethical background he brings to municipal government.
“It is a core belief in the Marine Corps to never leave a person behind,” he said.
When an audience member asked him if his successor could maintain his standard of ethics in a city permeated by a culture of corruption, Fulop said his passion for the job attracts good people.
He also acknowledged the spotty past of Jersey City and said the lack of a definitive media market was partially to blame.
“I think that one of the reasons — to be honest with you — why [a culture of corruption] exists in Jersey City … really doesn’t have its own media market,” he said. “That’s really a problem for New Jersey overall. Without that transparency … you have a lot of things happen that maybe wouldn’t happen elsewhere.”
Fulop said transparency was equivalent to everything a government does and can be used as a tool to reinforce public trust and support.
“My personal belief is that the more information I can push out, the better,” he said.
Fulop said one way the city is trying to do that is using technology to bring data to residents, such as an app to track crime by neighborhood.
Ian Liberty, a graduate student in the Eagleton Institute of Politics, asked Fulop if he distinguished between ethics in campaigning and ethics in office.
Liberty, a Jersey City law intern and Fulop supporter, said the ethics of the candidate and official were one in the same.
“[Fulop] pointed out … a relationship between them and he tries to keep the two as separate as possible,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a difference … you should campaign in anticipation of being elected and conduct yourself in an ethical way, the same as you would were you in office.”
Liberty prefaced his question by invoking scandals surrounding Gov. Chris Christie, which he said Fulop understandably elected to not respond to.