Fulop inauguration on Jan. 1; Lavarro, Watterman vie for council president

by Ricky Rillera

NEW JERSEY – As the new year approaches, Jersey City prepares to usher in the incoming administration of Mayor Steven M. Fulop who won over challenger Bill Matsikoudis in a landslide victory on Election Day, November 7 in his bid to serve a second term.

Fulop regarded his victory as “record-breaking, with the largest percentage margin since 1947 to re-elect a mayor after four years.” In a statement, he said, “From a larger police force to new parks, to stable taxes, I know that the efforts of our first term can be seen every day, and I am honored to have been given another four years to build upon the progress we have worked so hard to achieve.”

Winning with Fulop were all his three candidates for councilman-at-large, and one councilman, namely: Rolando Lavarro, Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera, and Jermaine Robinson of Ward F. Denise Ridley of Ward A, and Mira Prinz-Arey of Ward B, won in the run-offs on Dec. 5. Two of his candidates failed to defeat incumbents: John Hannusak of Ward C who lost to Richard Boggiano, and Moriah Kinberg of Ward D to Michael Yun.

But Fulop will retain control of the nine-member City Council when his new term begins on January 1 following a re-organization meeting, and Fulop and council members are sworn in during the 5 p.m. inauguration at the Jersey City Council Chambers.

After the election on November 7, Council President Rolando Lavarro, the top vote-getter, was humbled by the election results. “I am thankful that Jersey City residents have entrusted me to continue to represent and serve their interests,” he told the Philippine Daily Mirror.

“I believe the results are an affirmation of our work and success over the past four years – hiring hundreds of police officers and having more on the streets than ever before, keeping taxes stable, investing in parks, improvements in public schools, and more.”

At that time, Lavarro, in an email interview. already laid out some legislative initiatives, which he intends to pursue in the second term of a Fulop administration. He said his top priority is “to keep municipal taxes stable and to minimize the disruption that will invariably occur with the City’s revaluation in nearly 30 years.”

Jersey City will complete its first property revaluation since 1988, following an order from the New Jersey State Treasurer. The decision to complete the long-delayed revaluation was also preceded by the city being found in breach of its contract with the firm hired to complete a property revaluation in 2010.

Another priority for Lavarro is to keep Jersey City affordable. “I intend to put policies and programs in place that will keep our housing and the cost of living affordable and will protect our local and middle-income residents from gentrification,” he said.

“This includes starting a Cop-on-The-Block Program, which would allow us to keep police officers and public workers living in the City they work in; more onsite affordable housing; and enforcement of rent controls.”

Lavarro also said that “improving public safety and education in our tougher, more challenging neighborhoods” as also high in his priority list. “I plan to take that on one neighborhood at a time,” added Lavarro.

But as the clock ticks near the end of the year, the race to securing the council presidency post is aggressively being pursued by both Lavarro and Watterman.

Lavarro, who has been the council’s leader since July 2013, wants to continue in the role for the next two years. Watterman seeks to become the first black woman council president. The election of a council president is now out of the will of Jersey City residents but on who the seven council members will cast their votes to on January 1.

The president’s term is two years, down from four, which both Lavarro and then-councilman Fulop sought to change in 2011. The president oversees the council’s meetings. If a mayoral vacancy occurs, the president becomes acting mayor.

Will it be Lavarro or Watterman? There are speculations that eventually, the outcome will depend on who Mayor Fulop will support if he chose to intervene.

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