To quote The Who: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.
I like The Who as much as the next lover of classic rock, but their lyrics often cannot stand up to scrutiny, and Won’t Get Fooled Again is no exception. The only thing about the new boss that is ever the same as the old boss is the boss part. Just like when push came to shove, Townsend preferred getting older to dying, bosses are never exactly the same.
After a muck and mire campaign that even exceeded the inexorable mud slinging that is customary for Jersey City elections, upstart Steve Fulop won an upset victory in May (Jersey City’s election laws are bizzaro), and was inaugurated into office July 1st. Former Mayor Healy supporters and long term Jersey City residents, particularly the born and bred, echoed The Won’t Get Fool Again sentiment and such a cynical view is not without precedence or justification in our city, our country, our world (and the entire Alpha Quadrant).
To not acknowledge, however, that the inauguration of Mayor Steve Fulop as an indication of the beginning of a new chapter in our city (if not our galaxy) is to have a commitment to cynicism that is obtuse – a syndrome not exactly rare round these parts.
The inauguration was accompanied by festive, well-attended party that deserves to become a tradition. Blocks were cordoned off, grand stands set up, straw hats made of Styrofoam with Steve Fulop’s name on it were handed on. A large poster of the Fulop visage hung on the side of a building; an Uncle Sam on stilts meandered through the crowd. City Hall was bedecked in Old Glory bunting. Red, white and blue everywhere. The competitive anxiety part of democracy is over – the election – and the difficult part of democracy has yet to begin – translating ideals into effective policy – and the Fulop inauguration party let us as Americans do what we do best – perform crass displays of patriotism and sincere acts of neighborliness.
I flashed that legendary Mayor Hague and legendary city mayors like him probably held these sorts of coronation parties, a splashy city-wide event filled with patriotic decorations. I imagined as the people of the city ate, drank and danced, their leaders congregated in smaller groups, in corners and back rooms of City Hall (closed to the public for the event), and in whispers made patronage deals and secretly formalized the new administration’s pecking order . Unseen, the gears are put into position. There’s a new city machine in town and everyone whose business is government (which is everybody, but others more than you or I) is finding out how they will be benefit or suffer.
The people had a nice event, got to see in person people you know mainly through Facebook. It was a fun party that broke up the routine of what would have been just another Monday evening. The splashy, unprecedented street gala succeeded in leaving no doubt that a new mayor and new era, begins now.
All politics are local the saying goes and in his inauguration speech the new mayor echoed the old chestnut that there is no republican or democrat way to clean streets, which is good-sounding rhetoric but total bullshit. The tax rates used to fund government are distinct to each party. Does your political ideology and subsequent policies favor the haves or the have nots? The poor and middle class, or the wealthy? What political ideology on a national level does it strengthen or undermine?
City Machine: Which Side Are You On?
City machines bring out votes; Hague made sure everyone voted for FDR and guess what; we got a hospital still in existence. More importantly, Hague and mayors like him, by using their ability to command their loyal blocks of voters, enabled FDR to carry states in the Electoral College. City Machine made the public support of the New Deal visible, especially important since those economic polices, that saved the nation from depression, created the middle class and a social safety net, and most importantly, saved Capitalism from itself, were all opposed by Republicans, who tried every trick in the book to make sure wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few.
City machines get things done, and what happens locally once determined the national agenda. The thing is, city machine politics are necessary and more often than is commonly admitted, for the social good.
Fulop’s inauguration was the public recognition of a new city machine, and with the resurgence in American cities and a new generation (Fulop is totally Gen X) taking power, one wonders, not if, but how this new city machine will influence the national agenda (and the history of the Alpha Quadrant).
After WW II, with the growth of suburbs, city machines gradually lost their political muscle. The glory days of Tammany Hall were long gone, rampant corruption – the other side of patronage – enriched, but eventually thinned the management rank of City Machines, as corruption scandals and lawsuits further weakened the grip these political organizations had on both their own territories. They were unable to extend their influence to the suburban municipalities that blossomed in Post-War America.
National opposition politicians not beholden to these weakened city political machines, like Nixon and Reagan, were elected and implemented policies that wrecked cities and decimated the working class. Factories closed as federal policies, already impeding unions, encouraged investors to exploit cheap labor costs by moving factories overseas. The blue collar ranks, the bedrock of cities like J.C., underwent an economic suppression that was tantamount to class genocide.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. City living became popular again. Younger generations did not share the collective racism of the World War II and even Baby Boomers (a more complicated less obvious prejudice that I will no go into here). The white flight that occurred throughout the last half of the 20 century was reversed, multiculturalism was embraced and the alternative lifestyle opportunities city living offered became mainstream. Archie Bunker died, Archie’s Place went condo, Jerry Seinfeld moved in. A mixed-raced politician was elected president, with no memory of Vietnam era politics and who rose to power in part by working through the city machine of Chicago politics.
About 75 percent of Jersey City who could vote, who voted in the 2012 Presidential election, did not vote in the Jersey City mayoral election. But somebody else pointed out to me that Fulop won – he got about 52 percent of the vote – because about 5,000 more people voted this year than in the last mayoral election. Now, I haven’t done the research to verify these stats, but they sound true. You have to hand it to the guy, he inspired enough people to go out and vote for him who most likely would otherwise sit out the election. He deserved the win on that basis, despite the reality that the vast majority in his city are indifferent fools who have no respect for or appreciation of freedom. I’ll never understand not voting.
Jersey City is a Democratic city – even though it once elected a Republican mayor, Brett Schundler – and its mayoral election, is technically a Democratic primary. Incumbent, Jerremiah Healy, was painted as a machine politician with machine having the pejorative connotation it has long acquired. He also ran a terrible campaign.
He ridiculed Fulop as a carpet bagger, that he doesn’t know Jersey City because he’s only lived here 13 years. This misstep was offensive, rejected by voters and proved fatal to his campaign. He was appealing to bigotry. Born and Bred Jersey City types can be narrow minded and have a you’re not from here attitude. I got this same ignorant attitude from them when I moved here 20 years ago and still get it today – but not so much now, not just because I’ve lived here long enough that I’m easy to ignore, but that those born and breders are not as opposed to change or newcomers as they once were. There has been a lot more change for the better than the worse (in some ways, this city could not have gotten worse!), and there was just too many newcomers to sustain their unjustified resentment.
I was thinking of the Jersey Shore debacle of a couple of years ago. Healy took heat for letting MTV film that awful show here, Healy said it would bring in needed revenue. What could be more UN-Jersey City than having that show publicize our unique mini-metropolis around the globe?
So, Fulop was not Jersey City enough but Jersey Shore was? This insipid allegation – as if Jersey City is so exceptional that it is not really part of New Jersey or America and everyone not born at Christ Hospital does not have the best interests of where they live now in their hearts – in light of his Jersey Shore approval (Hoboken rejected MTV’s offer) revealed the smart, well-read Healy to be intellectually inconsistent. His strategy backfired big time.
But Healy’s biggest mistake was that he did not have an adequate response to corruption charges. As is well known, there was sting operation that netted a gaggle of politicians and officials, including 13 from this area, for taking bribes from a fake developer. No one investigated developers who were giving real bribes, just the politicians and officials. Then Attorney General, Chris Christie headed, this massive take down and was able to parley it all the way to the Govenor's Mansion in Trenton and now onto national politics. Healy was never charged, but several of his associates were and were indicted and are still doing time. Fulop successfully, and quite frankly, with good reason, was able to tar Healy with corruption by association, even if actual corruption on his part never occurred. Investigators found that he never took a bribe, a point Healy repeated incessantly.
But Healy never went beyond that point, never addressed the larger issue of state-wide corruption, especially the construction industry malfeasance that sparked the investigation and entrapment strategy. Instead, Healy said he didn’t get caught and left it at that. Instead of getting bogged down on issue specifics, Fulop was able to make the former mayor – a smart, decent man who did a lot of good for this city in the wake of the sudden death of his friend and mentor, former mayor Gerald Cunningham – the main issue in the campaign. It didn’t help that Healy’s actions often invited aspersions, such as the photograph taken down the shore, of an inebriated, apparently naked Mayor.
It wasn’t just Fulop’s winning of the campaign’s muck and mire competition that gave us a new city machine. A friend of mine, a middle-aged (older baby boomer) woman who liked Healy, had voted for him in prior elections, sat on some community board involved with the restoration of a downtown park a few years ago. Fulop was on the same board. She is pretty much old-school Jersey City, been here since the late 70s, acts like a born and breder, and is employed by a local church. Healy was a supporter of her church-related projects, where he and his family members often attend services (Fulop is Jewish). But she voted Fulop. Why? Fulop impressed her. She liked working with him. He was trustworthy and dependable. There was a personal connection, and while she liked his words, she saw his actions and acknowledged they had positive results.
Gen X & Yer’s were going to vote for Fulop, because he is one of them and innately they rightly believe, it is about time they collectively grab hold of a rein of power. But the notable numbers of the turnout (the 5,000 surge), that goes beyond generational solidarity. Fulop has made connections with others like my friend. Baby Boomers were never enthused about any mayoral race in the 90s.
But Fulop truly inspires millennial transplants, a population most other Hudson County politicians treat with benign neglect. He attends the art events, is generally supportive in spite of some slippery actions (dodging some issues is part of a politician’s job description), like his silence on the sound ordinance issue.
Fulop was absent during the controversial and highly contested hearings on the sound ordinance (as councilman, he left the public portion of the hearing on the sound ordinance, which still irks many who turned out for the hearings, although not enough to prevent them voting Fulop for mayor), resulting in the passage of a vague bill affecting only bars, not outdoor events, where much of the controversy arose. The outdoor event sound levels have not been regulated, and basically any complaint against sound can lead to the shutdown of an event – there’s no objective measure necessary, just the discretion of the police who answer the call. Healy was also silent on the sound ordinance issue, which was likewise ignored by our local media.
Fulop created a base, expanded that base, and can now use that base to advance in politics. Of course, a lot depends on, now that he is at the helm of the city machine, how Fulop wields that power to improve Jersey City, and those improvements have to be objectively apparent to residents and those not living here alike. Holding a city-wide party in the patronage style of a classic Big City Mayor augurs well for his first term. This city machine is younger and less blue collar than those of the past. The inauguration was a way to get people involved – at least present – it was a protest march with out the protest, a rally with a social media networking feel as opposed to a burning issue our passions can coalesce around. The new city machine may not be too new to fully define right now, but the fact that it is here is undeniable. The potential for change is exciting and I prefer to feel positive about it. Blame Scott Muni, he over-played The Who on WNEW when I was in High School.
Fulop’s inauguration was the first time I saw him give a complete speech. He’s a good speaker. The Jersey accent is thick but we’ve all heard thicker. Nasally and a fast talker – probably too fast for a national audience, although I can just imagine the SNL parody – he comes off as well-informed and nerdy, more interested in pragmatism than ideology. The speech was well written, containing historical references (60,000 runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad era received safe passage through Jersey City) and a parable from the Talmud. It focused on creating one city from our diverse population and disparate neighborhoods, reminding us that is what Jersey City has always done. Some of the rhetoric sounded plagiarized from his campaign speeches – you won, dude, no need to harp on real and perceived corruption of the past – and while his emphasis on education was welcomed, his job creation promises were vague in detail. There was little said about those struggling with poverty or other economic issues, most of which are beyond the direct purview of a municipality-level leader. Overall though, he sounded like a Democrat, and depending on how the 2015 New York Times Sunday Magazine cover profile will read, he probably earned a speaking spot at the 2016 Democratic Convention. His is an act (if he can slow that down that speech pattern) that potentially could attract a following outside of Hudson County politics, a real rarity among our politicians (just ask Governor Schundler).
The other politicians giving remarks were Senator Bob Menendez and Governor Chris Christie, who until Sandy photo-ops redemption, was the anti-Christ for N.J. Democrats. Menendez rose through the political ranks of Union City and Hudson County, won his seats after Frank Lautenberg retired (Lautenberg reentered politics after the Torricelli debacle and won that corrupt gas bag’s seat). I have never seen Menendez speak. He was a bore, looking and sounding like a typical political fat cat. I was uninspired, but his senate voting record I generally support. If he ever has to face a formidable candidate, I hope it is in a primary and not a general election.
Christie was the real surprise. He recently underwent the gastro-surgery, but he still looks obese. Now, as readers know, I’m a New Deal Democrat. Writing about politics is rare for Dislocations, but not unheard of. I’m not tying to convince you to think otherwise than you already do about your political believes, I’m just interested in stating my thoughts honestly and those thoughts come from a progressive place. As such, there’s nothing I like about our Governor’s politics. His media appearances make me cringe. I’m embarrassed we are both from the same state and are both fans of Bruce. Christie is an anti-intellectual, obnoxious frat boy. But I got to say, live and behind the podium, giving remarks that were political in a general sense but resisted taking party or ideological stances, he was likeable. In person, my impression was surprisingly – I should say shockingly – opposite to what I heretofore felt. He’s a New Jersey guy, of the Suburbs (as am I). As speeches go – in form if not content – Christie was showing the new mayor and veteran Senator how it’s done. He won the evening's speechifying contest hands down. He’s formidable. He captivates. He’s a force to be reckoned with; now that Senator Lautenberg is on the other shore, there’s no New Jersey politician able to reckon with that force and I wonder how many on the national level could even try.
New Jersey Democrats are a lackluster bunch. On a national level, we’re taken for granted as a blue state, reliable but not fit to waste campaign dollars on. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate deemed to visit a Jersey City neighborhood was in 1972. By voting in turds like John Corzine, our once blue state has been hijacked by Christie, and forget about purple – in truth we were always purple everywhere except the post-Reagan electoral college -- could go red if this trend continues. This sad state of the state politics, led to an opening for Christie to move onto the national stage, which fills me with fear. His ideology is dangerous and damaging, but debating ideas is not our nation’s forte. Christie is able to win over audiences and is not to be under-estimated. I look at my pictures of Christie and still cringe – I just don’t like the guy and my reticence feels visceral – and that reaction is totally the opposite of the one I had listening to him speak in person. Be afraid, America, be very afraid.
Healy received an endorsement by President Obama, which only made the election closer but still far short of victory. From a national perspective, the outcome of the Obama endorsement reveals volumes, and not in a good way, of the challenges progressive politics now face in the land that I love best. President Obama is a lame duck president earlier in his second term than any previous president. He just never seemed to have the courage of his convictions. Perhaps this decline started with his early abandonment of the “Government Option,” then he gave up the fight for a larger stimulus package – something most economists wanted – and signed a lower level of spending, whose positive impact was nil. Obama was reelected because Romney & Ryan were frightening and foolish, and let’s face it, Barack is a likeable dad and husband, and we’re used to him. But 2012 is so last year, with Republicans entrenched in the legislative branch, change much less hope has been nullified and Democrats, being in the white house, will suffer the blame. With the Drones and surveillance issues, Obama is eroding much of his base and his seeming inability to positively change the economy for workers (the Investor Class is doing swell), explains why his Healy endorsement fell flat and only bodes ill for the upcoming mid-term elections and the plight of working people like you and me.
Earlier in the day on local NPR (WNYC), Fulop was interviewed and said Obama had not even called him with a congratulations. WTF? He said only Bill Clinton – ever stalwart – did call. What kind of show for Democratic unity is this that the new Mayor of a major mid-size city – a city with a growing population – gets ignored by the national party. Why wasn’t the vice-president on the dais to deliver remarks? Ignoring Fulop’s inauguration was just another example of taking New Jersey for granted attitude among the national Democratic Party.
This neglect led to the rise of Christie and while his opponent seems like a good candidate (Barbara Buno or Bono, I forget) and Corey Booker seems like a shoe-in for Senator, Christie’s victory is a foregone conclusion and after Booker, who is the next in line among the ranks of N.J. Democrats. That would be Steve Fulop, which makes the whole inauguration even more problematic regarding the future of the Democratic party. On the NPR interview, Fulop said he is waiting to announce his endorsement for the NJ Governor’s race. With Christie’s win considered a foregone conclusion by the wimps and turds who make up the majority of the NJ Dem leadership, the concern is Christie will respond in kind once elected to anyone who made his second coronation even a little less ordained. All of Fulop’s fellow democrats supported Healy, so why should Steve be the first to turn the other cheek? It is really up the rest of the NJ Dems to extend the olive branch to the new city machine. Forget your ego, make new alliances. Stop being weak kneed numbskulls. Work for the common good
So, as we wait for that NJ Dem solidarity to adjust to the Fulop reality, our Mayor emphasizes that he puts the city first, an attitude agreeable to my myopic, self-centered brethren who are more afraid of a local “re-val” increasing property taxes than federal policies eradicating the middle class and letting the 1 percent get richer. Even the Hudson Pride Connection – so publically outraged that Christie is not budging on marriage equality, according to the news stories following the Supreme Court DOMA decision less than a week ago – were no where to be seen, no rainbow flag, much less a protest sign, to greet our publically homophobic Governor visit to our gay-friendly town.
Same as the old boss? Sorry, Pete. While Goldman Sachs, where Fulop used to work, is said to have paid for the inauguration party and funded his campaign – he was able to outspend Healy – he also cultivated grass roots support, motivating his base and now seems to have coopted most of the Healy base. Hey, we’re all Democrats ain’t we?
This new city machine is led by a new generation of voters – Gen X and Y (political differences between these two groups are not that clear). FDR and JFK knew how to appeal to these machines and these machines knew how to get the vote out for the federal candidates and in turn, the cities benefitted from federal policies that favored the working class, which made up the majority of their populations. Measurement of the success of economic policies was not the amount of national wealth – now concentrated in a smaller percent of the population than in the entire history of mankind – but how high the number of good paying jobs created and how low the amount of the unemployed remained.
Instead, we had a state and national party that took these city machines for granted. It’s obvious this attitude can no longer persist. Demographics shifted the tale, and J.C.’s machine is now at the vanguard of change. Statewide and national politicians now ignore us and the Fulop machine at their own risk – photo-ops at Liberty State Park no longer will suffice to guarantee votes, votes Fulop has now proven he can deliver. The implications of the Steve Fulop inauguration cannot be over estimated.
The event itself was loads of fun. Vendors sold food for lower than typical street-fair prices -- $1 slice for Pizza, $1 for 4 Filipino ego rolls – free bottles of water – there was music before the ceremonies at two different stages – I caught some Gospel, some Salsa, a James Brown number by a high school band – and the ceremonies included a Marine Color guard, the playing of the MC anthem (to the shores of Tripoli), a young girl singing America the Beautiful, even a local poet reading a spoken-word piece about Our Jersey City. True, the conclusion was the cake by the Cake Boss, some cable TV show filmed in Hoboken everybody besides me seemed to know. I thought everybody was going to get a slice. That was not to be.
For all of Fulop’s talk of changing Jersey City’s Tale of Two Cities into the tale of one cities, there was a real apparent class division at the inauguration. There were barriers and a wrist band system and unless you were in the loop, you were regulated to the street and food vendors. Bloggers are not yet eligible for a press pass (I counted more than a dozen TV cameras in the press box), and the grand stands with the best view were seating by invitation only. There was VIP section of a friend of Fulop caste, and the rest of us had Grove Street.
But after the ceremonies, as the Friends of Fulop began to vacate the City Hall lawn and separated into their separate parties, far away from the plebes, proles and great unwashed, the music started. Ivan – son of Aaron – Neville was one of the featured acts, and I was able to stand at the side of the stage and watched one of the 2nd generation of Neville Brothers perform Iko Iko, a rendition that duplicated the original “Jokomo” arrangement by Sugar Boy Crawford. He also performed Sly Stone’s “Family Affair” in bluesy New Orleans round house style, as well as some soulful originals, one of which was so new he had to read the lyrics scrawled on a piece of notebook paper.
Only about a dozen or so watched Ivan, who played among a great deal of picture posing, general commotion and chit-chat by the political class getting ready to depart to their after-parties. I have to hand it to Fulop, he stayed on that stage. You do not invite a member of one of America’s foremost musical family to your inauguration and not give ample props. Right on Steve!
Probably the only time ever a Neville opens for a local J.C. act. The Milwaukees – “Steve’s favorite J.C. band "– came as night completed its falling and they were loud. These cats are great – arena rock without the arena – I wrote about them here, but I left before the end of the set. I had an enjoyable time, but politics, even when interesting and validates our hopes, exhaust. I was six blocks away, on Columbus where traffic was not blocked, made thicker by the detours created by the inauguration barriers.
In spite of this distance and the added noise, I could still hear The Milwaukees, every lick and lyric. I have never been to an outdoor event in town where the music was this loud. In fact, this was as loud as any concert I’ve ever attended, and louder than many of them. I’m not complaining. I like it loud.