Jersey City is the most diverse city in the U.S. The people running it are not so diverse
Jersey City hosts a COVID- 19 memorial event in front of City Hall to remember the victims lost to the Coronavirus. NorthJersey.com
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop often touts his city as the most diverse in the nation, but Fulop’s top-ranking staff is nowhere near as diverse as the city they run.
The public safety director is white, and so is the municipal prosecutor. The business administrator, corporation counsel, commerce director, recreation director, DPW director, tax collector, communications director and chief of staff are all white. The personnel and finance directors are Latina. The new police director is Black.
Overall, 76% of the people leading Fulop’s administration are white. Census figures put Jersey City’s white population at about 22%.
This doesn't sit well with Patrick Toussaint, a Black Jersey City resident who belongs to a group of progressive Hudson County Democrats that has challenged the mayor's policies. Toussaint said diversity in government is about "making sure the views of diverse communities are represented in policymaking."
"When you zoom in here to Jersey City, and you look at what happened with the budget, affordable housing or the civilian complaint review board, you have to wonder: Would the Fulop administration have been more responsive to the voices of women and people of color if more of those voices were reflected in the administration?" he said.
A Fulop spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
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Home to the Statue of Liberty, Jersey City calls itself “America's golden door,” a nod to the countless immigrants who made it home after passing through Ellis Island. Studies often cite it as the most diverse city in the nation. Fulop posted the most recent study on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We truly are a city that represents the best of our country,” he wrote.
The latest census figures put Jersey City's population at 261,940. The Black population is 23%, Latinos make up 29%, Asians 25%, and the share of people who identify as white alone is 22%. Of its population, 42% are foreign-born and 53% speak a language other than English at home.
Jersey City Councilman James Solomon, a Fulop critic who has sparred with the mayor on issues like affordable housing and police funding, said the city’s leaders would make “better, more just and more equitable” decisions if they were as diverse as Jersey City’s population. Fulop last year pushed back against activists' calls to implement major cuts to the police budget, and his affordable housing plan has been jeered by fair housing advocates.
“In any given year there are hundreds and hundreds of important, life-altering decisions that the leaders of the city make related to affordable housing, to policing, to allocation of resources, and the leaders of this city should look like the city that they’re governing,” Solomon said.
Solomon, a Democrat like Fulop, is seeking reelection in the city’s nonpartisan elections in November. Solomon’s only announced challenger is a Fulop ally.
The Fulop administration has become whiter since he was first elected mayor in 2013. He has replaced the chief of staff, prosecutor, corporation counsel, commerce director and recreation director — all positions held in 2013 by Black or Latino people — with white people. The police chief in 2013 was a white man, and that position no longer exists, replaced by a police director who is a Black woman. In 2013 the chief financial officer was a white woman. That position, which has since changed to finance director, is now held by a Latina. Two deputy mayor positions, held in 2013 by a Black woman and a Latino man, are now vacant.
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Comparing Jersey City's leadership with administrations in other New Jersey cities is difficult, because each city has its own hierarchy. But the administrations of the state’s other most populous cities reflect a diversity Jersey City’s lacks.
In Newark, where 50% of the population is Black, at least 70% of top administration positions are held by Black people. The racial makeup of Paterson’s city government is roughly evenly split among Black, white and Latino officials. Paterson's populace is 61% Latino, 25% Black and 9% white.
Fulop ally Joyce Watterman made history in 2020 when she became the Jersey City Council’s first Black woman president. Watterman, a Democrat who, like Fulop, is seeking a third term in November, said diversity among the administration’s top officials is something “we do have to improve.”
“That is a conversation we definitely need to have,” she said. “The city is so diverse … we’re still the No. 1 city, and we have to reflect that.”
Terrence T. McDonald is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.