Jersey City residents are expected to turn out in large numbers to a City Council meeting Wednesday night to call for Councilwoman Amy DeGise to resign.
It’s been almost a month since DeGise was charged in a hit-and-run accident that caused minor injuries to a cyclist. A majority of her fellow councilmembers and Mayor Steven Fulop have criticized her for not stopping after she hit the cyclist, but Fulop and the majority have not called for her to resign.
Meanwhile, she's faced nonstop calls on social media, from community activists, from more than 6,000 individuals who've signed a petition, and from newspaper editorial boards to step down. Tweets embedded below reflect some of the public response to the incident.
WNYC host Michael Hill spoke with Nancy Solomon, a senior reporter who covers New Jersey. Their discussion featured audio clips of interviews Solomon conducted separately, noted in italics in the transcript below.
The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, and includes material omitted from the on-air presentation of this interview due to time constraints.
Michael Hill: This accident happened on the morning of July 19th and it was captured on surveillance video. Tell us what that video shows.
Nancy Solomon: It shows a man on a bike riding through the intersection of MLK Drive and Forrest Street. He runs a red light and right when he’s in the middle of the intersection, a black SUV comes through at a pretty fast clip and runs smack into him. He flies off his bike, tumbles in the air, his shoes come off and he lands to the side of the SUV, thankfully. I think he would have been injured much worse if he had stayed in the front of it. The car keeps moving, and, remarkably, the cyclist gets up off the pavement and limps off to the sidewalk
The SUV belongs to Amy DeGise. Six hours would pass before she reported the accident, and now she’s been charged with two violations: failure to report an accident and “action in case of an accident,” which is the official language for what the rest of us call a hit-and-run. City Councilman James Solomon told me he’s actually surprised DeGise hasn’t resigned.
Audio clip of James Solomon: And it's not just [the fact there’s been] no resignation. It's … no apology either to the biker or the constituents, no accounting for why it took six hours to go to the police station to report the crash. And, you know, I've called on the councilperson to resign because I don't think she can continue to serve the public and earn the public's trust, you know, given what we all saw on the video.
I want to highlight the amazing community members who were quick to check on the cyclist and give aid while our elected council woman @Amy_DeGise fled the scene.@StevenFulop Jersey City deserves a government as good as its people. That does not include Amy DeGise.#JerseyCity pic.twitter.com/l1nl5MXObp— Curt Saeui (@CurtSaeui) August 5, 2022
Hill: The case has now been moved out of Hudson County, to Essex. Explain who Amy DeGise is and why this case needed to be moved.
Nancy Solomon: She’s the daughter of Tom DeGise, who is the Hudson County executive. That is a very powerful position, the person who runs county government. And as in most counties in New Jersey, the county executive has close ties to the majority political party in the county – that’s the Democrats. He's retiring, and Amy DeGise was his heir apparent. Amy DeGise was also the chairwoman of the Hudson County Democratic Committee, better known as “the machine,” for the last few years.
She also works for a county high school. And then she was elected on Steve Fulop’s slate to the City Council. So you’ve got three ways there to exercise power — county government, which includes the county prosecutor’s office; the party machine; and the mayor, who can exert control over the local police.
It’s also worth noting that Hudson machine politics is made up of political fiefdoms, and DeGise was forced out as chairwoman recently as part of a deal to create peace between two other political bosses. I’m told nobody wants to upset that particular apple cart by calling for her resignation.
It’s this tangled web, and all the political interests, that leads James Solomon, the city councilman, to suggest this case be handled at a higher level.
Audio clip of James Solomon: Let me put it this way. I think it would be a good practice if the attorney general's office could handle politically charged cases across the state, including this one ... and demonstrate an ongoing track record of impartiality in those cases.
Hill: So, at the very least, it sounds like a good idea to move the case out of the county.
Nancy Solomon: Several people told me it’s a good first step. But not everyone is buying that this solves the problem. I spoke with Hector Oseguera, who ran in the Democratic primary for Congress in 2020. He’s a Jersey City activist and he has little trust that someone as embedded in the political machine as Amy DeGise can be held accountable.
Audio clip of Hector Oseguera: Because [political influence] spans countywide, it in some ways spans statewide. Because the people who need statewide influence rely on the county influence, which boils down to the municipal influence, which is all the same system, you know, to begin with.
Nancy Solomon: Oseguera is talking about the county line. Anyone running for office needs the endorsement of the political machine to get preferential placement on the ballot. So that includes congressional representatives who run across several counties, as well as statewide races of the two U.S. senators and the governor.
Audio clip of Oseguera: So I think it's really impossible to expect that there even exists an independent body that could review these sorts of cases without political influence.
Hill: So even though the case is moving to Essex, Oseguera doesn’t think that will help.
Nancy Solomon: No. But it will help the Jersey City Police Department. I spoke with a former Hudson County officer who had helped the FBI with a corruption sting. His name is Rich Rivera and he is now a police chief in a south Jersey town.
Audio clip of Rich Rivera: Unfortunately it puts low-level police officers squarely in the middle of a potential political volcano. Right? You got people that would favor the individual that was driving and then those that are her potential enemies. And those two forces go at it behind the scenes and the police are squarely placed in the middle.
Nancy Solomon: But Rivera says what is different in this case and what will help is that the hit-and-run was caught on video.
Hill: Some of the reporting on DeGise since the accident has suggested she has a sketchy driving record. And she lives in a moderate income housing development, despite making about $200,000 a year. DeGise ran on Mayor Steve Fulop’s slate. Could this be a political problem for him and his aspirations to become governor?
Nancy Solomon: Could be. The video is so bad. The way the cyclist — a large man — flips in the air like a ragdoll as the SUV drives away. There’s already a satire of a DeGise-Fulop campaign ad that loops the hit-and-run footage while DeGise says she’ll never leave anybody behind. A former city councilman wrote a column that argues that Fulop is merely waiting to force her to resign until September 1st, because after that point, there wouldn’t be time to put someone up for re-election this year, and instead, the Council would appoint someone to serve until November 2023.
Hill: Well, it certainly sounds like there’s a big crowd expected for tonight’s City Council meeting. More than 100 people have signed up to speak.
Want more reporting about New Jersey politics from Nancy Solomon? Check out her podcast, "Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery."
Powerful #resigndegise letter: "If @Amy_DeGise refuses to step down, the council members should seek to have her removed. Not doing so is saying that you council members condone her behavior and that you too would take the same action and leave the scene." https://t.co/xtPwZmdBJY— Colin DeVries (@colin_devries) August 3, 2022
.@Amy_DeGise brazen disregard for safety is dangerous on its own - appreciate @GaryforJC linking to other bad behavior in HudCo politics.— Megan Carolan (@MeganCarolan) August 9, 2022
"Every day that DeGise stays in office affirms how low the bar stands for holding public office in Hudson County."https://t.co/My3l79IySW