Steven Fulop announced Tuesday he will not run for a fourth term as mayor of Jersey City in 2025, which ramped up speculation that he plans to run for governor that same year.
The Democrat was elected to a third mayoral term in 2021, the first mayor to do so since the reign of legendary boss Frank Hague, who led the city from 1917 to 1947. Fulop is popular in Jersey City — he won his first re-election bid, in 2017, with 78% of the vote.
“You never know where life takes you next, but at this point I just want to say thank you to #JerseyCity for electing me 3 times,” Fulop tweeted on Tuesday, responding to a tweet that suggested he had his eye on the governor’s race. “I love this city + there is no better community. I know for certain that I won’t be running for re-election as mayor in 2025.”
In 2016, Fulop was considered by many political observers to be the favorite in the Democratic primary for governor, but he abruptly dropped out of the race 11 months before the vote, which ultimately paved the way for now-Gov. Phil Murphy to win election.
Fulop, 45, has a resume made for a successful politician. He’s the son of immigrants — his mother is a Jewish Holocaust survivor and his father fought in Israel’s Six Day War. He worked on Wall Street and left to serve in the Marine Corps in Iraq. He was elected to the Jersey City Council in 2005 and was first elected mayor in 2013.
“He's articulate. He can be funny. He looks like a politician,” said Matthew Hale, political science professor at Seton Hall University.
But Hale says Fulop has never excelled at retail politics and cited a trip on the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington — where attendance is effectively required for anyone running for office in New Jersey.
“Phil Murphy and Steve Fulop were both on the train. And I remember being on that train and watching Phil Murphy with the joy of a 12-year-old on Christmas Day, running up and down, shaking everybody's hand and smiling,” Hale said. “Fulop looked like he was going to the dentist.”
But Fulop may have learned a few lessons from that first aborted run for governor. Hale said the announcement not to run again for mayor — two years early — indicates Fulop wants to focus on the kind of politicking that is hard to do when also running for another office.
“He's essentially clearing his dance card for the next three years so that he can go out and shake those hands and try and make those connections,” Hale said.
Fulop made a name for himself early when he went public with the strong-arming tactics of officials and political operatives tied to then-Gov. Chris Christie, who used rewards and punishments to cajole endorsements from mayors — a pattern that ultimately led to the scandal known as Bridgegate.
“Running for office outside the political establishment and standing up to powerful interests to fight for Jersey City’s future has been both incredibly challenging and rewarding,” Fulop said in a press release about his decision. “The forward momentum happening in Jersey City is undeniable, and while there is much more work to be done I feel confident that new leaders can build on the foundation we have built while charting their own unique path forward.”
He also touted his work on affordable housing, boosting public transportation and hiring more police officers.
He said he is proud to have cut pedestrian deaths through his “Vision Zero” program, yet he never spoke out against City Councilwoman Amy DeGise, who has been charged with a hit-and-run accident involving a bicyclist last August. The bicyclist was thrown through the air and injured, but survived.
This story has been updated to add quotes from Matthew Hale, political science professor at Seton Hall University, and to correct a reference to when Steve Fulop dropped out of the 2016-2017 primary race.