The Board of Ward Commissioners ignored three hours of unanimous testimony opposing the new ward map released on Thursday, approving it by a tally of 6-0(1) early this afternoon.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The ward commissioners were set to host a hybrid meeting last Friday evening, but ended needing to be rescheduled when the Zoom capacity could only handle 100 people and could not be adjusted on the fly.
Commission Chair John Minella said the commission had to address a significant population difference between Ward E, which has 69,524 people, and Ward D, which has 40,733 people, well beyond the 10 percent deviation between a municipality’s least and most populous wards set by the state.
“This map represents the least amount of change, both geographically and demographically while lowering the percentage to the lowest possible deviation of 1.8 percent,” Minella, a top aide to Mayor Steven Fulop, argued.
As public comment began a little after 9:30 a.m., Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said she was she and the rest of the city council were unaware the redistricting process had started until the first draft of the map was released last week.
“We honestly didn’t. Residents of Ward A were particularly disturbed half of the ward were going to be separated. I am very happy that our long-standing residents of Ward A are able to remain in the ward,” Ridley said of the changes made in the latest map.
“I understand we don’t get a vote. But there is only one public meeting residents have,” she continued asking for a courtesy update next time, along with more meetings.
She also asked them to change their bylaws so that the public at least knows the process is underway, prompting applause from the crowd.
“This was not a transparent process. It was held in a very secretive matter. I had serious concerns about the prior map. Anything to reduce the minority population in that ward would be the wrong thing to do,” stated County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2).
O’Dea noted that in the 1980s, he worked for former Councilman Tom Fricchione.
“They redistricted him out of his ward and it was done for purely political reasons. I hope the decisions are made in the best interests of the city and without political motivations.”
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore brought concerns that he had mentioned yesterday to the ward commissioners directly.
“How is this drawn map compact when it swoops up? That is extremely puzzling to a whole demographic of voters who voted for someone they thought would represent their interests,” he stated.
Gilmore also said that natural boundaries should be respected, questioning why all of the major development projects were suddenly moved elsewhere.
“I took a place to fight for them and will not stand by and allow this to transpire. The process is so heartbreaking to the point where you have multiple elected officials crying out the process,” he added, also asserting he was “ripped away from the jurisdiction I was elected to serve.”
He later said he would back efforts to launch a lawsuit to overturn the commission’s decision and fight with those who were unhappy with the proceedings.
“This is why people don’t like to participate in the political process here in Jersey City and Hudson County. They feel like no matter what they do they can’t be victorious.”
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey also expressed her dissatisfaction with the process.
“I understand this a math game: show us your math. We know this has to be justified in court. If it takes a little more time, then do it, it’s a better process for everyone involved,” echoing what Ridley said about hosting more meetings and soliciting public input.
“Let residents know they can present their own map. Many people might not have known that,” Prinz-Arey noted.
Sabrina Harrold, a city employee, called the process the” gerrymandering of Ward F.” She said the boundaries should be more compact and sovereign as the law says they should be, rather than “jagged” as they are in the map.
“We’re losing a large portion of our Ward. Reconsider and listen to the needs of the community and what we want. Ask for that 60-day extension and take the time to really really review those maps,” she said.
Lincoln High School Principal and former Ward B Councilman Chris Gadsden asked if the commission would set aside time to answer questions from the public.
“We are not going to answer any questions,” Minella responded.
“We didn’t have the respect from the commission and the process to honor our voice and that’s kind of disheartening,” Gadsden added.
Gadsden continued that Minella should not be on the commission since on top of being Fulop’s aide, he serves on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Hudson County Schools of Technology, and Jersey City Medical Center board.
He also argued that Gilmore was being “punished and marginalized” throughout this process.
James Moore agreed that “it stinks” that Minella chairs the board, questioning why the board waited so long to convene.
Gov. Phil Murphy approved the Census results on September 16th and the commissioners had three months to meet after that. Their first meeting on the subject occurred on December 15th.
“Why did you wait three months? It is pretty obvious to me projects under in Ward F taken out of the ward to deprive councilman of speaking about them,” Moore added.
“We’re all here for very political reasons. This map absolutely does a disservice to the residents of Ward F,” stated Isaac Jimenez.
He said there is a precedent for suing New Jersey municipalities over their re-warding maps, pointing to the city of Summit in Union County.
“There’s no good reason to take Liberty State Park from Ward F and into Ward A,” Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park, said.
He also criticized the breaking up of historic African American neighborhoods in the new map.
“It’s not different than the gerrymandering Republicans do in Florida,” 8th District congressional candidate Ricardo Rojas said about the map.
“It’s a tool of the powerful to keep themselves in power and away from the process whom they don’t believe in it. The party bosses, your bosses, and their absurdly wealthy patrons … want us to lose hope. What you built is a house of cards.”
Others also continually questioned why Gilmore, who ran independently in November, was facing massive changes in his ward, as well as why the commission would not answer inquiries.
“The people clearly have some issues here,” said attorney Bill Matsikoudis, former city corporation counsel under Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
Matsikoudis noted that gerrymandering often concentrates a racial minority, “Here you’re actually diluting,” he said about Ward F.
“When you look at this map, you can say they don’t care about the minorities in the city,” said Michael Griffin, a staple from Gilmore’s campaign, said.
“Even Mayor Fulop is looking for a 60-day extension. What is happening?”
Furthermore, Hudson County Progressive Alliance leader Amy Torres boldly called for the elimination of at-large council seats, arguing they are anti-democratic, suppress Black and Latino voters, and have slowly begun to be phased out in other parts of the country.
After three hours of public comment, Minella asked Board Clerk Michael Harper if any other map had been submitted.
“No other map has been submitted to the board, no,” he responded.
As a result, Minella called for the vote following a motion by Commissioner Dan Miqueli (R-West New York), which was seconded by Commissioner Paul Castelli (R-Kearny).
“I also hear so much about gerrymandering and divisions, but what I don’t understand, is as council people, you represent everyone,” Commissioner Janet Lawra (D-Bayonne) said regarding the remarks from Ridley, Prinz-Arey, and Gilmore.
“I don’t live in Jersey City anymore, but I was born and raised in Jersey City and I love Jersey City. And I know Jersey City … Now matter how we vote, you still represent your area, no matter whose in it.”
She also congratulated Councilman “Gillman” for a great job on getting his constituents out, quickly apologizing on getting his name wrong before voting yes.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about the process in general … There’s a lot of confusion about what happened. We’re on a very short deadline, it not like since September we could work on this. We are under a short deadline,” explained Commissioner Peter Horton (D-Jersey City) said.
He abstained, indicating he understood the confusion about the maps and hoping for further time to examine them on Monday.
Minella, Commissioner Dan Beckleman (R-Jersey City), and Commissioner Sean Gallagher, also the city clerk, voted yes as well, allowing the measure to pass 6-0(1).
“Thank you very much: see you in 2032,” Harper said at the conclusion of the meeting.