When Edison native Steven Fulop was elected mayor of Jersey City in May, by all accounts it was a stunning upset.
After all, his opponent, two-term Democratic incumbent Jerramiah Healy, had been endorsed by President Barack Obama.
So when the upstart 36-year-old councilman became the 49th mayor of Jersey City in May, it received attention from national media, and he was labeled one of the most powerful Democrats in the state.
On Oct. 23, Fulop returned to his home turf, speaking at a program sponsored by the Metuchen-Edison Gesher chapter of Hadassah. The grandson of Rumanian Holocaust survivors and a product of local Jewish day schools, he addressed a crowd of community and Hadassah members gathered at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, where his parents, Carmen and Arthur, are members.
Being mayor has given him “the opportunity to serve and build a better world,” he said.
“My journey to becoming mayor of Jersey City was inspired by the same ideals and sense of volunteerism that Hadassah embodies,” said Fulop.
Those ideals had been instilled in him at an early age by his immigrant parents, who sat in the audience beaming as their son outlined his development plans and ideas for improving New Jersey’s second-largest city.
He also spoke of his coalition-building within its ethnically diverse population, saying he has drawn broad support from Pakistani Muslims, Latinos, and Egyptian Coptic Christians, among others.
Fulop grew up as part of Congregation Adath Israel in Woodbridge, which merged with Neve Shalom more than six years ago. He attended the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in Cranford and Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, where he will speak to students on Dec. 12. He graduated from J.P. Stevens High School in Edison.
His father owned a delicatessen in Newark and his mother worked at an immigration services office helping others achieve the American dream.
“We are so proud of him,” his mother told NJJN.
Fulop said the idea of giving back to his community and country has guided his career path. After graduating Binghamton University and attending Oxford University, he launched a career on Wall Street as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs. However, after witnessing the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he made the “life-changing” decision to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was deployed to Iraq, where he was decorated several times.
“For me service is a partial payment toward the cost of citizenship,” said Fulop.
After returning from Iraq, Fulop took that idea seriously by volunteering in his Jersey City community, becoming president of both the Historic Paulus Hook Association and the Downtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations.
After being elected to the council in 2005 as one of its youngest members ever, he took a “leap of faith,” to enter the mayoral race against the scandal-ridden Healey.
Obama backed Healy after the mayor became one of the first to support Obama’s presidential run, said Fulop. Although Fulop supported Hillary Clinton, the Clintons kept out of the mayoral race, although afterward he received congratulatory calls from both Hillary and Bill Clinton, with whom he maintains a good relationship.
Among Fulop’s goals are helping the city’s poor and underserved, upgrading schools to draw more middle-class professionals to the regentrifying city, getting handguns off the streets, controlling gangs, and cutting down on prisoner recidivism.
“My goal is to live up to my word and to dream and dream big,” said Fulop. “I want to make Jersey City the best mid-sized city in the country.”