03/20/2013 12:07 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Jerramiah Healy, Jersey City Mayor, Announces Rare Barack Obama Endorsement

US President Barack Obama delivers a speech upon his arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2013.  Obama landed
US President Barack Obama delivers a speech upon his arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2013. Obama landed in Israel for the first time as US president, on a mission to ease past tensions with his hosts and hoping to paper over differences on handling Iran's nuclear threat. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Jerramiah Healy, the Democratic mayor of New Jersey's second largest city, announced an endorsement from President Barack Obama in his bid for a third term.

The Jersey City mayor noted the surprising endorsement in a press release Wednesday morning, just hours after he attended a White House reception honoring Enda Kenny, the Irish taoiseach (prime minister). Healy's statement included praise from Obama for his work on gun control and economic issues.

"To continue moving America forward, we need more leaders like my friend, Jerry Healy," Obama said in Healy's statement. "He's made Jersey City a vital engine for economic growth, innovation and opportunity. Mayor Healy is also one of the leading voices on urban sustainability and getting illegal guns off our streets. I enthusiastically endorse Mayor Jerramiah Healy to keep the progress going in Jersey City."

A White House spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment on why Obama chose to weigh in on the Jersey City mayor's race. Healy is facing off against city Councilman Steve Fulop (D) and two minor candidates in May's nonpartisan election, which has become the most competitive race in New Jersey before November's gubernatorial contest.

Healy was an original member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and has also picked up an endorsement from the group's co-founder, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Earlier this month, Healy honored Obama's distant cousin from Ireland, Henry Healy, during Jersey City's St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Obama has rarely waded into mayoral contests. He offered backing to Democrat William Thompson in his 2009 race for New York mayor against Bloomberg. He did not directly endorse his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, in Emanuel's run for Chicago mayor, but Emanuel's 2011 campaign quoted praise from Obama in ads without objection from the president. The two candidates in May's runoff election for Los Angeles mayor -- Democrats Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel -- have both indicated they would be receptive to a presidential endorsement.

Healy was an early supporter of Obama in his 2008 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, whom Fulop backed. Both Jersey City candidates assisted Obama's reelection campaign in 2012. Next month, a New York City fundraiser for Fulop will be co-hosted by Steven Newmark, who headed Young Lawyers for Obama in 2008. Newmark managed Fulop's unsuccessful 2004 primary campaign for Congress against then-Rep. Robert Menendez.

A Fulop spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment.