A New Jersey mayor backed by President Barack Obama was defeated Tuesday in his bid for a third term leading Jersey City, the state's second-largest city.
Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop (D) easily beat Mayor Jerramiah Healy (D) 52 percent to 38 percent in the nonpartisan election, capping a campaign dominated by ethics charges, the surprise Obama endorsement and Healy's explanation for public nudity nine years ago. Two minor candidates received the remainder of the vote.
“You represent the grit and tenacity that make Jersey City special,” Fulop told supporters at his victory party, PolitickerNJ.com reported. “Thank you for believing in this great American experiment called democracy.”
Healy made the Obama endorsement a centerpiece of his campaign and placed his picture next to the president's on literature.
The presidential endorsement was only the second time Obama has endorsed a mayoral candidate since taking office in 2009. The first was for Democrat Bill Thompson for New York City mayor in 2009. Thompson was also unsuccessful in his effort to unseat Mayor Michael Bloomberg that year. Obama never officially endorsed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, his former chief of staff, in 2011.
Obama praised Healy for his work on gun control and economic development. Healy had been an early backer of Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary election, when Fulop backed Hillary Clinton. Healy has been an active member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and was backed by Bloomberg, the group's founder, this year. Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) also endorsed Healy.
Fulop's election culminates a four-year campaign that unofficially began after more than 40 New Jersey politicians, including Healy associates, were arrested in a federal corruption sting in 2009. Healy was not charged. He and Fulop have been sparring since 2005, largely on ethics reform, which Fulop has made his trademark in city government.
The 2009 corruption arrests became a centerpiece of the mayoral campaign, with Fulop using footage of an FBI informant meeting with Healy in commercials. Healy demanded Fulop stop using the video and unsuccessfully sued Fulop in the campaign's closing days, claiming the challenger was working with a third-party group.
Healy found himself explaining a 2004 incident in which he was photographed naked on his front porch. He claimed three Hispanic girls were banging garbage cans outside his house, removed a towel he was wearing and did "filthy things" to him . The story provoked backlash from the Hispanic community.
Fulop's election may shake up New Jersey's Democratic establishment.
Fulop, 36, a former Wall Street trader and Marine veteran, becomes one of the most powerful Democrats in New Jersey. Fulop said in a debate that he was undecided in this year's gubernatorial race between Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie allies donated to Fulop's campaign in the closing days, leading Healy to charge that Fulop was too close to the GOP.
"I tend to always lean Democrat," Fulop answered.
Healy conceded defeat and offered NJ.com an explanation for his loss.
"I think the people of Jersey City get sick of you after a while," Healy said.