01/13/2014 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Portrait of a Maverick in the Metro

Steven Fulop, the mayor of New Jersey's second-largest city, Jersey City, is a former Marine and Goldman Sachs trader.

But Fulop, 36, who took office last July 1, has certainly been getting attention in political circles and now in the art world.


Portrait of Steven Fulop, 40 inches X 30 inches, oil on canvas, 2013

In his short time leading the city that was home to Frank "Boss" Hague, and is as well known for its political shenanigans as its sweeping views of the New York City skyline, Fulop has not been afraid to rock the boat. His interest in art brought him across the water to my studio in Brooklyn to sit for a portrait. I have painted many poets and artists, so in the course of meeting him I am wondering what relation to poetry and art this maverick politician has. I realize that like many artists he understands the flow of things from a more global perspective.

The son of immigrants from Romania and Israel and grandson of Holocaust survivors, Fulop grew up in Edison, N.J. and moved to Jersey City in 2000. We were suggested to each other as a good match because of our shared personal history as descendants of Holocaust survivors. (This is also how I got interested in painting the prominent New York Metro musical artist Miri Ben-Ari who is a grandchild of survivors).

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Fulop is a fascinating person and painting him was a chance for me to get a perspective on how a person can be motivated by something most New York and Jersey City folks share, the experience and devastation of 9/11, and then go on to a political career. Fulop joined the Marine Corps after September 11, 2001, and was among the first Marines to head into Iraq.

When he returned, then-Mayor Glenn Cunningham awarded Fulop a proclamation for his service. Cunningham, a political rival of then-U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, recruited Fulop to run against Menendez in the Democratic primary. Fulop, who wasn't yet registered to vote, accepted the challenge.

Fulop ran for Congress and lost. Failure is something an artist can relate to as well as rebounding, which Fulop did. He won a city council seat in 2005. After that he decided to run for mayor. Fulop told me he learned a lot from his campaign. There were low points, like when President Barack Obama took the unusual step of endorsing his opponent. Again as an artist I identify with the underdog, with a guy challenging a corrupt status quo.

Fulop handily beat Healy in the race for Mayor, 52 percent to 38 percent, which he credits to amassing a massive citywide volunteer base.

Despite only having had his job for 5 months, Fulop's name is already being bandied about as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2017. What was most fascinating to me was how interested Mayor Fulop was in art. He sees art as a revitalizing force for the city. We spoke extensively about my neighborhood, Red Hook, and how it has changed over the years for the better because of art and the artists living here.