Originally Published May 7, 2015
Ever since I started this Chicpea journey I’ve been wanting to interview the mayor of our fine city. I wanted to learn more about him as a person and what he had to say as a longtime Jersey City resident. About a month ago, as I approached the one year anniversary of my blog, I sent him an email asking if he would agree to an interview for this milestone anniversary. He responded, “I would be happy to.” I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to sit with him and ask him all my burning questions!
The day of the interview arrived and as I was getting ready (special shout out to the Hair Room JC for putting me together) I was riddled with nervousness. My blog is all about fun, culture, fashion and the arts; I try to keep topics light-hearted and definitely not political. When I promoted the fact that I was interviewing the mayor and asked for questions, my followers got testy and critical. Though I included many of their fun AND NOT SO FUN questions for Mayor Fulop, I was still anxious about how he would respond and if I was venturing into territory that was – let’s just say – not very Chicpea-ish.
The day of the interview I went to City Hall with my friend and photographer Greg Pallante. At exactly 9:30 a.m. we were called into the mayor’s conference room where he made it clear that he wanted to respond to all the questions I had – even the tough ones people asked. There was not one topic he shied away from. We talked about everything from tattoos, Instagram, and his favorite JC hangout spots to some of the serious issues facing Jersey City residents.
In my interview I discovered what I had already suspected: Steven Fulop is a stand-up guy who chose to pursue a job he is truly passionate about. He has a lot of love and dedication for his work and he sincerely cares about the well-being of this city. Mayor Fulop is definitely setting the tone for future leaders and being recognized by politicians and journalists nationally. In addition to that, he is extremely down-to-earth and clearly in touch with everything that is going on around him in our city. I see him at all the ribbon cuttings, at local events and markets, chatting with people…he is one of the hardest working people I know.
I can honestly say this was my favorite interview of my brief career – not just because my subject is the mayor – but because of WHO he is as a person and he’s awesome.
Enjoy the interview!
What’s your name?
What do you do?
I am the Mayor of Jersey City.
Did you always want to be mayor?
No, I think in some ways I fell into it. I was late to register to vote, to get involved in government…in some ways it was accidental, but I am thankful because I love my job.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a police officer at some point, then things materialized in a different direction.
I remember when you were first elected…I saw you the day afterward and you were standing outside of City Hall. You were in a news van waiting to get interviewed; I waved at you and said “Congratulations.” You seemed nervous. How did you feel that day?
Probably didn’t settle in at that point, it took some time before I realized all the dynamics of this job and what happened. The night before there were thousands of people at The Biergarten when we actually won. That whole experience was still something that was settling in. You assessed the situation right.
It was almost two year ago.
Yeah, it’s crazy how time flies.
Two years ago I was in the corporate world walking to the PATH when I saw you; now I blog about Jersey City.
There you go!
Describe a typical day.
Normally the day starts at around 5:30 a.m. – I go to the gym then. I am back by 7:00 a.m., I get picked up at 7:30 a.m. and my work day generally begins at 7:45 a.m. with a breakfast meeting. The day ensues with anything from ground-breaking to policy discussions, to EMS, to police or fire issues, health and human services issues…every day is a little different. I wake up, look at my calendar and every day is exciting — which is the best part of this job. You don’t know what the day is going to bring and every day is different.
How long have you lived in Jersey City?
I moved here 15 years ago.
What is your favorite Jersey City hangout spot? Where do you like to eat? Drink?
I’ve been spending a lot of time at the newer restaurants like Talde. I would say the regular rotation of dinner places right now is Talde and Laicos. As far as drinks, the closest to my house is the Light Horse and probably the one whose energy I like the most is Dullboy.
I love Dullboy! They have great drinks.
How do you feel Jersey City has changed in the past couple of years?
Well, I think that you are seeing first and foremost huge amounts of dollars invested here. I think you are seeing Jersey City more prominently on the map as a city this size that is growing and experiencing urban revitalization. You are seeing growth in people moving here…you continue to see the diversity we’ve had before and there’s a lot that’s changed on a business front. It’s a great story.
What do you do to unwind?
My favorite time of the day is when I get home which is generally around 10 p.m. The best time for me to unwind is when I have time on the weekends or early mornings when I don’t have my iPhone and I am doing runs or biking. Thursdays I do morning swims at Pershing Field, Tuesdays I do track workouts.
I am very into these triathlons; then Monday I do more plyometrics. That time is a great time for me – I think I have good ideas during that time. Maybe I am delusional that they are good ideas; maybe they sound like it because I am tired! [Laughs]
In any event, I get a lot of things done and it’s good mental time for me, even though it’s active time. Then when I get home at night I unwind, I try to catch up on shows like anybody else.
What are you watching?
I just watched “The Jinx”, all six episodes on that about Robert Durst; he is a lunatic! I watch “Game of Thrones,” and of course “House of Cards.” I am big Sunday night HBO guy.
What do you listen to? What kind of music?
On my iPhone is a little of everything from hardcore, electronic music, to Metallica, Pearl Jam, and U2. If you were to ask me the most that I have, it would be Pearl Jam and U2.
Is that what you listen to when you run? No Beyonce or Taylor Swift?
Haha, no not at the moment…nothing personal against Taylor Swift! [Laughs]
I posted something via my social media channels asking my followers if they had any questions they wanted to ask you. My intention was to get “fun” light questions and, well…things got out of hand.
Go ahead ask them all.
Erin is asking: “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”
Coffee. I also really like the “Chunky Monkey” flavor by Ben & Jerry’s. What else do you have? What are some of the harder questions?
I’ll ask the fun ones first! Slow Burn Studios is asking if you have any tattoos? If not, would you like one?
No. I’ve toyed with the idea though. There were a couple of instances in my life where I thought I should of gotten one and I regret not doing it. One was when I was in the Marine Corps and one was after the Iron Man [triathlon]. Both are things that consistently people get tattoos for; maybe, in hindsight, I should have done it.
I feel like I missed the window.
No, you are still young! Go to Jersey City Tattoo they will hook you up. Tell them Chicpea sent you.
Yeah, okay. [Laughs]
Michelle asked: “What was the worst date you’ve ever been on?”
So, my dating life is good right now. My girlfriend is moving in with me this week, which is a big life change. Back in the day, I tried some internet dating and the whole situation seemed bizarre to me. I met a few people from that that experience who were probably not the best fit. It was obviously something I couldn’t do once I was elected. It would be funny if my profile said: “I am a mayor.” [Laughs]
I think internet dating is more acceptable now. At least, our generation sees it that way.
Seniors probably view it as creepy. To us it’s normal, it’s accepted. I have all these friends that are on Tinder. I will take their app and swipe for them… [laughs] it’s fun seeing what’s out there, but I certainly can’t do it.
Haha. Too funny!
Alan is asking: “How fast do you expect to run the Newport 10K and will you be faster than Senator Booker?”
Yes, that’s a very low bar! [Laughs] I am running now about a 6:45 minute mile. Last week I did a New York Road Runners race, this week I am doing the Asbury Park half marathon. That “runner’s high” when you finish a workout is great.
Yes! Are you going to do the Tough Mudder when it’s here?
I want to do it. We worked really hard to get them to come here and for Liberty State Park to accept it.
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
I would probably go to Australia. Maybe do a safari — that’s on my bucket list. At one point in my life I want to run with the bulls in Spain.
What about Israel?
I’ve been to Israel once, probably about 8 years ago. I loved it — thought it was an amazing place. We are importing technology from Israel regarding changes in our EMS systems; using some of their technology. One thing we want to highlight is that Israel is a technology hub, an innovator and important on many fronts and not just a strategic military ally.
Carmen asks: “Boxers or briefs?”
Boxers! [Laughs] What are the other questions, the harder ones? Curious what they asked…
So, some of the harder questions where directed at me – and were not politically slanted. Some people questioned whether or not I was qualified enough to interview the mayor, so my credibility was attacked.
The thing with social media is people can be very, very mean and it’s entertaining to me because I will post something on my Facebook page or Twitter and some people will be favorable and then there always will be someone who says “you suck.” [laughs] It is what it is.
What I did was posted an image stating, “What would you ask the mayor?” I wanted people to ask fun questions, because that’s what I write about. That’s when it all got out of hand…
The first serious question: “How are you trying to lower the amount of shootings on Jackson and Ocean Avenues?
We are expanding and hiring more police officers. You can read all that stuff in The Jersey Journal.
Next question: “As a Jersey City native, I would have to ask the mayor serious questions. There is nothing funny about the crime in Greenville. I’m sorry, but the people of the new downtown need to realize what “downtown” used to be. Everyone on Grove thinks that Jersey City is so perfect. Meanwhile every night just up Montgomery there are shots going off like it’s going out of style…kids starving, girls being sexually assaulted, drugs on every corner, murders on the rise…let’s talk about “Real Jersey City.”
I am going to tell you something that is really interesting about that. People put on blogs and websites exactly that sort of stuff which is factually not true. Jersey City is the safest city in New Jersey by far. It is relative to every urban area for most of our peers in our country as being safer. If you look at the number of shootings and homicide rates, those are all trending down.
Saying there are shootings every night, that is not true. It doesn’t stop people from posting whatever they want, which is unfortunate. People have to keep things in perspective, 25 years ago downtown was in bad shape – it was the most unsafe place in the entire city and it has slowly changed. When people say it’s one side of the city versus the other, it bothers me. Anyway, keep going…
Well, it just goes downhill from there… [laughs]
We have put in disproportionate amounts of dollars in areas outside of downtown. The biggest infrastructure project, The Annex, 25 million dollars, the biggest park, both are on the south side of the city — everything that we’ve done where the police are being deployed. It is hard to say that areas outside are being neglected, they just have institutional challenges that have taken decades to get into. People downtown are getting slightly less as we try to bridge that gap between neighborhoods that have been neglected.
You are awesome. I’ve been stressing out about these questions. I just don’t write about politics.
It’s disheartening at times…this job in the sense. I put everything into this and I try really hard, it’s not perfect, but I try very hard and it’s never enough for some people. So you see, it has nothing to do with Chicpea…it has to do with everything else.
Well it’s also me not wanting to ask you some of these questions!
It’s people’s own issues that are manifesting in other ways – it is the nature of how people are. You attract businesses here, and you try to do the best you can. I’ve certainly made mistakes, but I can’t say that I couldn’t have tried harder. I work seven days a week. If you look at my calendar, it’s from morning to night seven days a week. When I get a day off, they have to put it a month in advance, otherwise it’s not possible. We try hard yet people will throw stones…
You have to have a thick skin.
Yes, you have to have thick skin. The fact that I don’t have a family today makes it easier. If I had kids, it would be brutal; I feel bad for people who are in office and have huge families and have to live through people throwing stones; they don’t understand how it impacts people. I hear it from my mom, who doesn’t live here. She will call me up and say, “Why are they saying that?”
Can we go back to fun questions?
What are you wearing?
I don’t really know. I don’t get into to it. I don’t do a ton of shopping and it probably shows… [laughs]
Haha no you’ve gotten better!
That means I was bad before… [laughs]
It looks good! Well fitted.
Do you have any hidden talents? I know you play the piano.
I do play the piano, I am adequate. It certainly is a passion of mine, but I am a little embarrassed about it. In the sense that I don’t play around people because I am a little self-conscious. It is a great release for me and I really enjoy it.
Are you good at anything else?
The only sport I ever played was soccer, I used to be a really good soccer player. This year, I want to be more active. There is a group that plays on Wednesday nights, they are former Division 1 players. I went out there twice last season and I was beat up, but I want to get back into that. That’s my life right now!
Are you ever like, “I am so tired“?
Of course! When I get home, I am generally asleep within 20 minutes. I have no problems sleeping. I wake up really early and it’s straight through all day. People also expect you to be “on” all the time. It’s mentally draining and you try to remember what’s important to people and their specific issues.
You talk to people all day…do you ever want to just be alone?
I do sometimes, but I like people. It’s tough sometimes when you are hearing some serious problems after problems and you are trying your best to solve them; some of them are beyond your ability to solve. That stuff gets frustrating…I am like everyone else, I get tired!
In my twenties, prior to this office, there was a point where I was working in finance, I was finishing my Marine Corps duties, I was going to Columbia and NYU for masters degree at the same time and I was trying my best to have a social life. I was doing Columbia and NYU full-time, I was really killing myself at that point.
I got really good at time management. My best skill is time management. It doesn’t sound like something so extraordinary but it helped me budget my time and become more efficient at what I do.
Do you do all your own social media?
I do. I am one of the few political people that do. Typos and spelling mistakes happen. It’s a little bit of a glimpse to ones’ personality. To that end, I don’t have an Instagram account because I do it myself…
I have so many different pictures of you at events, I could probably do it for you. [laughs]
The problem is building an audience or following.
I don’t think you will have a problem. You are a public figure! You need to get on Instagram!
So you don’t think I am too old for a tattoo?
I don’t think so! I got like five in the last year. It’s addictive.
In the Marine Corps when we finished bootcamp, all my close friends got a tattoo and I was the guy saying, “Ahh, I don’t know…” Then, as I said, after the Ironman everyone gets one…it’s a 140 mile race! It’s crazy. So people get a tattoo on the back of their calf. I was really proud of that accomplishment so I wanted to memorialize it.
I think you should do it. It’s for yourself.
How many do you have?
I have 7. DO IT! DO IIIIT! If you do I am coming with you. [Laughs]
So what are your future plans? Professionally and personally?
Everybody thinks that I am running for governor…
Is that true?
It’s undecided to be honest with you. There are so many moving parts to that, it’s not something I can say, “We are doing that”. You try to leave options open…but at the end of the day I do love this job. I can’t say that enough. I don’t say it as a “sound bite” but
“I sincerely wake up every day and I am so thankful…”
I used to work in finance and I would stare at these Bloomberg screens and I wanted to shoot myself [laughs]. I would see these numbers and be like…ugh…
This job is totally different, obviously we don’t get compensated as well but the flip side it’s really rewarding and I met so many interesting people. These are experiences I will be telling my grandkids in 30 years.
Do you think you will ever be President one day?
I don’t think so. I think that by the time I am 50 or before, I will probably be out of public service in the elected office capacity, because I don’t think it is something that is conducive to having a family and it is something that I do think is important.