New Jersey mayor makes waves on Rhode Island beach access

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Although he did not say so at the time, Fulop has a narrow view of the conduct of elected officials: in addition to owning a house in Narragansett, he is himself an elected official – the mayor of Jersey City, NJ

Fulop, a two-term Democrat in New Jersey’s second-largest city, became embroiled in a contentious civic dispute 176 miles and three states away. He and his wife Jaclyn, a graduate of Narragansett High School, own a second home on Calef Avenue, with sparkling views of the Atlantic Ocean. They bought property there in 2018 along the Rhode Island shoreline and built themselves a 2,952 square foot home.

The Fulop property is next to a right-of-way, an area that the public — including local surfers — have used to access the shoreline for years. At council meetings this year and in emails to Narragansett town leaders, Fulop has raised issues with proposals to expand nearby public parking and the general behavior of surfers using the area.

“I constantly feel like we’re under attack as residents of this community,” Fulop said in a meeting.

Jersey City, NJ, Mayor Steven Fulop spoke at a 2019 press conference in Jersey City, NJ The mayor also owns a home in Narragansett, RI, and spoke about how the public accesses at the beach near his house there.Eduardo Munoz/Associated Press

Fulop goes there about once a month to see his two young children see their grandparents, campaign spokesman Phil Swibinski said. Fulop himself is originally from Edison, NJ, but his wife’s family has deep roots in the Narragansett area and still lives in town.

“He’s a very civic person,” Swibinski said. “I think it fulfills every aspect of his life. When he sees an issue that he feels he can contribute to, he will contribute to it.

The issues in the Narragansett neighborhood of Fulop pit local surfers and longtime residents against beachfront landowners. Beyond the parking dispute, there are undercurrents of deeper questions about the Ocean access in Rhode Island.

The voter-mayor has spoken out about parking issues along the shoreline at at least two public council meetings this year, saying he is a resident of Narragansett. Swibinski said Fulop didn’t mean he was a full-time resident there because he resides full-time in Jersey City, where he is mayor. According to documents reviewed by the Globe, Fulop does not benefit from a homestead exemption, which reduces taxes for Narragansett residents on their primary residence. An October 2020 mortgage also had a second home endorsement.

Fulop also sent emails to Narragansett council members and the city manager, sometimes citing his New Jersey title, according to documents obtained by Globe Rhode Island via a document request. For example, when trying to establish a phone call with Counselor Susan Cicilline Buonanno to discuss the issues, he mentioned that he had met his brother, U.S. Representative David Cicilline, when he visited Washington, D.C. , to meet with the New Jersey Congressional delegation. He asked her to convey his greetings to him. (Cicilline Buonanno said the mayor of New Jersey has a vested interest in the matter and she reacted the same way she did on the many other emails she received about it. She does not recall sending his greetings to his brother.)

In a September 2020 email to Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney, Fulop cited his experience as mayor to explain that he was familiar with Tierney’s work. Fulop wanted to discuss surfers parking at the end of his street and damaging his property. Tierney said he couldn’t remember if the two ever spoke.

In February, Fulop sent Cicilline Buonanno a link from a security camera at his home illustrating his concerns. The video shows a surfer cutting diagonally across the back of his garden and another placing a surfboard at the edge of his lawn.

Fulop also said that surfers have moved or taken outdoor furniture and often undress in front of his house. Some people left beer cans behind, he said.

Local politicians take Fulop’s concerns into account. Murray, the city councilman, remembers the strong criticism Fulop had leveled at him in January.

“I take it as a badge of honor if a liberal New Jersey politician calls me the worst politician he’s ever met,” Murray said. “Are you kidding me? I’m trying to figure out where to hang it on my jacket. It’s a fucking badge. I’m honored that he doesn’t like my politics. I’m just above the target, man.

Murray’s rant at the January meeting – and Murray himself called it a rant – targeted politicians who prioritized people who don’t live in the area full-time over locals who accessed the shore for years, and to public servants who care more about the next election than the next generation. He went back and forth for 20 minutes. Murray questioned the placement of the planters on Fulop’s property; as Murray shook his head, Fulop replied that the city was encouraging him to put them there.

Fulop declined Globe Rhode Island’s interview request.

The Journal of Jersey previously reported some of Fulop’s comments to Narragansett City Council. It caused quite a stir in the Garden State, where critics attacked him for his Ocean State connections. Fulop is running for re-election this year.

In a previous mayoral campaign, Fulop had targeted then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for the infamous aerial photos of the governor in a chair on a strip of beach that had been closed due to a state government shutdown.

But Fulop stressed that in Narragansett he supports access. He just wanted a reasonable compromise on parking in the neighborhood, even though he felt “it doesn’t stop.” He particularly objected to a proposal that Murray had floated to widen the road.

“We have families, we live there, we love the community, and we pay taxes, and we support you, and we know it’s not an easy job, but we feel like we’re attacked,” Fulop said at a meeting in January.

On Monday evening, the city council voted to allow parking from 5:01 a.m. to 8:59 p.m. on three local roads, one of which passes in front of Fulop’s house. Fulop was not among those to be weighed.


Brian Amaral can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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