The Wall Street Journal, Review and Outlook
Thursday, May 13, 1993
Hollywood's movie melodrama of "Wall Street" depicted a greedy community
willing to sacrifice morality for the bottom line. We've got another idea for a Wall Street movie. But Hollywood won't make it, even though it's all true: A devoutly religious
Harvard grad made a fortune advising investors on Wall Street. He gives that up to head a grass-roots anti-tax group in a gritty machine-run city that is 65% minority. He runs for mayor, and in a fluke wins a special election -- as a Republican. He quickly moves
to cut taxes, put cops on the streets, and open schools to vouchers. Six months later in the formal election, he forms his own "Rainbow Coalition" campaign slate. A charismatic black Democratic preacher comes to town to rail against him. But he crushes
the machine in a 2 to 1 victory.
All of this happened in Jersey City, NJ:, a city of 230,000 people just across the Hudson from Manhattan. Bret Schundler, a 34-year-old former executive at Salomon Brothers and C.J. Lawrence, won a full four-year term on Tuesday with an astonishing 68%
of the vote. Louis Manzo, the candidate of the infamous machine founded by Frank ("I am the law") Hague in 1917, won only 29% of the vote. He said he felt as if he had been "hit by a refrigerator".
Mr. Schundler has a mandate to clean up Jersey City and throw it open for business. In March, Dean Witter moved 200 jobs to the city's Exchange Place business center. Others may follow. The state legislature enacted a law that will allow the city to
bundle tax liens for sale to institutional investors and cuts its sky-high property taxes. Mayor Schundler also wants to expand the city's Urban Enterprise Zone program, which allows local businesses to charge a 3% sales tax if they create new jobs.
Politically, Mayor Schundler is in a position to actually implement his reforms. Eight of his nine city council running mates won too. The ninth, African-American Melissa Holloway, is in a June runoff. All pledged to lower taxes and reduce regulation.
Jersey City's notorious system of patronage is being scrapped. "No one backed me because they wanted a $19,000 a year City Hall job," says Mayor Schundler.
Because Jersey City has been ruled by political hacks for 75 years, Mr.
Schundler's feat is remarkable. Robert Janiszewski, the Hudson County executive, who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 New Jersey campaign, pulled out all the stops.
Mr. Manzo's main issue was that Mr. Schundler was a "Wall Street shark", and "a Republican backer of Reagan-Bush greed." Manzo flyers charged him with "supporting apartheid" because a family nursery business used a South African mineral.
Senator Bill Bradley was dragooned into campaigning for the machine's pick. The Democratic National Committee spent $35,000 to import Jesse Jackson to deliver a fire breathing speech linking Mr. Schundler to the values of the Union of South Africa.
Voters rejected all this fear-mongering. By Election Day everyone certainly knew Mr. Schundler was a Republican. He still won, even though only 6% of the voters are Republicans. In a city that is 30% black, 35% Hispanic, and 10% Asian, Mr. Schundler
won the minority vote. In Marion Gardens, the housing project that ABC's "Nightline" featured as an example of urban decay last week, he won 50% of the vote.
We dropped by Marion Gardens Tuesday to watch the voting. Bernice
Robinson, a Democratic committeewoman, told us, "Jesse Jackson was just following a party line. He doesn't know that the machine did to African-Americans here." Craig Morris, an
unemployed resident, said, "Schundler's keeping some hope alive where I live."
Mr. Schundler's plan to force Jersey City's feudal school system to reform by giving parent private school vouchers was popular with all groups. Teachers unions sent out two mailings blasting vouchers, with little effect. Mr. Schundler will
lobby New Jersey's Republican legislature to pass a bill authorizing vouchers in Jersey City. He has the backing of Christine Todd Whitman, the leading GOP candidate for Governor, who says:"Choice within the public school system if the entire system is
doesn't do the children any good."
Mayor Schundler faces a monumental challenge in taking the city off the critical list, but's its fair to say that if Jersey City responds to his treatment, any American inner city can make a comeback. His victory may signal Richard Riordan, the
in next month's mayoral runoff in Los Angeles, could win with more diverse support then many think.
More locally, New York City's nomenklatura politicians should watch Jersey City carefully. After all, if Bret Schundler pulls off an urban revival in the shadow of New York, what excuse will they have for a continued decay of the Big Apple"