Ex-N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey – a declared candidate for mayor of Jersey City – was the featured speaker at the annual dinner of Lincoln Association of Jersey City, founded in 1865 to celebrate the former president’s birthday on February 12.

About 125 association members and guests attended the affair, held at The View Restaurant in Jersey City’s Lincoln Park. The group, which claims to be the oldest such organization in the U.S., saluted its new president Muriel D. Roberts, a member of the Daughters of the Revolution and the first person of color to take the reins.

The association, which has remained politically neutral during its long history, hasn’t endorsed McGreevey, who will contest for the mayoralty in 2025 with Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea and City Council President Joyce Watterman while current Mayor Steve Fulop is running for governor.

In his speech, McGreevey – whose interest in Lincoln dates from his undergraduate time at Columbia University – said that between his first and second inaugural, the nation’s 16th president sought to “rewrite the national narrative,” by reasoning that “the freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Independence had more expansive meanings” than those prescribed by the Constitution.

Photo: Roy Groething

As articulated in the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln concluded that the Civil War was fought “not just as a battle between the North and the South,” but to ensure that “freedom fundamentally applies to all men.”

“While the Constitution may have been flawed in its acceptance of slavery,” McGreevey said, “Lincoln breathed new life into the Declaration – our last and best hope of humankind.”

Asked by a reporter about his upcoming mayoral campaign, McGreevey – who’s pondering possible council running mates – outlined a number of headaches the city has faced in recent years, with “affordability” topping the list, given that Jersey City “has the highest property taxes in the state and the highest increase in rents in the nation,” impacting seniors and young families alike.

“I had one elderly woman who owns her home tell me, ‘I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to afford to die here,’” McGreevey said.

Roy Groething

As for the public schools, McGreevey said the local district has done little to upgrade students’ performance levels or to update school infrastructure. “I’ve been in Snyder High School,” he said. “It’s abysmal – the physical plant is atrocious. Things have to change. There has to be a measure of accountability to stop things like bullying and threats students have experienced.”

The city also needs more recreational opportunities, he added.

In general, he said, “we have to live within our means – we need a return to zero- based budgeting – we can’t just increase costs ad-nauseum.”

Asked what he’d do to reverse what he sees as the city’s failings, McGreevey said: “I want to listen to the residents and I’ve been very encouraged by the responses we’ve gotten to our surveys. In the hundreds.”

Entertainer Bob Gleason as Abraham Lincoln/Photo: Roy Groething

Why would he be a better choice than Watterman or O’Dea? “I have a track record. I’ve been a mayor (of Woodridge – the sixth largest city in New Jersey – for 10 years. I’ve kept taxes low, the streets clean and I’ve kept it affordable. You have to work relationships with state and federal governments, particularly with applying for whatever grants may be available.”

McGreevey, a Jersey City native, served several terms as a state lawmaker before his election to the state’s highest office in 2001. But he resigned in 2004 after acknowledging he was gay and had participated in an extra-marital homosexual affair and after having created a new $100,000-a-year job, homeland security advisor, and filled it with Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen, with whom intelligence officials refused to share information due to his foreign ties. Cipel, who later shifted to another job, had threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against McGreevey.

In July 2013 McGreevey was hired to run the Jersey City Employment & Training program to help ex-offenders adapt to normal life but was let go in January 2019 after allegations rose that state funds had been diverted to N.J. Re-Entry Corp., where McGreevey has served as chairman since 2014 and continues to do so. No criminal charges resulted.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...