It was the tongue-lashing to end all tongue-lashings: For five hours last night, embattled Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise peered through a plexiglass divider and had to listen as a roomful of speakers lambasted her behavior and questioned her character.
The City Council meeting was residents’ first formal opportunity to vent publicly about DeGise’s actions after her now-infamous July 19 collision with cyclist Andrew Black on Martin Luther King Drive.
The widely seen video of DeGise driving away as Black somersaults to the pavement, another video taken last November showing her attempting to use her political connections to avoid having her illegally parked car towed, and additional revelations about unpaid bills and tickets that have recently come to light have caused many to call for her resignation.
Christopher Lamm expressed the view of many of the speakers. “The collision itself may have been accidental, but her fleeing the scene was not. Someone who can do that, not knowing whether the human being that they’ve hit was alive or dead or in need of aid … that’s immoral. It’s disgusting, and this person is unfit to hold office.”
Galling to others was what they perceived as special treatment afforded to DeGise by virtue of her political connections. “There is no doubt in my mind that if she were not on ‘Team Fulop’ … if the person was Frank Gilmore, we would have an entirely different narrative. The call from the mayor and (from other members of) ‘Team Fulop’ to resign would be immediate and relentless,” said Tracey Luz.
A number of the speakers used their three minutes to bemoan the dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians. In the evening’s most poignant moment, Kenneth Bandes held up a photo of his late daughter, Ella, who at the age of 23 was struck down and killed by a bus in New York City. “When communities prioritize drivers and car traffic over human life, we injure and kill our citizens at an alarming rate.”
Some speakers saw DeGise’s behavior as a black mark on Jersey City. “It’s hurtful to see Jersey City embarrassed by an almost cartoonish act” said David Guirgis.
Several speakers drew a connection between the DeGise affair and national issues. Listing high rents, gentrification, threats to reproductive freedom, and racial and class divides, Isaac Jimenez called Jersey City “a city at war with itself.”
Numerous residents who called for DeGise’s resignation nonetheless expressed compassion for her. Rahul Sharma said, “I don’t believe people are the worst thing they’ve ever done.” Dana Patton was another. “Councilmember DeGise, whatever is happening to you, I am truly sorry for you, but clearly you can’t deal with and serve in elective office.” Noreen Collins told DeGise, “There’s a path back … you could write a really great book.” Shayna Francois told DeGise, “You can continue to do great things.”
DeGise had out-and-out supporters in the audience as well. “I am a former student of hers, and she’s responsible for me wanting to go to school,” said Dhruv Bhatt.
Several speakers put the blame on cyclist Andrew Black. Hoboken resident Edward Reep called him “a maniac.” James Francis Waddleton told DeGise, “Don’t be afraid of the mob. … The kid ran a red light. … His is mob mentality. The bad act was the kid running a red light: He broke the law.”
Claire Seborowski told the assemblage, “People are entitled to court process without public shaming, attacks, and threats. Those who know Amy know who she is.”
Laverne Washington asked, “Who are we to judge? … We all make mistakes in life.”
Dickinson High School Basketball Coach Jiovani Aguilar said DeGise is “one of our biggest supporters. She donates sweatsuits to the program … she attends all our fundraisers. I’ve seen her donate bookbags … I’ve seen her sponsor students at barbershops for students for their first day of school.”
Eiko La Boria was booed and ultimately cut off when she began reading threatening texts sent to DeGise. Women, she said, “will always be second-class citizens” and described the threats to DeGise as “domestic terrorism.” Calling for Councilmen Solomon and Gilmore to denounce the threats, she said, “Those calling for her resignation do not have the moral high ground.”
Near the end of the meeting, DeGise asked for the floor. “July 19 and the weeks that followed have been some of the most trying times of my life. I am grateful that no one was seriously injured, and I feel horrible about that situation. But there is a court process that not just myself but other people have to go through that needs to be respected. … I understand that there are questions, that there are legitimate concerns, and you have every right to feel that way and have them and ask them.”
She said that she and her family had been subjected “thousands” of calls and emails including ones saying she “should be raped” and that she should be killed or kill herself and family.
“For those who called for my resignation, you are heard,” she said.
DeGise thanked those who came out to both call for her resignation or support her. She then said, “I am not resigning.”
If DeGise was the object of withering criticism, the council overall earned raves for its support of a resolution opposing a 4.7 billion widening of the Turnpike Extension.
Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey was one such speaker, thanking the council for the resolution opposing the plan, a plan endorsed by Governor Murphy on Monday. “This is an environmental disaster that is waiting to happen.” O’Malley called on authorities to conduct a traffic study. “The law of induced demand is ironclad. You build more lanes and you get more traffic. But no one’s making the Holland Tunnel bigger.”
A proposed amendment to the “Tidewater Basin Redevelopment Plan” brought out a number of speakers from Paulus Hook who complained that the Planning Board had not listened to their concerns about the Silverman project, which includes two towers of buildings of 16 and 26 stories. Said Daniel Spadaro, “the Planning Board has ignored all the public comment…and basically re-written the Tidewater plan based on the wish list of the developers.”
Also of concern to a group of speakers from Paulus Hook was the long running battle over Four Corners Park at the corner of Washington and Grand Streets. The council passed a resolution giving PS-16 exclusive use of one corner during “select hours.”
As the meeting was winding down and standing outside the Council chambers Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said he was relieved. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There was a certain amount of decorum that both sides did. It got tedious, the same argument, the same point was made over and over again. But it wasn’t like we didn’t expect it…I feared it would be a little louder.” Said DeGise “I think it had a lot to do with her being a woman…one of the things that infuriates me is that they’re saying she gets special treatment because of me. It’s the exact opposite.”