JCT: Tell us a little bit about where you’re from and your educational and work background.
Ambrossi: I’m actually the son of Ecuadorian immigrants. My mother came to this country when she was a young girl and my dad came to this country when he was just a little bit younger than I am, I think he was 24 at the time. And I was born and raised here in Jersey City, actually in the Heights. Then I went to PS-28. I went to County Prep High School, and I went to…I graduated early from there and I went to Hudson County Community College. I was doing some college courses when I was in high school so I was able to graduate early from that. And then I went to Montclair State University where I got a degree in industrial organizational, psychology and economics. And I went to St. Peter’s University where I graduated with my masters in public administration in 2018. I currently work as a fiscal analyst for the County of Hudson’s Division of Housing and Community Development, which is the office that manages the federal grants such as CDBG, Home COC and other homeless shelter related grants.
JCT: So you live in Ward D I assume?
JCT: And how long have you lived in Ward D?
Ambrossi: All my life. I’ve lived in Ward D. I came here at the age of two from Queens…I’ve lived on Franklin, I’ve lived on Sherman Avenue and New York Avenue, which is where I’m currently at.
JCT: What are the top three issues, would you say that you would like to attack if you are elected?
Ambrossi: I don’t think the three issues have really changed overall as time has gone by. I think that quality of life issues are a major issue here. You know, we’re looking at… another issue is Central Avenue for me and the way that that’s developing or the lack of, and then really looking at affordability in the Heights but also overall in Jersey City.
JCT: When you say Central Avenue, give me a little more detail on what you think is going on there.
Ambrossi: Sure. So, I mean, look, when you look at Central Avenue right now, I think everyone who lives in the Heights definitely… I think we’d all agree saying that…it could be kept a little better. You go on in at any given time, you’ll see trash everywhere. You look at the stores… we have had some stores close down and what I really want to see on Central Avenue is a marketing plan put together that will look at how Central Avenue should be developing in the next five to 10 years to make sure that we have a diverse selection of stores within Central Avenue. It should be an area where at the end of the day, if you didn’t want to go out of your Ward you, you wouldn’t have to, you could eat there, you could shop there, you could do everything that you need to do within Central Avenue.
JCT: When you talk about quality of life, which is one of the top three, what specifically concerns you apart from trash?
Ambrossi: So when I go …and I’ve talked to the people of the Western slope, a lot of them are stating that they’re having issues with petty theft, people are trying to get into their cars, going to their backyards…and it’s been an issue now for a couple of years. And so, you know, we want to make sure that when we’re talking about city services, that we’re, that it’s being spread equally. And that means ensuring that our neighborhoods are getting patrolled property and that, you know, that our residents feel safe.
JCT: And on the affordability issue, what do you think is the solution to the affordability problem?
Ambrossi: So look, in the Heights unlike I think, any other ward in Jersey City, Ward D has zero affordable housing. Yeah, there’s zero affordable housing. And one thing we want to make sure is that we create affordable housing throughout Jersey City because I’ve met…and I know of people who are lifelong residents here, who are seniors, people my own age who want to continue living in the Heights, but they’re unable to, because of the cost of everything around them. And one thing that I really want to make sure that we do correctly is the inclusionary zoning… that’s going on. We want to make sure that, you know, we put it in a way so that we make sure that buildings that are being built here in Ward D are eligible for affordable housing. If we create an affordable housing and inclusionary zoning ordinance that just states that, you know, buildings a hundred units and up are required to have affordable housing… that’s very few here in the Heights. So we want to make sure that, you know, the building requirements make it so that we have affordable housing here in the Heights and that we put it at a certain AMI so that we’re reaching the most vulnerable and the lower income residents throughout Jersey City.
JCT: Now, let me go back to your background really quickly. First of all, did you tell me how old you are?
Ambrossi: I don’t think there’s a lot that I already told you, but yeah, so I am 26 years old.
JCT: And that’s young by some people’s measure, I’m not sure too young, but that’s young. So tell us a little bit about your experience working in the community or Jersey City generally beyond your job. Have you been involved in any sort of causes in Jersey City that you want to tell people about?
Ambrossi: Yeah. So look, I think what’s very different from all of my opponents is that I’ve been involved from a very young age. I’ve been involved with Pershing Fields Garden Friends. I’ve been involved with St. John’s Lutheran. I’ve been involved with… I’m actually the founder and president of the Leonard Gordon Park Conservancy, which many people know as Mosquito Park. You know, we’ve been the group that has advocated for the upkeep, maintenance and renovations of Leonard Gordon Park and have worked to create a master plan for it. And actually in November of 2019, Councilman Yun and I were able to secure $500,000 to go towards the first phase of renovations. So phase one is going to consist of improving the current lighting and adding new lighting fixtures throughout the park. Fixing the walkways. Our park has a very unique landscape. So it’s very hilly. A lot of our … our walkways are corroded. So we’re going to be fixing that. And then we’re going to be improving public safety. We’re going to have a police blue box in there and then we’re going to make the roads and the walkways wide enough so that police vehicles are able to go throughout the park. So that’s one of my bigger, I think, accomplishments. But I’ve also served on the board of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance and have been an active volunteer with and I’m very supportive of project reservoir, which actually started in my old school PS-28. I was also the chairman of Keep Jersey City Beautiful for two years, which is a citywide initiative…it’s a citywide cleanup event that was held… I think now it’s on its fourth or fifth year. But I was the chairman for two years and involved for three. I’ve been a trustee at the Jersey City Parks Coalition and have been involved with the coalition since 2011 for their national award winning program that was called the big dig which is a one day beautification effort to go and plant bulbs throughout Jersey City parks and then expand into open spaces. And one year we even did it at some project housing that we have throughout Jersey City.
JCT: Tell me what you think the top three issues for Jersey City generally are.
Ambrossi: Yeah, I mean, look, the three issues right now that I see as the biggest are our education system. It’s affordability. It’s the lack of affordable housing throughout your city. And then when, when we’re looking at it, it’s also just how the city of Jersey City spends our tax dollars, I think overall.
JCT: You mean financial management. So let’s take them each. You’ve already spoken about affordability. Let’s talk about the schools. What specifically… knowing of course that as a council-person, your influence over the schools is limited. What do you think the problems are?
Ambrossi: So look I think for a long time the city of Jersey City had a different tax base. You know it’s definitely changed within the last 30 or 40 years. And so because of that, we had a lot of state funds going to our school systems. Now it’s a little different. Now our tax base has improved greatly and the city is able to start paying their fair share in terms of contributing to our schools. And so that’s something that I think that the city hasn’t really been willing to do. And as councilman I’m looking forward to really working with the board of education and seeing how we as a city can start paying our fair share to make sure that our kids are educated…properly educated.
JCT: Of course you know that taxes have gone up quite a bit…are going up quite a bit…the school portion. This year, the budget is much larger, a good bit larger. Do you think that Jersey City taxpayers need to be paying actually more than they’re going to be paying?
Ambrossi: No. So I think that’s where the financial management comes into place. I think we’ve seen the city so far reorganize the way that its departments are structured. You know, we’ve seen housing… not housing… we’ve seen the human resource division become its own department. We’ve seen the restructuring of recreation. We’ve seen the creation of, you know, the recycling division within DPW, which have all kind of gone and increased the salary of staffing there. And I’m not sure that that’s necessarily something that we really needed. So I think that in terms of when we’re talking about financial management we want to make sure that we’re making the right moves within city hall so that we don’t have to increase spending just because we want to give someone a salary increase, right? So that’s really my big thing when it comes to City Hall and its reorganization that has been taking…that it’s been going through for the last, I think now two to three years.
JCT: Tell me, how are you going to be funding your campaign.
Ambrossi: So it’s through donations, it’s mostly open through donation. And then of course I, myself, you know, I think every candidate has to put in a little bit, you know, to make sure that … to get that boost going. But yeah, it’s all donations. I’m not accepting, you know, PAC money or developer money, especially with… I’m a big supporter of inclusionary zoning and finding ways to add affordable housing. I want to make sure that I’m fighting for residents and I’m not accepting money from developers. That’s just something that I said to myself early on. And so it’s through donations.
JCT: And how do you see yourself working with the mayor? The mayor obviously has his slate… the people that he would put on his slate when he runs for reelection in 2021. And Councilman Saleh currently looks like the person that would be part of that slate. But let’s say you win. Do you then consider becoming part of the mayor’s slate or do you stay as an independent?
Ambrossi: I think that’s I think that’s maybe going…putting the cart before the horse. I am not… you know my campaign isn’t necessarily running an anti-Fulop campaign. I’m running because at the end of the day, I think we need an independent voice who has been active in the community, who has put their blood, sweat and tears into making sure that the Heights is…gets what it deserves in terms of services. Like I said, I am not running this campaign because I want to, you know I want to oust Fulop or anything like that. I’m running this campaign because I think there’s issues in the Heights that we need to address and we need someone that’s going to fight for us…whether Fulop might be on the right side discussion or not, you know, it has to be on the right side for the residents of the city of Jersey City and the Heights specifically. Right?
JCT: But let me maybe make it a little clearer. Is it possible for you to be an independent voice and be on the mayor’s slate? It sounds like you think it’s possible to be an independent voice and be part of the mayor’s slate?
Ambrossi: No…no it’s not. You know, being an independent voice for our residents comes first. And so, again, I just think it’s putting the cart before the horse. I don’t see myself running under Fulop’s slate. But that’s mainly because I want to make sure that I am representing the people of Jersey City. And so, you know, so far the way that it looks like Saleh is doing it seems like most of his decisions are pretty close to… they’re with the mayor’s slate at all times so far. And so right now I don’t see that as a possibility.
JCT: Anything you want to add to what we’ve already talked about?
Ambrossi: I think one thing and I, and I’ve stated this already, but one thing that is very different from any of my opponents — and that’s every single one of them that are running currently — is the fact that I have been involved within the community. I did this not to get involved in politics. I did this because I saw…one, I really genuinely love, you know, open space and being involved in with the Parks Coalition and doing the events at Leonard Gordon Park. But you know, I’ve been in the community for close to a decade and a half. And, you know, when we’re looking at who we want to represent us I’m not sure it’s someone that just does things because it’s election time. And that’s something that I can showcase very easily that I’ve been in the Heights, have been active in the Heights for a very long time. And when you look at Saleh’s voting record it has been to purchase $200,000 of office furniture for the council offices. It has been against capping interest on property taxes from 18% to 3%, he voted against it. And when you look at what the main critical role of a council person is, I happen to think it’s voting on a budget. Our councilman abstained from that. So I think, you know, being a councilman is about making hard decisions and if Saleh’s unwilling to do that he shouldn’t be on the council.
JCT: Let me ask you about a big issue recently… the issue of police funding, where do you come down on that?
Ambrossi: So, I support our Jersey police officers. I have friends who are new to the force or have been in the force within the last five years and all are amazing people that have grown up in Jersey City and still live here. And so one thing that I always want to make sure when we’re talking…when we’re talking about that issue is that we’re not laying any police officers off. And I think that’s the reason I’m very against layoffs or, you know, cutting police budget. You know in a council meeting someone has said cutting the police budget by 50%. I’m wary of that. And mainly because we think we might be doing good by cutting the police force and putting more into social services but what, what I think sometimes people forget is that, you know, the first cops that would be let go are the ones that just came in who are of a diverse background who are African American and Latinos who are just starting to get their bearings in terms of their career and how their lives are going to look going forward. And I think it would be such a shame to lay off police officers who are so young and who really aren’t getting paid very much. And that’s mainly because the police force has increased so much that now, yes, we’re a diverse police force, but there’s so many police officers that have to now do Uber, you know, just make ends meet. So, I do want to raise funding for social services and make sure that we have a staff that is non-police addressing several issues. But I think there’s…we need to be creative in the way we do it. And I’m not sure that taking… that defunding the police is the right road.
JCT: Let me ask you this though. Last question. Councilman Solomon says we have too big a police force compared to cities of similar size. Do you agree that our police force is too big for the size of our city?
Ambrossi: Yeah, so, I agree with that statement. And I think that the way to go about it is by establishing a hiring freeze. I don’t think that it should be so quick as to say, you know, we have to lay police officers off. We could establish a hiring freeze. And as people retire, we can look at seeing what actually the staff is now and where it should be. But we also need to make sure that we’re properly placing our police officers throughout Jersey City. And I think that that’s one of the issues that has been happening in the Heights… is that most of the police officers who are supposed to be stationed in North District, they’re stationed somewhere else. And an area where the conversation comes into over policing, you know? And so if we have to restructure how that department looks and where our officers are placed, then we need to do that. So yes, I agree that maybe our police force is a little too big. But you know, we have to be smart with how we do that. And I don’t think layoffs are necessarily the correct way to go about it.