Jersey City Councilwoman Denise Ridley

We recently sat down with Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley for a wide-ranging interview.

Ridley is a lifelong resident of Ward A. She attended local parochial schools and graduated from Hampton University in 2005, earning a B.A. in psychology with a minor in Spanish. She continued her studies at Montclair State University, earning a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology.

First elected in 2017, Ridley will be running for reelection in November as part of “Team Fulop.”

JCT: Had did you come to be part of Mayor Fulop’s slate in 2017?

DR: Initially, I announced to run on my own. And then I was invited to join Mayor Fulop’s slate. I accepted.

JCT: What would you say that you’re most proud of accomplishing in your first term?

DR: The thing that would stick out in my head right now is moving the Bayfront project forward. It’s the 100 acres of land that’s on Route 440 that’s been vacant for quite some time that needed to be remediated. Before I got into office, there were a couple of pitches for the land that didn’t pan out, and it was something that residents drove home during the 2017 election that they really wanted to see something done with that site. So, that was one of my top priorities. One of the things that I specifically requested was the creation of the Bayfront Advisory Board, which is made up of community members that are overseeing the project. I chair it.

That Board has a representative from Society Hill and from Jersey City Together (who’s been very active in advocating for having affordable units), and there are other community members. The project is 35 percent affordable, and it has the potential for up to 8,000 units. We’ve been advocating with the state to have a light rail station there, and they’ve agreed to start that process. We’ve been in talks with the county to see if we can get a ferry over that way. I think it’s a big deal for the city. It’s a big deal for Ward A.

JCT: Where would this ferry go?

DR: Right now the county is doing what they call a ferry study. Nothing is set in stone. But if they were to do a ferry, it would probably hit Bayfront, Kearny, and Harrison.

JCT: Anything else about your first term that stands out in terms of accomplishments?

DR: Yes, but one more thing about Bayfront. It was important that we incorporate minority developers, and we were able to do that. One of our developers, BRP, is 100 percent minority owned.

In addition, I’ve been able to add about 100 new parking spots to the ward, which is great because parking is probably the number one issue that I hear in the ward.

We’ve implemented some signature programs. Every year on Halloween I sponsor the Ward A “trunk-or-treat” at Columbia Park. We have volunteers that pass out candy from the trunks of their cars. Parents don’t feel as safe going door to door, so we use one spot. Each year we add a little something different. Last year we had a magician. Each year we try to make it bigger and bigger.

We also do a Martin Luther King Ward A day of service. The first year we gave out coats for those in need. The second year we collected toiletries, and we donated them to Jersey City public schools.

This year, we went to all the senior buildings in Ward A and gave out sanitizer and masks.

JCT: Was the parking on-street parking?

DR: Yes. The biggest change that I made, and you can see that off of Garfield Avenue, is that if the street was wide enough, I added angled parking.

JCT: What do you think the greatest needs for Ward A are now?

DR: Parking and we are always concerned about safety, and I would say more small businesses.

JCT: Are there specific public safety needs?

DR: In the areas where there are concentrations of crime, let’s take Triangle Park, which has seen an uptick in violence, we have been working with the Triangle Park Community Center that has been very active working with the youth in that area, planning job fairs. They have dinners with some of the young men in the area, they have sports activities. We just completely renovated Triangle Park. We’re really trying to activate that space to decrease some of the activity that goes on there.

JCT: An article that we published seemed to show that since 2014, crime, pre-pandemic, under the Fulop administration had actually gone up, specifically property crimes but to a small degree violent crime as well. Are there any strategies that the city needs to be implementing to deal with this crime problem?

DR: One of the things I try to do when there is a problem is I try to keep the lines of communication open with the Department of Public Safety and try to help them communicate with people in the community. It’s the people in the community who understand what’s going on. A lot of the times, us in government or the police look at a lot of numbers, but we need to make sure that we’re communicating with people who actually know what’s going on. Even before I got in office, one of the things I used to sponsor is a meet-and-greet with the police recruits and the community. Before the cadets even graduated, we would have this conversation … let them know what’s expected and what’s going on to encourage them to have more visibility in the community. So far under Director Moody, I see a lot of those changes happening, with more communication with the community. I attended a chaplain training. I see more chaplains being utilized when tragic events occur. She’s been doing more work with our seniors, making sure that they’re more aware of their surroundings. This week coming up I know that there are block parties that the police are sponsoring in certain areas to get more outreach.

JCT: Do you hear from your constituents that they’d like to increase the police presence, decrease it, or keep it about the same?

DR: I don’t hear that they want to decrease it. The calls I get are always asking for more police. One of the problems I run into is that a lot of the wards have multiple departments that cover them. All I have is the South District, so if there’s more need for fixed posts in Ward F, it’s difficult send manpower elsewhere. Everyone wants a cop on their corner, a cop on the beat.

JCT: Do you think that the police are being deployed effectively? Rather than being deployed at fixed posts, should they be walking the beat?

DR: I would like to see the cops walking more. But I have seen an increase recently with them getting out of the cars and interacting more. I know with the fixed posts that there have been examples of them moving and then something occurring. So I do understand why they’re there. But, yes, I do believe we need cops walking the beat, and I’m starting to see that more often.

JCT: I think there’s the perception that Ward A is less affluent than other wards. The mayor has just announced the building of a project at Journal Square in which the Pompidou Center would take over the Pathside Building and there would be a significant investment of approximately $40 million to build it out and then about $12 million yearly to run it. It’s not clear where the money will come from to run it. Given that very large expenditure, do you feel that Ward A is being overlooked in terms of its needs?

DR: No, I don’t think so. Definitely not financially. We just bonded for $180 million for Bayfront alone. We just cut the ribbon at Audubon Park. We totally redid the park. That was $1 million there. I just redid Triangle. I don’t have the figure in front of me. I would think that’s another million. I think through the years it’s taken a while for development to get up this way. But I think it’s here now. That was one of the reasons I decided to run for council because I felt like we needed someone who had some experience in that development real estate area. I’m also a licensed real estate agent. Also, our residents had a real fear of being displaced in that process because we watched so many Downtown neighbors being displaced. There’s a ton of projects in the ward, and it’s my job to make sure we do that in a responsible way.

JCT: There’s a perception that there are a large number of youths at risk who are coming from difficult home situations who are getting swept up into gang activity, criminal activity, at a pretty young age. Do you think the city has invested enough into facilities and programs to divert those kids away from those activities?

DR: We have two summer camps alone just in Ward A. We have summer camp at Thomas McGovern Park; we have another at Bayside Park. I’m not sure if the schools are back open now. I know that under normal circumstances, the schools would be open during the day. There’s a pool at 40 School [P.S. 40] that’s open. I know that those resources were there. We have to have parents that are willing to have the kids utilize those resources. One of the things that I know Councilman Robinson has fought for and we’ve gotten behind him on is a new recreation center. I’m hoping that pans out and that our kids have access to that. In addition there’s been a big push to get more recreation facilities inside Liberty Park. Now the state has agreed to expand recreation in the park. So I think there’s always room for more. I definitely feel like there’s a fight out there to add facilities.

JCT: Do you as a councilperson feel that you are able to act and vote independently as part of a team? It seems to outsiders that Team Fulop tends to vote as a unit on many of these controversial issues that come up. What type of independence do you have and do you wish you had more?

DR: I think that everybody’s independent. I don’t work for the mayor. He’s not my boss. People have the impression that when you run together as a slate, that everything is decided for you or you don’t have conversations. The way that I tend to deal with things is I’d rather have those conversations in the background. If there’s something I don’t agree with, I pick up the phone, and I say, ‘Hey I don’t think this is good because a, b and c. Can we take c out and replace it with this or change this here?’” A lot of times those issues are worked out before the meeting.

JCT: You did not mention the CCRB. I assume that’s one of the accomplishments you’re proud of?

DR: I’m the daughter of a cop. I have law enforcement in my family. We want to make sure that our police department is being accountable and that procedures are clear. A lot of times the community really doesn’t know what’s going on, and things are happening behind their back. We need to make things more transparent. I feel like I have a good relationship with the police department. I’ve gone on ride-alongs with them. I’m probably the only councilperson that’s gone on ride-alongs that I’m aware of. We want to support all of our first responders.

JCT: As the daughter of a cop, what do you think you brought to this discussion?

DR: [Laughs] I think it was easy to talk to both sides. It was easy for me to talk to Councilman Solomon and at the same time it was easy for me to sit down and have conversations with public safety and the police union. Because I understand both sides because my dad is a cop. I understand what it’s like to work that job and have some people not like you because you’re a cop. But I also understand that my dad is a Black man. I understand what it feels like to have some of those brothers in blue pull you over because you seem suspicious. It’s a very unique situation to be in.

JCT: Is there anything you want to cover that we haven’t talked about?

DR: Across from Bayfront is the University Place project through NJCU. One of the things that I was able to negotiate on that project [is] a 500-seat performing arts center. We really want to work on increasing some of our arts and culture in Ward A. I asked for them to put together a community benefits agreement where they collaborate with Jersey City recreation and Jersey City Public Schools to make sure that our kids can utilize that performing arts space. They are going to allow local organizations to utilize the performing arts space, and they’re going to allow local groups to hold meetings there. We’re currently working to get a supermarket in that complex as well.

I want to make sure that we keep communication going. One of the things I started when I got into office is to hold a Ward A quarterly meeting. That became a newsletter during Covid. I can’t wait to get back to that meeting. Each meeting would cover a certain department.

If I am so blessed to be elected again, one of the things I want to focus on is a branding for the Ward A/Greenville area. Not to separate us from the rest of the city but to bring back some of that pride. You know Greenville was the gem of the city at one time. That has taken a turn. We really need to bring some of that back. Because it really is a great place for families. There wonderful houses with front yards and back yards and plenty of room for children to run and play.

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....