Photo courtesy via Jersey City Times.

If you’ve lived in Jersey City long enough, you might have heard or seen the name Bill O’Dea somewhere. In the 80s, your parents might have known him as a councilman. In the late 90s and early 2000s, your earliest recognition of him might have been as a county freeholder/commissioner.

Now, in 2025, O’Dea is going for a new title: Jersey City mayor.

O’Dea, 64, announced his mayoral campaign in November 2023, placing him and former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey as official candidates for the next seat at city hall, which was opened after current Mayor Steve Fulop announced his run for New Jersey governor. When O’Dea spoke to Slice of Culture, the Jersey City native said the decision to make the jump was simple.

“I can bring the fact that I’ve lived here all my life and [my] wisdom comes from experience. I’ve had triumph, I’ve had tragedy,” he said. 

“… We used to say the time is now, [but] now we say it’s now or never.”

Born, Raised And Served In Jersey City

O’Dea has served as an elected official in the city for 43 years. 

His political career started in 1981 as an aide to Jersey City Councilman Tom Fricchione. Four years later, at 26 years old, he became the “youngest council person ever elected,” he said, and stayed there for eight years until 1993. 

During those years, O’Dea was active in several fronts, one of the first being a successful preservation of Journal Square’s Loew’s Theatre, which was on the brink of demolition.

The theatre was built by Marcus Loew between 1927 and 1930. Its design is inspired by Spanish Baroque style, which puts an emphasis on intricate details carved into its walls, high gold ceilings and red drapes. The Journal Square location is known as one of the five Loew’s Wonder Theatres–or movie palaces–and offers more than 3,000 seats, a large stage for shows and a large screen for movies. It outlasted its counterparts, but in 1986, it was closed, sold and slated for demolition until the Friends of Loew’s (FOL) was formed and Jersey City later bought the theatre in 1993.

“Change happens, but preserving history is important… When I was a kid, every Christmas, the local politicians had a Christmas show and they gave us toys and I do that every year [at the Moose Lodge on West Side Avenue]… that resonated with me,” he said.

“I used to go to the movies there and when I was little, every house wasn’t air conditioned… that was a place to go and cool off and watch a movie.”

The theatre is now under a $42.2 million project.

As councilman, the West Side resident also focused on strengthening the local rent control law and “beefing up” the parks throughout the city.

He was out of elected office for a few years, but won a seat as the county freeholder/commissioner in 1997 in a special election due to the unexpected death of commissioner Henry “Hank” Gallo. There was “no way” he should’ve won, he told Slice of Culture, winning 41-40, based on the votes of 81 county committee people. 

He’s held that position ever since.

Hudson County has nine county commissioners–previously called county freeholders–in nine districts whose main responsibilities include approving an annual budget, enacting ordinances, approving county contracts and making appointments to public offices over their three-year terms. The nine commissioners include:

  • Kenneth Kopacz – District 1
  • William (Bill) O’Dea – District 2
  • Jerry Walker – District 3
  • Yraida Aponte-Lipski – District 4
  • Anthony Romano – District 5
  • Fanny Cedeño – District 6
  • Caridad Rodriguez – District 7
  • Robert Baselice – District 8
  • Albert Cifelli – District 9
(Courtesy of Hudson County View)

In his over-20-year-old role, O’Dea has put special attention into Lincoln Park, the oldest park in Hudson County, which he lives just a few blocks away from, including fountain restoration; athletic fields and running track restoration; built the new Casino in the Park, now called “The View”; and playground renovation.

O’Dea has also helped create programs for different kinds of people.

In partnership with Hudson County Building Trades, he created Impact, which is a program with the goal of increasing people of color (POC) participation and access to construction trades. According to Mosaic NJ, 200 people, including women and POC, were able to move into trades like plumbers, electricians, laborers and carpenters. 

For the youth, O’Dea helped start a soccer camp for kids under five years old and yoga classes for children 10 years old and younger. 

More recently, he was on the committee that chose the design for the new county courthouse, just blocks away from the current one located on Newark Avenue. The facility, which takes up Newark Avenue, Central Avenue, Oakland Avenue and Route 139, will have “three buildings including a five-story building with courtrooms and office space for administrators and the prosecutor’s office; one-and-a-half story building with the surrogate’s office, connected to the main building; and a 471-space parking garage.”

O’Dea additionally “made sure” that the building will get at least 10% to vendors and subcontractors who are “Jersey City-based local minority companies.”

Gentrification + Affordable Housing

Jersey City hasn’t always been the way that it is. 

You’ll see the city make it on a number of lists or guides naming the “best” places to live in New Jersey. You’ll hear from natives and longtime locals that they never thought the city would look the way it is,  have the appeal that it does or have the price tag it’s currently associated with.

For O’Dea, who went to St. Joseph’s Catholic School on Pavonia Avenue and St. Peter’s Prep on Grand Street, he’s seen all the changes and said that he loves “most” of it and thinks that, overall, people like it as well.

But he emphasized that there needs to be programs in place that can help neighborhoods “stave off” gentrification.

I think that developers need to create–and some of the state programs would require this– community benefit agreement… So if you gonna do a development you have to show me how it benefits a community, what are you gonna give back to the community? Whether it’s financially to programs to those neighborhoods to stave off gentrification so that the people who live there can afford to live there…,” he said.

“You gotta balance and you don’t wanna over develop neighborhoods. You wanna make sure that developers give back.”

In July 2022, multiple publications reported that Jersey City was the most expensive city to rent ($5,500) in the U.S., however, the linked report by listing portal Rent does not show that information anymore; it doesn’t have Jersey City nor New Jersey in its top 100 most expensive cities at all.

But Zumper, another listing portal, released a report for March 2024 that ranked the city as No. 2 most expensive with a median rent of $3,260, right behind New York who had $4,200.

(Courtesy of Zumper)

O’Dea told Slice of Culture a process that he would implement if he were mayor would be a transparent one. 

Currently, developers must go through an approval process where they create the plan, go to the city and potentially scale back on it because of their thoughts and community response; there’s also no surveys to get local residents’ opinions.

Instead, O’Dea, who boasts his development and economic development background, said that the community needs to be brought into the mix sooner, if not the first thing.

“If I’m the mayor, you come to me with a proposed plan, but before you get too far along with how tall the building is… here’s some community stakeholders that we know about. Start with them, let them get to a bigger community group. Let me as the mayor and the council members for that area stay involved and let’s just start to have a dialogue and discussion,” he described.

“Will it always work? No. Do developers generally wanna do that? No. But I think that’s a good way to do things and I think that’s a way to ensure that you really do get a good community benefit by starting with transparency at the beginning of the process [and] not in the middle and certainly not at the end.”

As for affordable housing, the commissioner said this should be included in each project by looking at the development and planning how to have low income, moderate income and workforce. He’s working with the state for programs that would supply workforce housing.

In 2023, an annual National Movers Study done by United Vans Lines stated that more residents moved out of New Jersey than any other state with 65% of its moves were outbound; this is the sixth consecutive year. The top motivation (27%), however, were residents looking to retire; there wasn’t clarification of the other motives.

Supporting Small Businesses

New Jersey is home to over 953,000 small businesses and over 49% of employees are employed by a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. But between March 2021 and March 2022, 26,040 local businesses closed; Jersey City felt the effects in 2023 when several longtime businesses shut down right before the new year.

O’Dea, who has run Elizabeth Development Company, a non-profit economic development company, for 12 years, said that thanks to his background and expertise, he has an idea of how to assist businesses more.

The city gets $10 million a year in Urban Enterprise Zone. During COVID, I started it out in Elizabeth but I also got Hudson County to do it and then Jersey City to do it, there was assistance to retail businesses during COVID, in fact it kept a lot of businesses open, paid their rents, paid their insurance… so we can take that model and then the New Jersey [Economic Development Authority] can be a critical component of that because if you’re starting, they help you pay your rent,” he said.

“We can utilize those UEZ dollars to assist the businesses if they’ve got problems in maintaining their rents, whether it’s low interest loans… in some cases even seeking capital grants so i think that there’s a lot of things… We can also kind of pressure landlords not to kick people out.”

Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) and New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) are both state programs that offer assistance in different forms for small businesses.

The West Side native recounted his favorite local spots including Summit House on Summit Avenue, video store Mac’s Video and restaurant Laicos on Terhune Avenue, which all but the latter have closed. But the two that would “devastate” him if it ever closes are Boulevard Drinks in Journal Square and Miss America Diner on West Side Avenue, which recently was a filming location for upcoming Bob Dylan biopic, “A Complete Unknown,” starring Timothée Chalamet.

(Courtesy of Jersey City My Hometown / Facebook)

Local Parks

Residents have become more vocal in the lack of adequate parks throughout the city. 

While it’s been an issue for a number of years, the city’s green space and spaces for recreational activities have become a hot topic following the revitalization project for Liberty State Park, which is under a major cleanup and redesign, but there’s been an ongoing disagreement of how much nature and recreation should be put in.

This shed light on another issue in the city: a lot of the local parks are poorly taken care of and local athletic teams go through a hassle finding space for practices or games. O’Dea told Slice of Culture, you have to invest in parks.

(Courtesy of

“You gotta put the dollars into them, you gotta get the city staff to maintain, but to make them successful, you’ve gotta get the community to adopt them,” he said. “… Meet with the community, what do you want?… whatever that neighborhood wants and needs based on the demographic.”

“Don’t let government just do anything because government once did all that stuff and then they kind of left it alone.”

The commissioner is currently working on refreshing William Gallagher Park, located at 259-265 Linden Avenue off of John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

O’Dea’s Vision

O’Dea said part of why he’s now running for mayor is because of Fulop’s confirmed last term, but also because of where he’s worked, what he’s accomplished and what he’s been through.

Twenty five years ago, on Jan. 1, 1993, O’Dea lost his nephew who was shot and killed in Jersey City. He said his nephew got “into drugs.” A few years before that, while he was councilman, his mother died in a fire at his house. 

“You wish you don’t have those experiences, but it’s those kind of experiences that make you a better person, give you the wisdom, because you can’t read a book about that,” he said.

“… That made me appreciate the jobs of police and firefighters.”

Whether it be understanding a family who just lost their child to drugs or relating to a family who’s a housefire victim, O’Dea said he always wants to keep his bonds with the community, even if he were to become mayor.

“[Bravo Supermarket on West Side Avenue] that’s where I do my shopping. I walk from my house to Lincoln Park… 90% of restaurants I go to eat are all in Jersey City,” he said. “The way to maintain [my bond] is to do what I’ve done my whole life.”

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