Councilman Yousef Saleh
Born and raised in Jersey City, Yousef Saleh gained council approval to replace the late Ward D Councilman Michael Yun. He has previously held the position of President for McNair Academic High School, Rutgers New Brunswick and Rutgers Law School.
1. Why do you think Jersey City is so great?
I think Jersey City is so great because it’s the golden door of America and for hundreds of years immigrants came to this country to lay their dreams, planting the seeds for their families and future generations in hopes of a better life. Jersey City is that fertile ground for their dreams, it is the embodiment of America and the American ideals that we hope to achieve. We stand under the lamp of Lady Liberty and it is a symbol of the promise of America, for liberty and justice for all. Anyone from all around the world can come here with the clothes on their back and start something; start a business, start a family, start a new life, and have these freedoms. It’s up to each of us to make sure that we live up to that promise, every generation has a new contract with this country and we have to live up to it. Jersey City is the perfect example for that.
2. Looking back, what is your best memory here in Jersey City?
I have a bunch, I would say going to Liberty State Park with my family is one of the best memories I have. The blizzard of 96’ when I was a kid and I got to take off from school, that was fun. Learning to ride a bike in Washington Park, I’ll never forget not falling down and that one moment you finally learn how to ride the bike. I still remember exactly where I learned because it’s this feeling of success and relief and you’ll never forget that feeling. There are so many to pick from but a lot of them involve family and being in the park, just enjoying time in the neighborhood.
3. As a Councilperson, what are your goals for Jersey City?
I have a number of goals right now, as you know we’re going through a pandemic so my first goal for Jersey City residents is to make sure people get the testing they need, and the help they need. For businesses, I want to make sure they don’t close down, they’re getting the economic relief they need, and the promotion they need to survive. I want to ensure we open up in a safe, responsible fashion and when or if the next wave happens, we’ve learned from the first wave and we’re able to shut down appropriately and do the things necessary to mitigate the 2nd wave like wearing face masks, social distancing so that’s my first priority as Councilman right now. I was appointed in the middle of the pandemic due to tragic circumstances, with the passing of the late Councilman Michael Yun, who I looked up to. I know I have big shoes to fill, he has a lasting legacy here in the Heights helping people, helping businesses so I want to continue to do that. Looking forward, I hope to win my reelection in November. If I’m lucky enough to be elected I would continue with the development of the parks, I want to install more green infrastructure, I want affordable housing, not just in the Heights but everywhere across Jersey City. I want to make sure our growth as a city and in the Heights is responsible, eco-friendly and family friendly and that the Heights always remains a place where you can lay roots here whether you’re an immigrant, whether you’re coming from New York or another part of Jersey City. I want the Heights to maintain it’s family friendly character and affordability. That’s going to be my challenge moving forward and quality of life issues like trash pick-up, making sure it’s clean, having a parking deck in the Heights is critical. Everything we do here in the Heights is viewed through the prism of “how does this affect parking?” Because it is a huge issue so I do want to help alleviate those parking problems here in the Heights. I’ve seen it growing up, I was born and raised here and I’ve become an expert parking hunter. I see these issues as an opportunity for us as a community to better the Heights.
4. What inspired you to reach the position of a Councilperson?
I was born and raised in the Heights and I had always wanted to give back to the community. When Councilman Yun passed away, I also lost a coworker and I really had a great deal of hesitancy to jump into this role right now due to everything that was going on. After looking at myself in the mirror and after several weeks I put my name in at the last minute. I felt that if I want to be called a leader one day, if I call myself a leader, if I feel myself to be a community leader in the Heights, then I need to be able to lead in times that are uncertain, times when people are having trouble just as much as I want to lead during the good times. I need to be able to step up to the plate and do the work of the community and I don’t deserve to be called a leader if I can’t lead right now. I knew I always wanted to make a positive impact on my community and I’m invested in the Heights I lived here all my life, my family lived here all their lives, we’ve attended public school. We want to see the Heights community grow and be beautiful and that’s why I stepped up to the plate because people are hurting right now and they need someone who will have their back. I’ve had the back of people before, I was the President at McNair Academic, President at Rutgers New Brunswick, President at Rutgers Law School, and I never led during easy times. If you look at my tenure down at Rutgers New Brunswick that was really one of the most difficult experiences that I’ve had because we had so many issues that year between losing funding from the state or the threat of the loss of funding, and the threat of the increase in tuition. We had Eric LeGrand, who was a football player get paralyzed, Snooki came to campus and that was a huge public relations nightmare because she got paid more than Toni Morrison, who I love. We also had a student commit suicide due to cyber bullying so there were a lot of issues that I dealt with during that time. I dealt with things down at Rutgers Law School as well. Merging the Rutgers Newark, and Rutgers Camden campuses for the Law school, issues that have to do with quality of life too like getting clean water in the Law School. I would compare being a Councilman to being a resident assistant for college and also being in student government but on steroids. It’s a 24/7, 365 day job. You’re dealing with a lot of issues and you have to keep a list and hammer through them day by day. Thankfully I have two aides that help me as well.
5. What do you feel are the benefits of Jersey City being rated the number one most diverse city in the United States this year?
The benefit is there’s a lot of food and if anyone knows anything about me it’s that I love food. I have the palette of a caveman but I do appreciate good food, if it tastes good it tastes good. Thankfully, Jersey City has a diversity of delicious food, and amazing cultures, just being able to celebrate with different people whether its Diwali, whether it’s Passover, there’s so much going on in this city you would be hard pressed to be bored, you’d have to chose to be bored and isolate yourself like in a pandemic but in normal times Jersey City is such a bustling and beautiful hub of diversity. That diversity lends itself to so many different things that flow out of it like holidays and the food. That’s the highlight for me. I love hearing about people’s stories, people from all walks of life. It keeps you grounded to hear about other people’s cultures. When you go out to other parts of the country they’re not as blessed to have such a diverse community. We are blessed to look at our neighbors and everyone is different but also everyone’s the same as well. We all have the same goals for our kids, the same goals for our families, our community and that’s the beautiful part.
6. What is your favorite place in Jersey City to eat?
The Cliff is great for brunch, Fox and Crow for brunch. The Griot for breakfast food, they’re closed down for now but they’re going to reopen soon. They were my go-to for coffee and the griot sandwich. If we’re talking pizza, Gino’s is a classic favorite. I get not just the grandma pie but I get beef ravioli, and chicken parm, I love it there. We have a new pizza place, Paulie’s brick oven pizza on central avenue, it’s a legit brick oven and he’s Italian too so it’s authentic. Wonder Bagel for the bagels. Bang Cookie’s, before I was appointed during the whole pandemic it was bang cookies every night, I was stress eating but it was good. I love their classic, salted chocolate chip cookies. The law of donut engineering (LoDG) on bleecker street, they opened up recently again and they have the best gourmet donuts ever. I have a sweet tooth.