Is Rebecca Symes the ‘Fox Guarding the Henhouse’ in Jersey City?

A mysterious political mailer, which leads to a single-page website, raises issues related to Rebecca Symes – executive director of the Waterfront Project and former general counsel of Dixon Advisory USA – that could open a political can of worms for Mayor Steven Fulop.

Mailer featuring Mayor Steven Fulop and ex-Dixon General Counsel Rebecca Symes

Two issues have dominated the 2019 Jersey City election cycle and generated millions in political spending. The biggest one is the Airbnb/STR (short-term rental) municipal question, followed by a potential winner-take-all Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE) election.

Amid the chaos, a mysterious mailer which doesn’t mention either of the aforementioned issues has been sent citywide. Specifically, it blames Mayor Steven Fulop and Rebecca Symes, the executive director of the nonprofit Waterfront Project (WFP), for the evictions of “thousands” of Jersey City residents.

Mysterious Mailer

Who and what exactly is Citizens for a Better Jersey City? It’s a New Jersey nonprofit, like WFP, which was registered on September 16, 2019. It’s office and agent are based in Cliffside Park, NJ, but all three of its trustees are from Jersey City.

It’s unclear at this time what exactly motivated the formation of the non-profit, but “consulting +” is its stated purpose. Notably, the mailer cites the Bloomberg article and Fulop’s multiple home renovations done by Dixon Projects (more on the Australian business further down).

Additionally, the mailer asks – “Are you or anyone you know a victim of the Australians and Rebecca Symes?” It also directs to a single-page website which includes five “quotes from families forced out of their homes,” but no contact information.

Is Rebecca Symes the ‘Fox Guarding the Henhouse’ in Jersey City?

In a nutshell, the substance of the mailer could open a can of worms regarding a major story ignored by the mainstream media of New Jersey. Specifically, the troubling questions that remain unanswered related to the Hudson County operation of Dixon Advisory USA (Dixon) – the U.S subsidiary of an Australian financial services firm facing a $100,000,000 class action lawsuit for their American venture.

According to Symes’ LinkedIn profile, she was the general counsel of Dixon from  a confidant of the company’s disgraced ex-CEO, Alan Dixon, and that the Australian bloke heavily supported her failed 2017 campaign for the Ward E city council seat after she left the company.

Months after losing to current Ward E Councilperson James Solomon in a runoff election, Symes took over as executive director for WFP. She replaced Dinah Hendon, who was hired by Fulop as director of the Office of Housing Code Enforcement (and apparently coordinates with Symes/WFP in that position).

According to a 2018 sponsored post for a WFP event on the website Jersey Digs, paid for by Dixon, the relationship between the firm and nonprofit has been extremely close:

As a non-profit, WFP relies on funding from government grants, individual contributions, and corporate donations, and Dixon began donating resources to the organization very early on. “Dixon has been instrumental,” said Rebecca Symes, Vice President of the WFP Board of Trustees. “Dixon recognizes their role in the growth of Jersey City and that it’s a mixed blessing for our most vulnerable residents and wanted to direct some of its charitable giving and employee volunteer hours to helping those most in need.” WFP works to advise, defend, educate, and prepare a portion of the Hudson County community that would otherwise be left behind due to the development spurred by this growth.

While most of the sponsored post sounds heartwarming, whether WFP’s mission is as altruistic and/or meaningful as they claim it to be is another story. For instance, how exactly has Dixon been a “mixed blessing” for Jersey City’s “most vulnerable residents”?

Public records show that entities associated with Dixon have filed hundreds of eviction actions, including the US Masters Residential Property Fund (URF) – a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) managed by Dixon which owned approximately $475 million worth of property in New Jersey (primarily Jersey City/Hudson County).

Furthermore, Citizens for a Better Jersey City’s website references Jameel Mohammed – a Dixon associate whose eviction tactics related to properties acquired via Hudson County Sheriff’s Foreclosure Sales have been documented by both the Australian Financial Review and Real Jersey City.

Additionally, documents related to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) awarded to WFP by the City of Jersey City, obtained after the Fulop Admin. settled an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit filed by Real Jersey City, reveal shoddy record keeping and questionable service delivery (more on that in a future article).

Symes & WFP are now supporting Councilperson Solomon’s “Rent Control Crisis” politics, but maybe Solomon needs to be focusing more on how Dixon operated in Jersey City’s non-rent control housing market (1-4 unit properties). When asked in an interview this past spring about Dixon’s business practices, prior to the firm announcing it would commence selling down their portfolio, the councilperson avoided direct discussion.

As for whether Symes is the Fox Guarding the Henhouse? It’s time for the WFP’s executive director to start explaining how the nonprofit was countering the eviction tactics of the firm which employed her as a general counsel for four years. Many other issues need explaining, too, including why this comment made on Facebook yesterday is such a common sentiment of people that’ve sought assistance from the WFP:

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