For the past five years, Gabby Ambroise has been a familiar face around the Saint Peter’s campus. Since she graduated last year with a history degree, she has started working for the Communications and Political Science departments. She also works as an RA, and is currently pursuing her masters in Public Administration— all while running for the position of Hudson County freeholder at only 22 years old.
Because of the pandemic, she’s had to replace door-to-door campaigning with phone banking, but she hasn’t let that stop her. In order to run, candidates must amass 100 signatures from people in their district— and though she had to get some of her signatures online, Ambroise has secured her spot on the ballot. Her opponent, Bill O’Dea, has held the position since 1998.
If you are from District 2 of Hudson County (which encompasses parts of Jersey City, like Greenville and Journal Square) you will be able to vote for Gabby on June 2nd, when national primaries and local elections are taking place. Currently, Gabby and some of the other candidates are fighting to hold the vote by mail in order to maintain social distancing.
I got the chance to speak with Gabby about the ideals behind her campaign, her passion for public service and why local politics are important.
For people who don’t know, how would you describe what a freeholder does?
Freeholders create legislation on the county level, so they control the county parks, the roads, the budget, the taxes and the county schools. It's a huge position and not many people know about it. It’s concerning because the freeholder of the county has a $3 million budget— everyone should know what they do, because they have so much money to use.
What made you decide to run?
I went to a meeting at the Holland Gardens in Jersey City as part of one of my public policy classes at Saint Peter’s. It's an affordable housing unit, and we met the tenants there.They shared their experiences about the conditions they live in, which are terrible. There are rodents, and one tenant even experienced a loss of hair from the mold.
At the meeting, it was so clear that developers’ interests in Jersey City to build luxury style housing is superseding the needs of the majority of working people here.
I strongly believe that housing is a human right. And hearing the tenants’ stories, I just knew that the cities weren't doing enough. The county has been silent for far too long— they need to step in and do more. For me, that meant taking on a bigger role by running for freeholder.
Affordable housing is a major part of your platform. What are some other issues in Hudson County that are important to you?
There are certain parts of Jersey City, especially in Greenville and parts of the Heights, that are hard to access with public transportation. Part of my platform is sustainable transportation and climate justice. We need to work on reducing our individual carbon footprints.That means expanding access to public transportation so the folks don't have to rely on their car so much.
I also think that we need to be doing more to support our communities of color and provide better educational opportunities. Something I want to work on countywide is establishing a Pathways to Higher Education program so young folks can have a better grasp of what they want their future to look like post-graduation. Getting young people off the streets and focused on their future will boost their self-esteem and give them a better sense of their purpose.
What are some experiences you’ve had that qualify you for this position?
When it comes to internships and experience with advocacy, I’ve dipped my toes and gotten involved in a little bit of everything. But more importantly, I think the future of politics in Jersey City looks and sounds like me. It is young, black, brown, people of color, women, and LGBTQ folks. I am genderqueer and bisexual. I grew up with a working-class immigrant mother, and I grew up paycheck to paycheck. It's us who are representing our communities, and standing with our communities. We have lived these experiences.
What is your advice for other young people who are considering running for office?
Run! Just run! Don’t even question it. I know it seems super scary, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, but just do it. Don’t be afraid to fail— life is a learning process. If you aren’t afraid to try, you don’t know what could happen. You could fall in love with it!
Other than serving as freeholder for Hudson County, what are some of your long term career goals?
I want to do work surrounding human rights and justice, no matter what that ends up looking like. One thing I've thought about is becoming an immigration lawyer. My mom is from Haiti and she got her citizenship in 2015, so it’s something I’m really passionate about.
I don't believe in dream jobs— the concept of living to work in a capitalistic society is something I can’t fully agree to. But I do dream about making effective change. I want to improve not only my life, but all people's lives.