And there could have been more.
It was the first major confrontation between the top two vote-getters from May 8's election. DeGise, the current council president, and Cunningham, a former U.S. Marshal and former council president, will now face each other in a June 5 run-off. Candidates for City Council will also face each other on the fifth.
It was a debate of finger-wagging, whining, accusations of harassment, and the specter of race before more than 250 people inside a stuffy St. Joseph's Church basement, near the county courthouse. Both men laid figurative blows on the other.
Most of these debates have been packed with ardent, noisy hard-core supporters of their candidate. They also generally include a sprinkling of residents, government workers, members of the press and assorted mumblers. Debate moderator Gerry Brancata warned supporters that he would not shy away from ejecting anyone he felt was out of line. One DeGise and one Cunningham backer got the boot Monday.
During the debate, the candidates accused one another of dirty campaigning.
DeGise complained that his candidates for council had been threatened in the past few months.
"It hasn't been pretty," he said. Those comments were met with a hail of boos.
"I ran a clean campaign," shot back Cunningham. He said his wife was afraid to watch TV or go to the mailbox for fear of seeing hateful campaign propaganda. "I took the high road," he said.
Then, Cunningham turned and pointed to DeGise. "We're in church," he growled. "You bless the ones who curse you."
Earlier, Cunningham had lashed out at DeGise, which brought the highest drama of the evening.
"I was hoping I didn't have to bring this up," said Cunningham of a DeGise ad that called him "Mr. No Show." He added: "You missed over one hundred days in school over the last five years. He's stealing from the children in this city. He had the nerve to call me 'Mr. No Show.'"
DeGise is on leave from his job as a career counselor at Snyder High School. He lashed right back at Cunningham.
"I call him 'Mr. No Show' and he called me a racist," he said. "Glenn Cunningham has played the racist card every time..."
DeGise was drowned out by boos. Joe Gallo, a Cunningham supporter, shot up and yelled towards the podium, "You're a liar, you're a liar, you're a liar." He was told to leave.
Before he could resume for the next question, Cunningham said, "Please excuse me if I am visibly upset. Mr. DeGise has sunk to the lowest level he can."
DeGise's "Mr. No-Show" ad referred to more than a dozen council meetings that Cunningham, who served on the City Council from 1981 to 1989, missed, and 20 that DeGise said he was late for.
A new Cunningham?
Cunningham had wasted no time going on the offensive in his opening comments.
"I'm reminding everyone of the distortions you'll hear tonight from Tom DeGise," said Cunningham. "In reality, Tom DeGise has never done anything. He's never been the manager of anything. He's never supervised anything." Cunningham cited his own experience as a member of the Marine Corps, a police officer and U.S. Marshal.
Seemingly taking a cue from former candidate and current supporter Louis Manzo, Cunningham relentlessly attacked DeGise on the tax incentives the city awards to businesses. The incentives, or abatements, have become key in the campaign, and Cunningham, a former council president argued: "Instead of kissing the butts of developers, I made the developers donate 10 percent of buildings to affordable housing."
DeGise is getting the lion's share of his campaign funding from sources like Newport developer Lefrak Organization.
But DeGise challenged Cunningham on the abatements.
"I would suggest if you don't like the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes," he said, "then find another way of raising revenue." He said he resented what he called "cheap shots" from Cunningham.
The city got $53 million in abatement money for this year's budget.
On questions of policing, Cunningham cited his "experience being an African-American all my life" as a positive. He said he would replace the current director, make the police "more responsive" to the community. He would like them to institute "sensitivity training."
"Nobody's going to know how to run the police department better than I," he said.
DeGise contended that the city should institute a bottoms-up approach and said of the city's residents and its police, "For the most part, everyone has gotten along." He contrasted his stance with Cunningham's on a recently unveiled camera monitoring system on Martin Luther King Drive and Ocean Avenue, in predominantly black Ward F. Cunningham has vowed to take the cameras down.
Said Cunningham: "He says, 'Put cameras up,' when we should put more cops on the street. Cops fight crime better than anything."
Responded DeGise: "If you think Glenn's gonna put a cop on every corner, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to tell you about."
DeGise said he would expand the Neighborhood Improvement Department, a Schundler initiative which was designed to respond to "quality of life" problems, things like noisy kids and trash that police often assign a low priority to.
DeGise vowed not to raise property taxes and blamed cuts in state aid for the city's budget woes. He pegged the city's deficit at between $10 and $12 million.
Both DeGise and Cunningham quibbled over water costs in the city. Cunningham said water rates were raised in an attempt to plug budget shortfalls. DeGise, waving a paper in his hand, said rates had actually gone down.
The city floated a $36 million bond in 1998 shortly after the creation of a Municipal Utilities Authority. That money has been used toward plugging budget holes.
On affordable housing
On affordable housing, DeGise noted new projects being built in Jersey City in Curries Woods, Lafayette Village, and A. Harry Moore.
Cunningham shot back: "$3,000 a month luxury living. This is what the current administration is concentrating on."
Both men agreed that the Bergen Arches, a former cargo train line along Sixth Street, should be used as a commuter rail line. The arches were recently put on a top ten list of endangered historic sites in New Jersey.
Cunningham charged that the city's finances were in disarray and suffered from state control.
In order to receive money as a "distressed city," Jersey City is in a hiring freeze, and must get state approval before hiring new city personnel.
DeGise countered that the city had used one-shot revenue items, but also said the city used "innovative governing" in creating the MUA and bonding for it.
A recent state-authorized report by auditor Arthur Andersen said Jersey City "struggled" with its finances.