The five men running for mayor in the May 12 Jersey City municipal election – incumbent Jerramiah Healy along with L. Harvey Smith, Phillip Webb, Louis Manzo, and Dan Levin – met at the Hudson Reporter’s main office in Hoboken for a 90-minute debate on April 21.
The debate was also videotaped and can be viewed at www.hudsonreporter.com.
The debate was also videotaped and can be viewed in its entirety at www.hudsonreporter.com.
The candidates were asked how they would deal with the growing epidemic of murder and gang violence that has plagued Jersey City. Ironically, as the forum was taking place, Jersey City’s eighth homicide this year occurred when a young man was shot and killed at a park (see related story on cover). All but one was committed by handgun.
Healy, the incumbent, didn’t offer solutions as much as he listed his efforts in combating crime in his four-plus years in office, such as stopping illegal guns and increasing police patrols. Healy also called the violence a “social problem,” saying that kids with a troubled home life and living in poverty were more likely to end up involved in crime. He also said the problem was worsened by the availability of firearms (Healy had carried out in 2005 Operation Lifesaver, a gun buyback program that removed 897 guns from the streets).
Of troubled youths who commit crimes, Healy said, “They don’t care about their own lives, and they certainly don’t care about anyone else’s lives.”
Manzo, a former state assemblyman and frequent mayoral contender, called for the immediate implementation of Operation Ceasefire, a state-funded initiative to reduce gun violence through a partnership between law enforcement and the community. He also said there should be more cops walking the beat year-round, not just at “election-time.”
“We have to stop surrendering to crime,” Manzo said. “We can’t pull out of neighborhoods… we can’t tell Little Leaguers to leave.” He was referring to an incident the evening of April 20 when shots were fired on Bright Street near Gateway Field in downtown Jersey City, while two teams from the Robert Clemente Little League practiced nearby.
Smith, currently the 31st District state Assemblyman and former City Council present, said he would deploy more police to concentrate on gang-infested sections of the city, and pursue more social service and job programs for young men and women.
Webb, a Jersey City policeman for nearly 30 years, agreed with Healy’s “social problem” theory and with Smith about the need for more programs. He said programs were particularly needed in the schools where gangs recruit.
Levin, a downtown activist and the owner of a Hoboken frame shop, said police senior management should be hired from the outside, to bring in crime-fighting practices that may not be evident to Jersey City police.
The candidates were asked how they would control spending in city government. The city’s proposed $460.2 million budget has yet to be approved, nine months into the 2009 fiscal year, which ends on June 30. A special meeting to approve the budget is scheduled for this Thursday, May 7, at City Hall. And taxes have gone up over 30 percent in the past three years.
Levin called for a five-year financial master plan for spending and revenues, and said he would make cuts early in the budget process, such as cars provided for city officials and health benefits for appointees to various autonomous boards.
“You can’t budget three-quarters of the way into the year after money has been spent,” Levin said.
Manzo wanted efficiency audits all-year round for city departments, and a “responsible” development plan in which the city would not plug budget gaps by depending on payments from developers with tax abatement agreements.
Webb also called for an efficiency audit, and would eliminate “politically-connected” positions that fatten the city’s payroll.
“We are going to do something so unique that we are going to actually reward people based on merit,” Webb said.
Smith agreed with Webb that political hiring should end, and he also said he would pass a budget earlier in the year to avoid tax increases. He would also promote from within, and only create positions out of necessity to avoid extra expense.
Healy defended late budgets and overspending, saying the city has to deal with increasing costs mandated by contracts with police officers and firefighters. He also said the city is working to attract more taxpayers to the city to generate more revenue and stabilize taxes.
The candidates were asked how they would deal with the city’s aging infrastructure, such as deteriorating roads and sewer lines.
Manzo said he would have ongoing maintenance of the sewer system and frequent paving of city streets. Also, he advocated that federal stimulus money be utilized for the construction of pumping stations, particularly in downtown Jersey City, where residents complain frequently about heavy flooding. He would also save money by renegotiating the city’s current 10-year contract with United Water (a contract for managing the city’s drinking water system until 2018) and have the city manage more of those services.
Smith said he would use federal stimulus dollars to the city for cleaning and repairing the sections of the sewer system where it is most needed, downtown and on the city’s west side.
“I think in the long run, maintaining our streets and maintaining our infrastructure is a priority,” Smith said.
Levin said he would form a capital plan for financing the cost of repairing the sewers. Also, he would employ inexpensive ways to stem flooding, such as planting trees all over the city to soak up water.
Healy pointed to his record of “19 miles of street paving” while in office. He also said the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority has a program of cleaning sewer catch basins to make sure there is no backup during heavy rains.
Webb said if the city did not approve tax abatements, or negotiate payments from developers in lieu of taxes, there would be more money available for road and sewer repairs.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.