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Face off on crime, taxes


All five Jersey City mayoral candidates faced off last night in the second forum for the 2009 municipal election. More than 100 people attended the event, sponsored by the Heights Coalition, at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, at 167 Hancock St.

The candidates - Jersey City Police Detective Phillip G. Webb, 60; Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, 60; former Assemblyman Louis Manzo, 54; civic activist Daniel Levin, 46, and Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, 58 - agreed on several issues, such as the need for more parks and more community policing. But they clashed on tax abatements and crime prevention.

Webb came out strongly against tax abatements, while Healy argued for them, saying developers need long-range guarantees about what kind of taxes they would pay.

"The money wouldn't be lent (for development projects) if developers had to rely on the vagaries of the tax system," he said.

On transportation, Healy touted his transportation master plan, which calls for an extension of the Light Rail across Route 440 and his efforts that convinced NJ Transit to extend the No. 123 bus to Christ Hospital.

But Levin criticized Healy for failing to step in before service was cut and for focusing on "pie-in-the-sky" Light Rail extensions instead of improving bus service. Manzo argued that Jersey City should create its own bus system instead of relying on state agencies and private companies.

On schools, Manzo suggested the creation of two new high schools, one for performing arts and one for trade and technology, while Levin called for more charter schools.

And on crime, Manzo touted his sponsorship of "Operation Ceasefire" in the state legislature and promised a "zero-tolerance" approach to enforcement, while Webb and Smith called for more social programs, such as job training for ex-convicts and substance abuse programs.

"We have to change the way we look at social issues," Smith said, advocating a drug rehabilitation center for Jersey City.

Webb agreed. "There has to be a holistic approach to stopping crime," he said. "Most of the people we arrest have problems with drugs. If you're not doing rehabilitation, if you're not upgrading education, no matter how many cops you put on the streets . the crime will persist."

Those surveyed after the debate said they were most impressed by Manzo and Levin.

"I thought Lou Manzo did a pretty good job and Dan Levin was good, too" said Elmer Andal, a 37-year-old financial analyst who said he came to the debate undecided. "The other two, they seemed like they couldn't do the job . and Mayor Healy - it's the same old story, I don't quite buy it."

Michael Santasieri, a 75-year-old retired dock worker, said Manzo seemed "good and honest."

And Doris Cappelluti, 75, said she is supporting Manzo for his record in the Assembly. "All the things he did in the Assembly, think of what he'll do as mayor," she said, adding that she liked Levin, too, but that "to get anything done in Jersey City, you need a political following."

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