Still undecided. That was the sentiment of several Jersey City residents who attended the first in a series of mayoral candidate forums and debates held last Thursday in the Jersey City Heights.
At least that was the sentiment of residents who weren’t wearing or carrying campaign paraphernalia from one of the four mayoral candidates who showed up at the Christa McAuliffe School to answer questions about illegal apartments, economic development, transportation, taxes, and education.
Many of the rest of the 200-plus audience members who attended the forum were clear supporters of one of the four candidates: City Councilman Steven Fulop, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, Team Walker Jerry Walker, or Dr. Abdul Malik. Still, there was a sizeable percentage of residents in attendance who have yet to decide how they will vote on May 14.
For each of the candidates, the remaining forums and debates will be an opportunity to introduce a platform, solidify shaky supporters, win over skeptics, and get out the vote.
“I came here tonight because I just moved here, like 15 or 16 months ago,” said Mike Flores, a New Jersey native who has been living in Michigan for the last eight years. “I don’t know much about Jersey City. But I am thinking about staying here a while and I wanted to learn more about who’s running. If I had to declare a winner here tonight, I’d say it was ‘Fillip,’ ” Flores added, clearly unsure of how to pronounce the Ward E councilman’s name. “He was the one who, in my opinion, had the clearest platform and the clearest ideas on how to run the city.”
Flores said he heard criticisms of Healy made throughout the forum, “but that could just be the competition saying that to take votes away from him. I don’t know how much of that criticism was deserved.”
A professional chef who lives with his girlfriend in the Heights, Flores said he is most concerned about taxes and the development of small business in Jersey City, one of the issues the candidates discussed during the forum.
The deadline to register to vote is April 14.
“I thought Fulop had the best answers, but I really liked Walker’s enthusiasm,” said Hoover. “He seemed to have a genuine passion for the city.”
Evette Beckelman, a Heights resident who has only recently begun to pay attention to the upcoming election, said she found Walker “very engaging. But he was also short on specifics, so I’ll either need to hear more from him, or I’ll probably be voting for Steve Fulop.”
Beckelman referenced the various policy papers the Fulop campaign has issued in recent weeks regarding crime and safety, education, economic development and job creation, and other issues. Late last week the campaign issued its most recent paper on transportation.
“I haven’t read all those things yet,” said Beckelman, “but I most definitely plan to before the election. They could play a role in how I vote.”
A married mother of a toddler-aged son and a former teacher, Beckelman said she voted for Healy in 2009.
“I just think it’s time for a change,” she said to explain why she doesn’t plan to vote for him again in May.
None of the residents who were approached at random said they planned to vote for Healy or Malik. (Some people said they sometimes found Malik, a native of Pakistan, difficult to understand or follow.)
Ward F resident Mona Scott was another resident who said she was divided between Fulop and Walker.
“I was interested in what Fulop and Mr. Walker had to say,” said Scott. “I think they both present good plans to turn this city around. I was not interested in what Healy has to say due to the simple fact that he has been mayor for two terms and the city has not progressed. The city has not turned around. It has given tax abatements where there shouldn’t be tax abatements. Affordable housing is a joke. There isn’t enough subsidized housing for low-income families. And a majority of this city is low-income. We’re struggling and Healy isn’t doing enough.”
Scott said she was still undecided, but is “interested in learning more about Mr. Walker’s plan for the city, and also Fulop’s.”
McGinley Square resident Robert Burke said Walker was “thin on specifics, which hurt him here tonight, I think.”
Not every voter at the forum was undecided, however. Several already had their minds made up before last week and said the forum only solidified their support for a particular candidate.
“I can’t say that tonight changed my opinion at all,” said Heights resident Roger Heitmann. He identified clean streets, crime, and transportation among the issues of most importance to him.
“I thought they were all passionate about what they believed in and they got their points across pretty well. But I think that some of them are less experienced than others and probably don’t have the background to be mayor, quite frankly. In my opinion, we’re down to two candidates. This is basically a two-man race.”
Heitmann declined to identify which mayoral candidate he plans to vote for.
The deadline to register to vote is April 14.
Next month, the Hudson Reporter will host a mayoral debate with the candidates which will be videotaped and posted online.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.