Four of the six candidates running for the Nov. 3 special election to fill the unexpired at-large council seat vacated by Anthony Chiappone clashed during a videotaped debate at the Hudson Reporter offices on Oct. 17.
Often heated, the debate highlighted the positions each of the candidates took on a variety of critical issues – including taxes, development, abatements and the fate of the Broadway shopping district.
Postmaster Terrence Ruane, who was named by the City Council to fill the seat until the election, found himself the target of criticism as a member of the current administration.
But in defending his position, he said he believed Mayor Mark Smith, who took over the reins of power in Bayonne after winning a special election in November 2007, is on the right track in reducing the size of government, cutting costs, and seeking additional revenues.
“You say things are changing. Yes, they are changing. They’re getting worse.” -- Leonard Kantor
“You say things are changing. Yes, they are changing. They’re getting worse,” Kantor said.
Rent Control Board Chairperson Debra Noble said the city needs to do more to help the Broadway shopping district and to open government up so that taxpayers can better access information.
“We have to stop patronage hiring,” she said. “We should start with the BLRA and open up the hiring process there.”
Real Estate Agent John R. Cupo claimed the city of Bayonne was “closed for business” to anyone other than a select group of developers. He said the city needs to use the former Military Ocean Terminal more properly, proposing to rent the 432-acre parcel rather than sell it, and use the revenue to offset taxes for the rest of the city.
Businessman Ramon Veloz and Activist and Finance Specialist Stan Marko were unable to attend the debate.
The winner of the Nov. 3 special election will take office immediately after the results are verified, and will remain as councilperson until July 1, 2010, when the winner of the regular municipal election is sworn in.
The candidates provided a brief introduction, and then were asked to answer six questions. Each was allowed time to refute or clarify their position, although at times, the debate grew heated and exchanges often went into tangents that included questions about other candidates’ backgrounds.
Kantor and Cupo frequently questioned Ruane’s qualifications as postmaster and postal employee.
Postmaster Ruane, 55, began his career in the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier in 1975. He served as a letter carrier in Bayonne for 12 years, and was vice president of the union local of the National Association of Letter Carriers. In 1987, Ruane was promoted to supervisor of delivery and collection at the Bayonne Post Office, and held that position for three years. In 1990, Ruane became tour supervisor at the Bayonne Post Office and served in that role for seven years.
“You were anointed, not elected,” Cupo said to Ruane, referring to a conflict earlier this year in which Mayor Mark Smith threatened to take the City Council to court to force a vote on Ruane.
Ruane was sharply critical of Kantor and Cupo.
“You have run for office frequently,” Ruane said at one point to Kantor, only to be interrupted by Kantor, who said, “Yes, and I always lose.”
Ruane was particularly critical of Cupo, citing past failed business ventures, including a Hoboken festival. He also waved a state report that showed Cupo’s real estate license had been suspended. Cupo displayed a document showing that he was an authorized real estate salesperson.
At one point, Noble launched into an attack on Cupo, saying that he had failed to comply with election laws in setting up an account. She also said he violated state laws on elections by allowing anyone to sign his nominating petitions, even if they had signed another petition already.
Cupo later said Noble had quoted old information and that he has since set up his election accounts.
Despite the drama and often raised voices, the candidates did manage to answer the questions, giving a clearer vision of their positions.
A life long resident of Bayonne, Kantor has been an outspoken critic of administration policies for more than 35 years. Kantor would like to see the former Military Ocean Terminal developed into a commercial or office base center, saying the residential vision of the past was a mistake.
Noble, an assistant controller for a company in Secaucus since 2000, a past state president of the American Legion Auxiliary, and a member of the Bayonne Rent Control Board since 1995 and its chairperson since 2006, said the city needs to develop a new vision when it comes to Broadway. She proposes setting aside a portion of Broadway as a day time pedestrian mall with the idea of changing the focus on the central city.
Cupo, a one time commissioner on the Jersey City Zoning Board of Adjustment and a real estate instructor at St. Peter’s College, said the city needs to reduce taxes and open the city up to more outside developers. He diced the massive number of homes up for sale, empty apartments and unsold condos as signs that the city government is broken.
The full debate can be seen at http://www.hudsonreporter.com.