The three candidates for Bayonne mayor faced off in the second and last debate of the campaign season on Thursday, April 24, in an event sponsored by the Bayonne Rotary Club and held in the Bayonne High School auditorium.
More than 300 people attended the invitation-only debate, including supporters of the three mayoral slates, Rotary Club members, school district representatives, and the media. The municipal election will be held on Tuesday, May 13. Five council seats will also be contested.
Mayor Mark Smith, Police Capt. James Davis, and local businessman Anthony Zanowic each answered more than a dozen questions on topics that included job creation, development, tourism, and quality-of-life issues.
All three candidates voiced the need for more and better recreational facilities for children, with Smith saying that work was already under way at Don Ahern Memorial Veterans Stadium with upgrades slated to start later this year. Zanowic argued for a Police Athletic League program like the one he grew up with.
Smith was at odds with Davis and Zanowic during a question about vandalism and graffiti, which led to a disagreement about whether gangs exist in Bayonne. Davis and Zanowic offered that they do exist; Smith was vehement they do not.
The candidates clashed again over the pace of revitalizing Broadway with both Smith opponents saying virtually no progress had been made on the issue until the mayor’s recent announcement of a medical center proposal for 23rd to 24th streets.
Taxes over Smith’s tenure were also an issue, which the mayor said had gone up only 3 ½ percent with the rest of the increases due to reductions of state aid and other factors out of the city’s control. Zanowic and Davis charged that it had been higher.
“I don’t know about anyone in this room, but my taxes did not go up [only] four percent in the last four years,” Davis said.
Davis and Zanowic decried the lack of community activities which used to exist in Bayonne, like the Hometown Fair.
“What they do is they bring you to Broadway,” Davis said. “And again, I say, that is where it all begins. Once we become one community, we can support each other.”
Smith challenged Davis’s remark during his rebuttal.
“But you have to do it one block at a time,” Smith said. “It’s not the same society. We have to think with a different pattern, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The three also clashed about Bayonne being a destination point and on the development at The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor and around town.
Davis said that the mayor’s promises “started on April 1st. We heard this in 2008, and heard it again in 2010, and here it is 2014 and we’re hearing it again.”
Smith countered that grand plans are in store for the Peninsula, the former Military Ocean Terminal, including Royal Caribbean Cruise line’s commitment to enhance its passenger terminal there.
“It’s a $75 million investment in the city of Bayonne,” he said.
Zanowic contended that cruise visitors are merely coming and going through the city.
“Those people are not staying in Bayonne,” he said, asserting that adding more restaurants was the way to enrich the city’s economy.
All three candidates showed a lighter side when asked what their fondest memory of Bayonne was.
Zanowic offered that it was his participation in the PAL boxing program, where he made friends that he is still in touch with today.
“It gave me a purpose,” he said. “It took me off the street, and maybe kept me off the street.”
Both Smith and Davis recalled their memories of Uncle Milty’s Playland, the amusement park at First Street in their youth.
Smith talked about visiting the park with his brothers and sister.
“It was a precious, sweet, pure time,” the mayor said.
Davis recalled the first visit with his parents and sister to the park, and the pleasant smells of carnival food.
Sitting at the restaurant that jutted out into the water, he felt he was in another dimension or plane.
“I thought I was in heaven, I really thought I was in heaven,” he said.
Debates and airtimes
The candidates had earlier debated on April 10 at the Hudson Reporter headquarters. That debate can be found at hudsonreporter.com.
The Rotary debate will be broadcast on Cablevision Access Channel 19 on Wednesday, April 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. and Sunday, May 4, from 4 to 6 p.m., according to Janice Hall of the Bayonne Rotary Club. It will air again on Tuesday, May 6 from 9 to 11 p.m. From May 6 through 13, it will air multiple times.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at: JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.