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They were on their very best behavior.

No candidate cast aspersions at another’s character or profession. No citizen got sucked into a verbal brawl with an elected official or council wannabe.

In fact, no one said much of anything at Wednesday’s “Meet the Candidates Night” that anyone in the audience or on the dais got noticeably worked up about.

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Maybe it was the dampening effect of the rain outside, but even on issues that Red Bank residents or their designees normally do get worked up about, there was no hostility.

The whole thing, in fact, could hardly have been more civil if tea and scones had been laid out on the refreshments table instead of coffee and chocolate-chip cookies.

For example, Council President Pasquale Menna, the Democratic mayoral contender, said that his opponent, Councilman John Curley, was “disingenuous” for voting in favor of such big-ticket expenditures as fire trucks and road projects, but then voting against the budget to pay for them. While such a dig would surely have lit Curley’s fuse at a council meeting, the Republican let it slide.

And when Curley mentioned the cold-shoulder treatment he claims he’s gotten from borough department heads to his request for details about their operations, he did so without his usual verbal grenades lobbed in the direction of the council’s Democratic majority, led by his nemesis, Mayor Ed McKenna.

Incumbent Democratic councilman Arthur Murphy, too, unabashedly defended his view that “Red Bank should build a parking garage, Red Bank should own a parking garage and Red Bank should operate a parking garage,” and no torches were lighted.

The event, held at the River Street Commons, a senior citizens’ residence, was hosted by the West Side Community Group and run with steely efficiency by moderator Amy Goldsmith. About 100 residents attended, leaving just a handful of empty chairs.

Yes, there were divergent views on taxation, development, and how to better serve the West Side.

The GOP ticket, which also includes council candidates Grace Cangemi and David Pallister, pushed for “zero-based budgeting,” a fiscal approach that asks every municipal department to justify every function and expenditure, with an eye toward eliminating waste.

Without rancor, Democratic council candidate Michael DuPont countered that while the zero-based approach may work well for businesses, not one of new Jersey’s 565 municipalities uses it, and for good reason. It requires its own layer of staffing at a time when towns are trying to cut expenses, he said.

There were localized gripes from the citizenry. Magnolia Penderman, a wheelchair-using 86-year-old resident of the commons, complained about her inability to cross Shrewsbury Avenue to get to stores because there’s no traffic signal at the corner. Krishna Tyler of Leighton Avenue pressed both candidates on their plans to address the Best Liquors issue. While Menna and Curley each promised action, the questions helped underscore the Republicans’ contention that the West Side has not been as well served during McKenna’s 16-year tenure as the East Side and the downtown.

Mostly, though, the two sides stuck to broad generalities about “vision,” with the Democrats calling for more of the same brand of leadership they contend they’ve been delivering for years, and the Republicans saying it’s time for a change.

Led by 18-year council veteran Menna, the Democrats are running as the party that revived the one-time “Dead Bank” into a thriving town. They laid out plans to extend the prosperity west along Monmouth Street from the downtown, and spoke of shifting more of the tax burden to businesses.

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“I daresay we’ve had a phenomenal success in transforming Red Bank. It is, indeed, a hallmark for this entire state,” Menna said. “We have been responsible for that. We have been creative in terms of managing the finances to provide benefits to all of our residents.”

The Curley team contends that there’s been too much development, and wants to restore an environment of Mom & Pop stores in the commercial corridors downtown and along Shrewsbury Avenue.

“I dream of beautiful tree-lined streets, paved to perfection,” Curley said. “The symmetry of condo development and corporate sprawl must not be allowed to disrupt the beauty of our neighborhoods. Concrete and glass should be an exception rather than the norm.”

There was agreement that overcrowding of rental properties, particularly on the West Side, requires the bolstering of the borough’s code enforcement, and both slates promised more attention to affordable housing.

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