NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Gun violence in Norfolk was a key issue during Thursday’s 5th Ward candidate forum. The Crossroads and South Bayview Civic Leagues hosted the discussion between 12-year incumbent councilman Tommy Smigiel and former assistant city manager Shurl Montgomery.

The battle for Norfolk’s 5th Ward is one of the highest-profile city council races in Hampton Roads. Ocean View, Bayview, Crossroads, Little Creek, Tarrallton, Azalea Gardens, Larrymore, Third Presbyterian and Pretlow all make up Ward 5.

Smigiel spoke to voters as a nearly lifelong resident of Ocean View, an educator and father of three children in Norfolk Public Schools. He supports code enforcement, pushed for public safety retention bonuses and supports technology like video surveillance when it comes to fighting crime.

Smigiel also addressed council’s recent crackdown on late-night businesses along Granby Street.

“We know that there’s a culture downtown that has not been positive. It’s causing issues in our city. Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday we have to dedicate police officers to the issues that are happening downtown when they should be out in our neighborhoods fighting and patrolling crime. We sent a message very early on to nightclubs that we’re not playing around. They knew that this was coming and so when you break the law you are held accountable,” Smigiel stated.

Smigiel has been endorsed by the Norfolk Police Department, the Police Benevolent Association, Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron and the Professional Firefighters Union.

The 12-year incumbent has worked to reverse the stigma of Ocean View by demolishing old and blighted properties and bringing in new businesses like Bold Mariner Brewing Company.

Montgomery has lived in Norfolk for 44 years. He spent 10 years as the city’s Parks and Recreation Director, 14 years as Assistant City Manager and 11 years as Executive Director of Norfolk’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Montgomery has a plan to take back city streets and renew a sense of safety. He also stressed the importance of the community playing a role in selecting the city’s next police chief.

“If the community takes an active role in gun violence, I think it can be reduced. We have to show that we’re taking crime on as a city,” Montgomery told 10 On Your Side, “safety comes first in our city. I think the choices council members are making are difficult ones, whether they are right ones, time will only tell.”

Both candidates gave a 15-minute speech during Thursday’s joint civic league meeting and answered questions from constituents.

Early voting begins Friday, Oct. 21.