Dems for mayor converge at debate

Students had front row seats to see the five major Democratic candidates vying to be Philadelphia’s next mayor, as they shared the stage for the first time last Thursday. The panel included Congressman Bob Brady,

Students had front row seats to see the five major Democratic candidates vying to be Philadelphia’s next mayor, as they shared the stage for the first time last Thursday. The panel included Congressman Bob Brady, D-Pa., state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Phila., U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., businessman Tom Knox and former City Councilman Michael Nutter. The candidates came together at the Academy of Natural Sciences to discuss the city’s environmental sustainability.

Main Campus was one of 10 locations
around the city where a live video feed of the event was provided via Webcast.

Students watched the candidates discuss 10 environmental goals to improve the city’s living conditions, which were outlined in a report compiled by The Next Great City Coalition and the Urban Sustainability Forum. The forum, hosted by The Next Great City Coalition, addressed the following topics: vacant lots, recycling, zoning,
healthy parks, reducing asthma, sewer backups and energy-efficient buildings.

The panel was moderated by “Philadelphia Daily News” editorial board member Flavia Colgan, who opened the discussion by asking each candidate to prioritize their top three issues of concern out of a list of 10 recommended goals. Nutter said his top priorities are recycling, zoning and improving transit stops. Brady agreed that recycling and zoning are important issues, but said he would also like to focus his attention on the riverfront.

Knox also said his first goal as mayor would be to improve recycling. Although Evans also ranked recycling and zoning as his top priorities, he said his No. 1 goal would be planting trees in the city. But Fattah had a more optimistic view of the 10 goals, saying the city needs to “implement these 10 plus a few hundred others.”

The topic then switched to the relationship of environmental quality and economic prosperity. Congressman Brady said he felt that you cannot have one without the other. He then said that to get money for programs, “I am not going to send a lobbyist [to state Congress]. I am going myself.”

Evans avoided the question, veering slightly off topic to highlight some of his political achievements.

“I am the only one who is chairman of the appropriations committee. All of these other people have voted on things of this nature but I have led it,” Evans said. “You can have a vision, but can you implement it?”

Fattah responded to the statement by taking credit for the city’s growth in the real estate sector.

“That’s what I call leadership. That’s what I call appropriations,” he said of his accomplishments.

Nutter said his work in implementing a smoking ban in Philadelphia is “the reason you can all breathe.” Colgan asked candidates to express their opinions on why Philadelphia has not purchased renewable gas. Evans once again answered by saying that he is a leader who can implement changes, which prompted mocking responses and laughter from the students.

Evans also called Philadelphia Gas Works a disaster before repeating that his experience and leadership set him apart from the other candidates. Some of the candidates became noticeably irritated with Evans’ attitude and his efforts to turn the forum into a campaign speech rather than concentrating on the issues. “What Evans has been saying about the great job he has done in Harrisburg, maybe he should stay there,” Knox said.

Students erupted in laughter as well as the other candidates.

When asked about ways to improve SEPTA and public transportation conditions, Fattah said he would consider all options, including the acceptance of federal funding that President Bush approved for major cities that want to conduct studies on traffic and congestion. Nutter said he wants to make sure there is good city representation on the SEPTA board. He would also like to reopen the Office of Transportation and improve customer service and operation.

“It would be nice to have someone say ‘Welcome to my bus,’ instead of ‘Why are you here?'” Nutter said. The comment incited laughter and applause from the audience. Knox and Brady agreed that the city needs a dedicated funding source in order to improve SEPTA. But Evans said a more radical change is necessary. He said the city needs a constitutional change to combat the problems with SEPTA. When asked by the moderator to end his response, Evans continued speaking past his allotted time. The atmosphere became tense as he ignored the request made by Colgan.

When the forum was opened to questions from the audience, the panel was asked to address the newly approved construction of casinos in Philadelphia. The candidates had differing opinions on the subject, but Knox said he supported relocating the casinos to more secluded areas where they will be out of reach of residential areas. Brady said “neighborhoods should have a say [in] what is built in their neighborhood.”

In terms of the environmental implications, he said the most important thing is to make sure that the casinos are being “built green safe.” Evans viewed the casinos as “a shortcut way to pay for things.” But he said the most important consideration is that the job opportunities and money generated by the casinos actually benefit local workers, school systems and advancement are a direct result.

Nutter disagreed with Evans, saying that gaming is not the best way to go about getting money for education. Nutter said that the panel was not considering the environmental effects.

“Delaware Avenue is a complete mess and disaster and the casinos will only make it worse,” he said. Although the group frequently veered off topic, failing
to address nearly half the environmental issues slanted for discussion, the forum served as a preview to what voters
can expect from each of the candidates in the months prior to the Democratic Primary in May.

Ashley Truxon can be reached at

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