By John Davidson
With elections a week away, candidates gathered for a public forum Tuesday evening at the Independence Seaport Museum to address the issues and, in an unusual spectacle, to address each other.
The Philadelphia Neighborhood Alliance played host to two separate panels, the first of which featured four candidates vying for Senator Vince Fumo’s seat: John Dougherty, Larry Farnese, Jack Morley and Anne Dicker. The second panel was comprised of Rep. Mike O’Brien (175th), Rep. Bill Keller (184th) and his challenger, Christian DiCicco.
Most of the PNA’s questions dealt with casinos and the push to re-site them away from the Delaware waterfront. All the candidates, with the exception of Morley, a Republican, expressed their opposition to casinos on the waterfront and vowed to fight in Harrisburg for their relocation.
Morley was less optimistic, saying that any discussion of relocation would have to involve compensating Foxwoods and Sugarhouse for millions of dollars already spent on waterfront plans. He urged anti-casinos activists to engage the casinos directly, saying, “There’s not many legal barriers left to stop the beginning of construction.”
In a strange twist on the standard panel format, at one point candidates were allowed to ask another candidate a question. Farnese went first, and asked Dougherty point blank:
“Will you explain, for one time, what the FBI was doing at your house, why they served subpoenas on the civic association, why subpoenas were served on the union, and will you finally come clean and produce copies of those subpoenas?”
A stone-faced Dougherty replied that all the information Farnese need was in the daily newspapers, and that, “When you’ve been a community activist your whole life, when your whole family got off a boat a hundred years ago and twelve aunts and uncles lived in the same house, and you raised your daughter in that same house, you’ll do certain things to represent your people and occasionally you tread on a few toes.”
There was some discussion of guns and crime, with all three Democratic candidates promising to push for Philadelphia to be able to draft its own guns laws, currently a prerogative of the State Legislature. Earlier in the day, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said five gun-control laws signed last week by Mayor Michael Nutter were unconstitutional and would not be enforced.
The question of qualifications arose several times during the forum, with candidates emphasizing the importance of Fumo’s powerful senate seat. “We’re not running for class president here,” Dougherty said. “We’re running for what could be the single most powerful senate seat on the East coast outside Manhattan.”
During the second panel discussion, DiCicco, who is challenging Keller for the 184th Representative District seat, went after his opponent aggressively, accusing Keller of being “anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-Philadelphia gun rights, anti-Philadelphia zoning rights, anti-ethics.”
Keller, who repeatedly referred to Fumo as DiCicco’s “political godfather,” appeared baffled and amused at the accusations, saying, “Ethics? Anti-ethics? Give me a break.” He also attacked DiCicco for suggesting that real estate taxes be taken out of the school funding formula, saying that it would cost $12 billion.