East Falls Candidates Forum brings out 20 citywide hopefuls

Voters from East Falls Tuesday night got a face to face introduction to a carousel of candidates running for citywide office.

During a candidates forum, organized by the East Falls Community Council, 20 Democratic and Republican hopefuls each made brief pitches to a crowd they nearly outnumbered. The bipartisan group included candidates running for Mayor, City Council, Sheriff, City Commissioner and Common Pleas Court Judge.

John Featherman, one of two Republican candidates seeking to defeat Mayor Michael Nutter, told residents he was running for two reasons.

The first, he said, is to help make Philadelphia less of a one-party town with a resounding and powerful Democratic majority.

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“I understand you may not want the Republican to be all that strong, but you do want there to be a vibrant two-party system in Philadelphia so that there are checks and balances,” said the real estate agent to the largely Democratic group seated inside the Bolderston Commons at the William Penn Charter School.

The other is to ensure that there is someone to challenge and hold a favored Mayor Nutter in the November General Election.

“Even if Mayor Nutter is going to win this election, we need someone who will go up in the fall who will not give him a free by,” said Featherman.

Featherman’s opponent in the Republican Primary, Karen Brown, who he called “not qualified,” did not attend the forum.


Apologizing for DROP 

Republican Frank Rizzo Jr., a long-time At-Large City Councilman, cut to the chase during his short stint at center stage. After a brief introduction, Rizzo apologized to residents for enrolling in the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan – or DROP – program.

Rizzo said when the city’s pension board briefed him about DROP three-plus years ago, he was told it was cost-neutral and didn’t use taxpayer money. An independent study of the program commissioned by the city has since placed the tax burden of DROP at more than $250 million.

“If you’re offended by my participation in the DROP program, I apologize,” said Rizzo.

“I think most of you know me and I think you know that I would not ever do anything that is improper,” he said.

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court recently awarded Rizzo the right to remain on the Republican Primary ballot after a Republican ward leader tried to get him removed. At issue was the fact that Rizzo would have to retire for a day if re-elected. DROP participants set a date four years in the future to retire and receive a lump-sum payment upon enrolling. Through a much maligned loophole, they can retire and return to work the next day.

He is currently looking into whether he could cut a check to the city’s pension board that would cover the cost of his enrollment in DROP.


Candidates make their pitches 

At-Large candidates Andy Toy, Steve Odabashian, Ralph Blakney, Sherrie Cohen, Malcolm Lazin, Joe McColgan, Michael Untermeyer and Elmer Money also took a few minutes to address the crowd.

A number of candidates running for sheriff also stepped to the microphone for a quick campaign pitch.

Democrat John Kromer explained why he’s the only candidate interested in abolishing the independent office and folding its responsibilities into existing municipal or court agencies.

He said the office has long been mismanaged and corrupt. Mortgage or tax delinquent properties left vacant, for example, are rarely brought to a Sheriff Sale. The result, said Kromer, is that absentee landlords are largely let off the hook and the city loses a much-needed source of revenue.

“We need one team that is working together to make the system work and sell those properties to responsible developers and earn money for the city,” said Kromer.

Kromer also pointed to a recently published report from the City Controller Office which showed nearly $53 million worth of undocumented assets at the Philadelphia Sherriff’s Office. A federal investigation has been launched in response to that report.

Democratic State Rep. Jewel Williams explained why he thinks it’s important for the office to remain in place.

“If we abolish the sheriff’s office, then we lose the independence of the sheriff’s office and then the Mayor would have to be his own plaintiff in a tax sale,” said Williams.

Williams said the issue of vacant, tax delinquent properties in the city is the result of the Department of Revenue not bringing the homes to a Sheriff Sale.

If elected, he said he would add a certified public accountant and integrity officer to the staff to help keep corruption in check. Williams said he’d also like to create housing and foreclosure prevention programs and make sure judges and witnesses are properly protected.

Democratic candidates for Sheriff Jacque Whaumbush and Joshua West also discussed their reasons for running.


City Commissioner candidate addresses voter intimidation

Four candidates for City Commissioner – Stephanie Singer, Al Schmidt, Marie Delany, Michael Bell and Blair Talmadge – addressed the room. That bi-partisan three-member board is in charge of running and overseeing city elections.

“We have a responsibility to show people how Democracy ought to work,” said Singer, a Democrat.

Schmidt, a Republican, said antics like voter intimidation and electioneering have lead many people to lose faith in the city’s election system. He said it’s a problem that shouldn’t exist.

“We don’t have to worry about making sure that libraries are funded or potholes are fixed, or anything else like that. We have one responsibility: running elections. And they do it poorly,” he said.

Other candidates for the position talked about the need to better educate voters about their options and called for the office to offer more of its services online.

Just one judicial candidate, Chris Mallios Jr., a Democrat running to become a Court of Common Pleas judge, attended the EFCC event.

The Democratic Primary and Republican Primary are on May 17.

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