Ten candidates running for citywide office briefly introduced themselves Monday night to a small cluster of voters from the East Falls section of Philadelphia.
With less than a month to go before November’s general election, each hopeful took a few minutes to pitch campaign points and take questions from the crowd. The bi-partisan candidates forum, organized by the East Falls Community Council, featured candidates running for City Council, City Commissioner, Sheriff, Court of Common Pleas Judge and Register of Wills.
Three candidates running in a competitive City Commissioner’s race – Stephanie Singer, Al Schmidt and Joseph Duda – addressed the crowd inside the East Falls Presbyterian Church. That race features four candidates vying for a spot on the city’s three-member Board of Elections.
“I’m running because the City Commission is a pulpit from which I can help the City of Philadelphia be politically engaged the way it ought to be,” said Stephanie Singer, one of two Democratic candidates at the evening event.
Republican counterpart Al Schmidt said he wants to turnaround the office’s corrupt reputation. Schmidt pointed to recent ethics violations and a general lack of transparency.
“The office has failed us and has failed taxpayers,” said Schmidt. “The good news is that there is accountability. And accountability is on Nov. 8.”
During a question and answer session, Republican incumbent Joseph Duda, a City Commissioner for 16 years, was asked if he would enroll in the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Democratic Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione has received a lot of flack for her participation in the program, which enables enrollees to collect a lump sum payment upon retiring in addition to annual pension payments.
Tartaglione did not make it through May’s Democratic Primary.
“I was always against the DROP, I never was in the DROP, I won’t take the DROP,” said Duda.
Duda was also asked for his feelings on a controversial state bill that would require voters to bring a state photo identification card to the polls each time they vote. The long-time City Commissioner said he was against the measure, saying it would dramatically increase wait times at polling places.
Singer was dubious that the bill would, as its Republican sponsors purport, help cut down on voter-fraud on Election Day.
The forum’s four at-large City Council candidates, none of whom are incumbents, focused on jobs and education.
Republican David Oh said economic development is the key to improving the city. Oh said the city needs to be able to attract global corporations and companies that will create new jobs.
“We have to reach out to international and global corporations to Philadelphia the city of their choice,” said Oh.
To attract those businesses, Oh said Philadelphia needs to improve in a number of areas, including public education, crime and taxes.
Republican Joe McColgan said the city has a “failed education model.” McColgan said one solution is to replace the School Reform Commission, state-formed agency, with elected regional school boards.
“You’ve heard the saying ‘too big to fail’, the School District of Philadelphia is too big to succeed,” said McColgan.
“You would have more say in who is leading your children,” cited McColgan as a benefit of having a system of localized school boards.
Fellow Republican candidates Michael Untermeyer and Al Taubenberger also took center stage during the forum.
The quartet is competing over what traditionally boils down to two Republican at-large seats. Five at-large Democrats are typically elected. Under the city’s charter, minority parties – usually the Republicans – are guaranteed at least two of the seven positions.
Six at-large incumbents are seeking re-election. Republican Jack Kelly is the only one retiring from Council.
Republican Josh West, who is running for Sheriff and Linda Wolfe Bateman, who is running for Register of Wills, also addressed voters.
Just one judicial candidate, Tom Nocella, a Democrat running to become a judge for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, attended the event.
The general election is Nov. 8.