Mayoral candidates discuss taxes, green issues and personal ‘fun facts’ at Next Great City forum

 Tuesday night's Next Great City mayoral forum was brought six candidates to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Tuesday night's Next Great City mayoral forum was brought six candidates to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

If several hundred people who braved the freezing-rainfall conditions were anticipating political fireworks at Tuesday night’s Next Great City Philadelphia Mayoral Forum, they left the Pennsylvania Convention Center unfulfilled but for a fleeting moment when an attendee soft-yelled “ban fracking now.”

What they saw was WHYY’s Dave Davies moderate a relatively tame discussion amongst the six-candidate slate consisting of Lynne Abraham, Doug Oliver, Rev. Keith Goodman, Anthony Hardy Williams, Nelson Diaz and Jim Kenney.

The Milton Street-less sextet fielded questions and engaged in some back-and-forth debate about the broad coalition‘s initiatives involving substandard housing, clean streets, protecting vulnerable residents, strengthening the small-business climate, the city’s bicycle community and providing students with free drinking water.

If any personal — read: not issue-related — insights could be gleaned from the hour-plus forum, it came when the moderator went off-script-ish, asking the candidates to name the former Philly mayor they most admired and to tell the audience “something about yourself that would surprise us.”

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Let’s start with the responses to the latter fun-fact query:

— Williams noted that he was a doting grandparent.

— Goodman maintained that he plays the piano, in a variety of genres, “pretty well.”

— Oliver noted that despite his young-ish age (40), he’s had two hip-replacement surgeries.

— Abraham shared that she just loves to cook (French, Japanese, Italian, you name it).

— Kenney spoke of his love of poetry.

— Diaz proudly shared the fact that his wife is a staunch womens-rights advocate.

As for the admired previous-mayors question, Abraham went back to Richardson Dilworth. Diaz also dapped the 1956-62 boss “because he got rid of the Republicans” before settling on Rendell for his final answer.

Also shouting out Rendell were Kenney and Williams (“because he could sell ice to an Eskimo”) while Goodman went with John Street.

For his part, Oliver nominated W. Wilson Goode Sr., sharing a vignette about his mother taking him to meet the city’s first African American mayor who, when young Oliver mentioned he’d like to be a police officer or fireman when he grew up, summoned one of each to talk to the youth.

He said that’s when he decided he really wanted to be “the guy who could get anybody on the phone.”

“And that’s why I’m here today,” he said.

Among the other kinda-off-platform nuggets?

During the discussion of substandard housing, Diaz noted that he was a “sickly child” when subjected to that very thing in his youth.

Kenney spoke about ideas of reusing shipping containers for housing purposes.

During the discussion of expanded bicycle lanes and offerings, Goodman noted that the conversation has to be expanded beyond hot-spot neighborhoods to include nuances like broken sidewalks forcing people in motorized carts dangerously into streets.

If there was a stand-up-and-be-counted moment, it came during a Davies question about implementing legistation that would impose fees and/or fines for those plastic bags used by many stores.

While Goodman and Williams were against it — the latter termed it a “regressive tax” — the other four candidates saw it as a way to move toward a cleaner city.

WHYY’s Katie Colaneri, a NinetyNine co-conspirator, will take it from here:

From Chestnut Hill to Point Breeze, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods.

And, hundreds of people turned out at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Tuesday night to hear six of the Democrats running for mayor debate about how to improve those neighborhoods.

At the forum, hosted by the Next Great City Coalition, the candidates agreed on the need for more bike lanes, cutting taxes for small businesses and fixing the schools.

However, they disagreed about whether they would sign a bill putting a small fee on those plastic shopping bags that always seem to get stuck in trees and litter city streets.

While four of the candidates say they’d support the bill, Rev. Keith Goodman and state Sen. Anthony Williams called the fee a “regressive tax” on the city’s poor.

“While I think it’s a good idea in theory,” said Williams, “I think it’s a better idea to educate and clean the streets, have those in those communities understand the consequence of what litter does in the community.”

In its defense, Jim Kenney said, “Using the fees … to supplement street cleaning and other types of sanitation issues … is a smart way to find money to do additional things.”

And with the exception of Doug Oliver, all of the candidates said they would not support a recent push by City Council President Darrell Clarke to give the council more control over planning and development.

“Anytime we’ve seen the city progressive and moving forward it’s because the executive and legislative branches of government have found a way to get along,” he said.

Lynne Abraham called it a “power grab.”

“The only way a great city becomes one of the greatest cities is that we have a leader who leads and a council who assists by being the legislative body,” she said.

For more from the forum, check the Twitter feeds of NinetyNine and Colaneri, or coverage via The Next Mayor and Citified.

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