There were no bombshells or gaffes as the six Democratic candidates for mayor of Philadelphia met last night in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and broadcast live on Channel 6.
After a long campaign of debates and forums, the candidates mostly stuck to familiar messages.
Former Judge Nelson Diaz said he’d find a way to improve education and give kids “wrap around services.” Former Philadelphia Gas Works executive Doug Oliver promised new approaches to old problems, and former district attorney Lynne Abraham said she’d be tough and independent.
Former state Sen. Milton Street said he’d stand up for the poor and stop violence. And in something of a new twist, he aggressively attacked state Sen. Anthony Williams several times for his association with the “millionaires from the suburbs” who are funding his campaign – a reference to three partners in the Susquehanna International Group that are funding a super PAC which has done most of the advertising for Williams in the race.
The two perceived front runners, former Councilman Jim Kenney and Williams sparred at times on a variety of issues, including police community relations.Williams said he’d put and end to stop and frisk, change police commissioners and make cops treat citizens with respect.”That means [an end to] hate speech from police officers.Those officers would be fired,” Williams said. “And finally, the person who unfortunately uses stop and frisk the most, the current commissioner, would be changed.”
Kenney agreed there was racial profiling in the the police department, and noted he’d worked to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana because of the harm petty drug busts were doing.
“It meant terrible relationships between police and our community when these people [were] being stopped at random and then arrested for a small violation,” Kenney said, “which is now a fine in Philadelphia.”
Williams had sharper words for Kenney after the debate. “Jim Kenney is a status quo regressive,” he said. When asked about his TV ad which attacks comments Kenney made 17 years ago (and now repudiates) about the use of police force, Williams said that Kenney “started there, and he’s ending there.”
Williams said that Kenney was slow to endorse his proposal to immediately fire police officers who use hate speech or display bigotry. Kenney has said he would support a no-tolerance policy on hate speech in the department, but that such a rule would have to be inserted in the police union contract through negotiation or arbitration.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is May 19th.