Williams accuses opponents of stealing bank idea and MOVE leader disrupts candidates forum

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 Pam Africa, center, interrupts a Philadelphia mayoral forum to chastise Lynne Abraham for signing arrest warrants for MOVE members in 1985. (Eric Walter/NewsWorks)

Pam Africa, center, interrupts a Philadelphia mayoral forum to chastise Lynne Abraham for signing arrest warrants for MOVE members in 1985. (Eric Walter/NewsWorks)

Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates squared off Wednesday night at a forum about gentrification and redevelopment where there were some tense moments between the candidates, as well as some members of the audience.

The drama began when state Sen. Tony Williams accused some his opponents — namely Nelson Diaz — of “stealing” his idea to create a municipally-owned bank.

“If I hear about it talked about again as a policy introduced by somebody else I will pull my hair out,” Williams said.

Williams explained the bank would loan money to homeowners for basic repairs, as well as to small businesses that can’t get the same support from so-called “big banks.”

Diaz later rebutted that the municipal bank idea is not original to Williams and has been floated in the community development world for some time. The forum was hosted by the Philadelphia Association of Comunity Development Corporations (PACDC) at Temple’s Science, Education and Research Center.

“And when I talk about ‘the city of opportunity,’ I see his ads with ‘the city of opportunity’ — MY saying, so who’s stealing what?” Diaz asked, referring to a media campaign paid for by an independent expenditure group supporting Williams. 

Lynne Abraham trashed the municipal bank idea. 

“The thought of the city of Philadelphia being a banker when we can’t even collect the taxes that are owed to us scares me half to death,” she said.

The audience was applauding her comments when Pam Africa, a member of the radical group MOVE, began shouting from the back of the room, calling Abraham a “murderer.”

Abraham was the judge who in 1985 signed the arrest warrants for some MOVE members before police dropped a bomb on the group’s house in West Philadelphia.

“I disagree with virtually everything Ms. Africa said, but I defend her right to say it because this is a democracy,” said Abraham who remained calm as moderator Sandy Shea from the Philadelphia Daily News attempted to steer the conversation back to the topic of “equitable development,” a phrase taken from the PACDC’s platform. 

Six mayoral candidates attended the forum, including the race’s only Republican, Melissa Murray Bailey. Milton Street was absent.

All of the candidates expressed a desire to balance the interests of longtime, lower-income residents with the need for redevelopment.

Williams called the phrase “equitable development” a “code word” and said communities talk past one another when speaking about gentrification.

Kenney said the best way to deal with gentrification is to be prepared for it and to support the work local community development corporations that help keep market-rate developers in check.

Abraham proposed a 20-year tax abatement to developers who do work in “neighborhoods that have been bypassed or left alone to be blighted.”

“The challenge with gentrification is the sense of helplessness,” said candidate Doug Oliver, “that no matter what you do or how you feel you’re going down a path and you’re going to be run over and pushed out of your community.”

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