The city has waited four years for the rematch between Mayor Street and GOP challenger Sam Katz.
In 1999, Street survived the closest election in city history, preserving a streak now more than a half-century long of Democratic Philadelphia mayors. Tuesday’s election is likely to be equally close. Will the mayor be able to hold on again?
Katz has said he is better prepared for this campaign — his last if he loses — than any other. He has assembled an army of supporters, and he continues to appeal to voters’ wallets by promising tax cuts if elected.
Street can bank on four years of experience. During his first term, the mayor made good on many of his campaign promises. Abandoned cars have been towed, snow has been plowed and vacant lots have been cleaned. He is vowing to do more of the same if reelected.
The Review is offering a recap of the candidates’ stands on the major issues as voters in South Philadelphia and across the city prepare to go to the polls.
Comparing the Mayoral candidates
A 60-year-old Democrat from North Philadelphia. Currently employed as mayor. Received his degree in English from Oakwood College and a law degree from Temple University. Married to Naomi Post and has four children: Sharif, Sashida, Lateef and Akeem.
A 52-year-old Republican from West Mount Airy. Employed as a partner in the private equity management firm Wynnefield Capital Advisors Inc. Received a degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree in urban affairs and policy analysis from the New School University. Married to Connie Katz, with four children: Lauren, Philip, Elizabeth and Ben.
Spent millions during his first term to make Philadelphia safer by increasing police patrols, targeting high-crime areas and improving relationships between police and the communities they serve.
Started Operation Safe Streets in May 2002 to target drug dealing and violent crime. From May to December 2002, police seized $81 million in illegal narcotics — nearly six times more than was seized a year prior.
Expanded the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership to target young offenders involved in murders. Invested city’s money in state-of-the-art police department Forensics Science Center.
All crime is down 20 percent since Street took office in 1999.
Has said Operation Safe Streets is not working for the city at large, noting that violent crime is up and arrests are down. Would appoint a deputy mayor of public safety who would coordinate the crime-fighting efforts of local, state and federal agencies.
Supports longer mandatory sentences for those who commit crimes with a gun and people who carry guns illegally. Wants to create a specialized gun and drug court to expedite cases involving such crimes. Also wants the city to spend more on drug treatment programs.
Created the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, through which the city has demolished 4,106 dangerous residential properties, hauled away 33,000 tons of garbage from 31,000 vacant lots and towed more than 185,000 abandoned cars. Program also resulted in 2,258 new homes, another 2,870 new public housing units and the acquisition of 5,334 vacant properties.
Believes NTI needs to focus more on the construction of affordable housing in the $75,000-$200,000 range. Wants to raise another $1 billion over the next four years to pump into the program — $25 million a year each would come from the city, state, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private foundations.
That equity would leverage another $600 million in mortgage capital to subsidize the acquisition of affordable housing for the working poor, first-time homebuyers, the elderly and disabled.
Has said it is critical that the city reduces the wage tax but believes it cannot afford Katz’s cuts. Opposed 2002 legislation to continue small cuts started during the Rendell administration, but ultimately pressured to sign it.
Prefers a more conservative approach and has said his opponent’s plan would leave holes in the budget, affecting city services. Last year, signed off on cuts to the city’s gross-receipts tax that will reduce the tariff incrementally during the next five years.
Promising to lower the wage tax to 3.5 percent and eliminate the gross-receipts tax during the next 10 years. The city would finance the cuts by borrowing $750 million — potentially less, depending on state gambling legislation and other contributions from Harrisburg.
Personally contacting businesses, along with commerce director, to keep them in the city. Touts no major businesses have left the city, and one changed its mind about leaving because of efforts. Also marketing Philadelphia to businesses outside the city.
Promises to make Philadelphia more business-friendly, largely by reducing taxes. Wants to develop marketing campaign to promote Philadelphia region and amenities to businesses in other parts of the country and work with suburban governments to end the practice of counties stealing businesses from one another.
Negotiated state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia that sacrificed most local control in favor of more funding from Harrisburg. Approved legislation to spend an additional $45 million on schools. Wants to maintain state’s involvement in public schools. Takes credit for bringing district CEO Paul Vallas to Philadelphia.
Intends to restore home rule to the school district by the end of his first term. Wants to convince the business community to invest in the public schools. Plans to create "Philadelphia Teaching Corps" that would encourage teachers to live and work in the city through housing programs. Supports district CEO Paul Vallas.
Visit the no-spin zone
Nearly three-quarters of the final mayoral debate was spent trading jabs about the federal probe connected to City Hall, a sign that this election — perhaps more than any other — needs IssuesPhiladelphia.net.
The Pennsylvania Economy League launched its nonpartisan Web site last month as a haven for voters interested in the real issues surrounding the 2003 election, sans mudslinging and politicking.
"In a campaign season that has been very distracting," David Thornburgh, PEL’s executive director, wrote recently, "[IssuesPhiladelphia] allows voters an opportunity to move beyond the distractions and zero in on what truly matters — what the winner will do when he takes office."
The site, which is being funded by the William Penn Foundation and PEL members, outlines the candidates’ plans for Philadelphia by focusing on four issues: education, economic growth, community vitality and managing the city. It addresses topics big and small.
For example, one can learn that Mayor Street wants the city to invest in state-of-the-art vehicle locators and electronic mapping systems to improve the response times of emergency medical personnel, or that Sam Katz plans to create Neighborhood Service Centers in every section of the city to help residents with problems.
www.IssuesPhiladelphia.net also includes studies conducted by other organizations, biographical information about each candidate and an array of statistics comparing Philadelphia to other major cities.
–by R. Jonathan Tuleya