Candidates in 7th district Council race clash during debate
By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer
City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and challenger Dan Savage debated last week and fielded some tough questioning from the audience, moderator Gar Joseph and each other.
Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.) defeated Savage, who had won the seat in a 2006 special election, in the 2007 Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.
In this rematch, however, Savage has the support of most of the district's ward leaders. The winner of the May 17 primary is guaranteed to serve for the next four years, since the Republicans didn't bother to field a candidate.
Savage released his tax returns last week and called on his opponent to do the same.
The councilwoman planned to release them this past Wednesday.
"I have absolutely nothing to hide," she said.
At the debate, held at Urban Hope Training Center and Community Church, 210 E. Tioga St., Quinones-Sanchez called on Savage to release his EZ Pass records, suggesting that he lives with his girlfriend in New Jersey.
Joseph, city editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, asked Savage if he lived in the Garden State.
"Absolutely not," he said.
Savage said he raised his son, Danny Jr., in Northwood. The younger Savage is a freshman honor student at the University of Rhode Island.
The former councilman said he can't fulfill the incumbent's request.
"I don't have EZ Pass," he said.
The candidates also clashed on the district boundaries, which generally stretch from Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard to Fifth Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
Quinones-Sanchez noted the odd shape, pointing out that she and Councilwomen Joan Krajewski and Marian Tasco all have parts of Oxford Circle. Savage backs an independent redistricting process. Right now, Council members draw their own district boundaries.
A man in the crowd asked Savage if it would be fair to oust the only Hispanic on Council. The ex-councilman said he is supporting Humberto Perez in the at-large Council race and Jose Figueroa in the race for Traffic Court.
Quinones-Sanchez said, four years ago, she backed incumbent Juan Ramos and Ben Ramos in the at-large Council Democratic primary. Both lost. She also asked Savage, Democratic leader of the 23rd Ward for 10-plus years, how he can support Figueroa and endorsed candidate Christine Solomon for just one opening on Traffic Court.
"I'm helping both," he said afterward.
The candidates both insisted they would not enter the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which allows elected officials to retire for a day, collect a lump sum pension payment, then resume office if re-elected. A new state law prohibits newly elected city officials from participating in DROP, but it allows those elected in 2007 or earlier to do so.
Quinones-Sanchez introduced legislation prohibiting elected officials from enrolling in DROP. Among her supporters is Tasco, who is running for re-election despite being in DROP.
Tasco is eyeing the Council presidency, along with Councilman Darrell Clarke. Quinones-Sanchez, who is a former Tasco aide, declined to say whom she would support. Savage said he is not backing any elected official who is in DROP and seeking another term.
"I'm not going to be voting for her for president," he said of Tasco.
Savage has also dropped backing for a former ally.
"Marge Tartaglione, I do not support," he said of the longtime city elections commission chairwoman, who is running for another four-year term four years after retiring for a day to collect a DROP payment.
Carlos Matos, former Democratic leader of the 19th Ward and Tartaglione's son-in-law, asked Savage why he accepts political advice from his dad, Tim, a former ward leader and now a federal judge. It is illegal for federal judges to engage in politics.
Savage denied seeking counsel from his father.
"I don't take advice from anybody," he said.
The candidates disagreed on term limits. Savage wants to limit Council members to three four-year terms. Quinones-Sanchez, when asked by Joseph, said she opposes a two-term limit, adding that voters should decide who represents them.
"Term limits are decided every election," she said.
The two also differed on control of the School District of Philadelphia.
Savage wants to maintain state oversight, contending that the city does not have the funds to resume total control. He added that he believes superintendent Arlene Ackerman is overpaid.
Quinones-Sanchez, a charter school founder, has called hearings to tackle issues such as school violence and smaller high schools. She wants to give the city control because she believes local officials care more for students.
"Corbett has demonstrated he's not going to," she said of Gov. Tom Corbett.
On other issues, Savage called for more funding for police officers and recreation center needs. He believes the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter has not done as good a job as former Mayor John Street in combating drugs.
The former councilman defended his patronage job with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, where his boss is the son of U.S. Rep. and Democratic City Committee chairman Bob Brady. He noted his past business background as the owner of a record label company and a hair salon in Rittenhouse Square.
Quinones-Sanchez, who lives in the Norris Square section of North Philadelphia, said she has worked closely with police district commanders to beef up community policing. She favors giving community leaders greater power in converting the city's 40,000 vacant lots into productive uses. Savage supports having police officers in violence-plagued public schools, while Quinones-Sanchez doesn't want police officers carrying guns in schools.
"Police presence, yes; guns, no," she said.
Savage's campaign theme is that the district has too much crime and blight and not enough jobs. He claims the incumbent's only accomplishment is having the city pay police and sanitation costs for ethnic parades. On one point of agreement, the candidates vowed to make commercial corridors cleaner and safer.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org