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For GOP, an uphill battle begins

Al Taubenberger will now try to buck history.

GOP candidate Al Taubenberger greets potential voters at the Famous Fourth Street Deli.
GOP candidate Al Taubenberger greets potential voters at the Famous Fourth Street Deli.Read more

Until last night, Al Taubenberger's campaign headquarters was an answering machine at his home in the Burholme-Fox Chase neighborhood.

That's a luxury you can afford when you're the sole Republican candidate for mayor: nine weeks to watch five Democratic candidates savage one another and spend millions doing it.

Taubenberger's auto-pilot primary ended when the polls closed last night. This morning, with almost $12,000 in campaign cash and the backing of a Republican Party that can claim just 15 percent of the electorate, Taubenberger begins trying to persuade voters that he and his party are, as the GOP Web site says, "the future of our city."

"It's a steep hill - but I'm a mountain climber," Taubenberger said yesterday at a poll stop at United Methodist Church of the Redeemer at Cottman Avenue and Lawndale Avenue.

It was the 53d Ward, 21st Division - Taubenberger's original polling place, where son Matt still votes from the old family home a few blocks away - and Taubenberger ran into more than a few old friends.

"Known him about 40 years; he was my first committeeman," said Paul Andris, 75, a retiree who with Taubenberger revived Burholme Town Watch in 1995, two months after teenager Eddie Polec's murder.

Tall and husky, friendly with a booming voice, Taubenberger, 53, president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, mixed easily with poll workers and voters, impressing even Democrats.

The reason Taubenberger will likely lose is all too familiar: The last GOP mayor, Bernard "Barney" Samuel, finished his second term in January 1952.

Even businessman Sam Katz, the best-known and best-funded recent GOP candidate, was unable to defeat Democrat John Street in 1999 and 2003, though he came close the first time.

Taubenberger, also a Philadelphia Parking Authority board member, ran twice for the GOP nomination in the 13th Congressional District, running second in a two-way primary in 2002, with 45 percent of the vote, and third in a three-way race in 2004, with 26.5 percent. He was also vice chair of the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission in 2003 and served as chief of staff for City Councilman Jack Kelly from 1988 to 1992.

Thus far, Taubenberger has staked out moderate approaches to major issues: calling for enforcement of gun laws, advocating a GOP-sponsored bill in Harrisburg to fund 10,000 new police officers - including up to 1,400 in Philadelphia - and pushing reductions of city taxes on business and wages.

Yet Taubenberger's profile remains low outside the Northeast.

Regardless of the odds, Taubenberger said he knows he will have one extra vote in his column Nov. 6. Tagging along yesterday, handing out pens and literature was daughter Sarah. She turns 18 in five days.