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Mayoral hopefuls brave ice to talk taxes, children small business

Six candidates gathered at the Convention Center for forum hosted by Next Great City Coalition.

Candidates sit on the stage at the Next Great City Coalition's Mayoral Forum on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)
Candidates sit on the stage at the Next Great City Coalition's Mayoral Forum on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)Read more

NO ONE LANDED a knockout punch. No one stumbled badly. Thus, no one broke away from the pack.

Instead, at last night's latest mayoral forum, six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia mayor showed themselves to have quite similar views on a range of issues.

Hosted by the Next Great City Coalition, which represents 130 community, faith, environmental, business and union organizations, the forum at the Pennsylvania Convention Center focused on the coalition's six key initiative areas: improving substandard housing, supporting small businesses, cleaning up public spaces, improving nutrition for children, creating more trails and bike lanes, and storm preparedness.

Regarding the city's 10-year tax-abatement program for new construction, former City Councilman James Kenney and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham said they supported it; former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz and the Rev. Keith Goodman said they believed the program needed to be modified to benefit communities outside of Center City.

Doug Oliver, a former PGW vice president, spoke against continuing the program in Center City and suggested that it instead be used only in communities where developers might not otherwise go.

Oliver was also the only candidate to give his unqualified support to allowing City Council to confirm the mayor's cabinet members, a power some Council members have recently said that they want.

The city must maintain its strong-mayor form of government, countered Diaz. Agreeing with Diaz were Abraham, Kenney, Goodman and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

However, Williams, who was late because of icy roads, said he believed there should be some type of "vetting" process devised for those the mayor picks to serve in public office.

Candidate T. Milton Street, the former state senator, was not at the forum, and his absence was not mentioned by moderator Dave Davies, of WHYY FM.

To the question of what the city should do to provide schoolchildren with free drinking water and more nutritious food, Diaz went off script and called for the School Reform Commission to be replaced with a local school board.

"We know what works, there's nothing new under the sun," he said. "Until we do that, not only can we not provide water, we will not be able to provide paper for our children."

All who were asked agreed that the city and next mayor must do more to help foster the growth of small businesses and the creation of more safe biking and hiking trails.

"I think if we can eliminate more cars in the city of Philadelphia, not only would it be more healthy for the environment, it would be healthier for us," Abraham said.

On a lighter note, Davies asked the candidates to reveal something surprising about themselves. Goodman said he can play the piano. Oliver, at 40, said he has had two hip-replacement surgeries. Abraham loves to bake and cook, "French, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, you name it," she said. Williams said he loves being a granddad. Kenney said he loves Irish and American poetry, although he said he doesn't look like the type. Diaz said he was proud that his wife was a women's rights advocate.

The mayoral hopefuls also shared who their favor Philly mayor was: Richardson Dilworth was the pick of Abraham and Diaz, the latter of whom said was because "he got rid of the Republicans." Wilson Goode Sr. was Oliver's favorite, while Ed Rendell got thumbs up from Kenney, Williams and Diaz. John Street was Goodman's choice.