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Mayoral Candidates forum on 'equitable development' takes a raucous turn

At panel on development without displacing longtime residents, the specter of MOVE brought forth as Pam Africa heckles Lynne Abraham.

Pam Africa: Helps liven up an otherwise pedestrian forum. (File photo)
Pam Africa: Helps liven up an otherwise pedestrian forum. (File photo)Read more

SO, YOU MIGHT expect a "Mayoral Candidates' Forum on Equitable Development" to be as dull as something on C-SPAN.

But no, this is Philly.

And when candidates weren't directing pointed barbs at one another - state Sen. Anthony Williams bristled that someone was trying to move in on his idea of a municipal bank - there was plenty of action in the audience.

Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham was talking about ways to keep longtime homeowners in their homes as neighborhoods change.

She suggested a 20-year tax abatement in neglected neighborhoods to spur development and give existing homeowners resources to repair their houses. She would keep the 10-year abatement in Center City.

But about 45 minutes into the forum, MOVE spokeswoman Pam Africa yelled from the rear of the auditorium that Abraham shouldn't run for mayor.

Africa accused her of having a role in the bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, near 62nd Street on May 13, 1985, because Abraham had signed warrants for the arrests of some MOVE members.

Police dropped an incendiary device on the MOVE home, causing a massive fire that left 11 people dead and two blocks of other homes destroyed.

Africa told approaching staffers "don't move the f--- up on me," then she quietly left the auditorium at the Science, Education and Research Center at Temple University.

Abraham took a minute to say: "While I disagree with what Ms. Africa had to say, I defend her right to say it."

The 6 p.m. forum was co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations and Temple.

Williams said "people speak in codes," adding that if the forum had included "gentrification" in the title, "this room would be standing-room-only." About 250 to 300 people attended.

Williams said a city municipal bank is needed to finance affordable housing because "the big banks" won't work with small businesses or working-class homeowners.

But Abraham shot back that Philadelphia doesn't need to get into the business of banking.

"That scares me," Abraham said, adding that the city is having a hard enough time getting L&I to work.

Melissa Murray Bailey, a business owner and the only Republican, called for pushing to increase homeownership. The city has a homeownership rate of 53 percent and the national rate is 63 percent. She said with more homeownership, the tax base increases, which helps finance the schools.

Ex-mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver said developers should be "required" not "encouraged" to hire local workers. Encouragement "hasn't worked," he said.

Oliver and Williams said developers who get tax incentives should be required to hire local people. But Abraham disagreed: "There can't be a quid pro quo," she said.