Around 400 people - many of them homeless - crowded into the Broad Street Ministry early Thursday evening to hear the mayoral candidates talk about poverty.

But as the setting sun blasted through the old church's stained glass, the fragmented, colored light revealed a startling truth up on the stage: Just two of the seven candidates had shown up, Democrat James F. Kenney and the only Republican running, Melissa Murray Bailey.

Herself aglow with sunlight and anger, Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of the anti-homelessness nonprofit Project HOME, stood in front of the church with her hands on her hips and let people hear her pique.

"There's a huge turnout here today," she said, as people hooted, "and it's very disappointing that at the beginning of this forum, there are just two candidates here."

Then she added, with a louder voice: "On election day, it's important for us to take note who showed up today."

A half-hour later, an apologetic Lynne M. Abraham, a former judge and district attorney, came in. Thirty-five minutes after that, former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson A. Diaz and former State Sen. T. Milton Street Sr. got there, excusing surrogates who had come in their stead.

"They must have heard how many people had come to the church," Scullion later said.

Doug Oliver and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who Scullion said had confirmed they would be there along with the other candidates, never showed.

That some candidates were late and others absent was a disappointment, Scullion said. "I hope it's not an indication of their commitment to homelessness and poverty," she said, adding that such issues resonate in the poorest big city in America.

Project HOME organized the forum hosted by the Vote for Homes Coalition, a group of 60 nonprofit organizations that help people in poverty.

The candidates answered questions posed by people who had lived with poverty and homelessness, adding authenticity and angst to the proceedings.

Kenney, a former city councilman, said his Catholic background made him aware of the importance of service to others. He said he believed quality pre-kindergarten education is a good start against poverty.

Abraham said the minimum wage should be $15, and added that she would establish an office of women's issues if elected.

Asked what home means, Diaz said a bed is important to him, since he was without one till he was 10.

Street said home means "mother."

Bailey, the Republican, said housing is not a luxury, but a right.

Before the forum, the candidates were asked to respond to the question, "As mayor, what is your plan to end and prevent homelessness in Philadelphia?"

Most stressed a holistic approach, dealing with education, addiction, and services for veterans and ex-convicts.

At the end of the event, Robert Washington, 54, a formerly homeless man now living in transitional housing, was asked who impressed him.

"Well, maybe Lynne Abraham," he said. "Not for what she said, but I got in trouble once, and she was my judge.

"She put me in jail, but she was fair."

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