Philly Republicans’ Town Hall Debate At Pub and Kitchen
Is now really the time a new Republican Party emerges from Philadelphia’s conservative netherworlds with a plan of action? A year ago (and decades before that) the answer would have probably been “haha, no, why would you ask that?” or, if speaking on the Interwebs: “LOL!!!1!” But eight city government candidates at least made a strong case last night at the Thirtieth Ward Republicans’ open town hall-style meeting at Pub and Kitchen in Rittenhouse.
The festivities took place in a standing room only upstairs private bar. Participating candidates included At-Large candidates Elmer Money, David Oh, Malcolm Lazin, Joe McColgan and Michael Untermeyer; City Commissioner candidate Al Schmidt; Second District Candidate Ivan Cohen; and Mayoral hopeful John Featherman. After introducing themselves, candidates formed a tight line and took questions, Featherman at the front, Money at the tail end. Here’s what we found from the candidates:
John Featherman: We already knew this, but the civil libertarian knows his stuff. And while things could get pretty wonky throughout the night, Featherman seemed more interested in summoning his inner Ho Chi Minh, explicitly saying the greater good (of the Philadelphia Republican Party) is more important than his or any single election of any single candidate standing there. At one point, he went down the line of candidates, explaining why each was qualified to retain his respective desired position and said he was there to “lift them up.”
When asked of Nutter’s retaining of Police Commissioner Ramsey, he said, “I would have thanked him and let him go. I’m sorry that he stayed.” Essentially he was upset Ramsey attempted a cat-and-mouse game. All candidates reiterated this position as well as a couple others: They’re all against Stop and Frisk, all against DROP.
On what he’d trim from the budget if elected: Based on his Republican opponent’s wrist slap from the Department of Ethics, Featherman said he’d kill the entire program. In addition, he’d cut Licenses and Inspections by 25 percent. He said estimates put the tearing down of a vacant city property at $27,000, which is done by L&I. He’d essentially seek to auction those 40,000 properties off instead, which could then be developed and sold or rented as affordable housing.
Malcolm Lazin: Lazin spent a good portion of the evening patting his very-padded resume, including his work on the Marina Center, his run for District Attorney and others. Though, the only one who mentioned Lazin’s work with Equality Forum was Featherman, who complimented Lazin’s position there as Executive Director.
Lazin won the PN award (not a real thing) for the best analogies of the night: one of Libya, the other of the Titanic. He compared the Philly GOP to the Freedom Fighters in Libya (and the Democrats, hehe, are Gaddafi). Unfortunately, he said, the Philly GOP doesn’t have a NATO-like presence to come in and even out the score, or even help make sure elections are fair. He argued the Pennsylvania Attorney General should make a Philadelphia a priority for Republicans, to make things – and all agreed – less unfair on Election Day.
The other analogy: “We are the Titanic and we are on a collision course with an iceberg called bankruptcy,” he said, which has been one of his campaign themes. “And there’s no one to save us – no Uncle Sam, no Rendell, no Vince Fumo, no Harrisburg.” He related much of our budget problems back to Council, specifically the DROP program. He said Philadelphia City Council needs to lead and with its high salaries and DROP payouts, they’re not setting an example for the greater city.
One of the highlights of the night came as Lazin began talking about City Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr. He became visibly angry, even a little red-faced, after announcing he was the first to call on Rizzo to resign and also delivered a letter to the Councilman’s office asking for his DROP application. “What he has done is unconscionable,” he yelled, speaking specifically about Rizzo’s dedication to resign this year, and not doing so. “And none of you should even begin to think about voting for Frank Rizzo, Jr.”
David Oh: If there was one candidate who came out knowing each issue piece-by-piece, inside and out, it was Oh. The Center City lawyer focused his talks on tax reform, cuts and making Philly more of a “big fish” city. In that, he believes Philadelphia should be using technological advances already out there to attract the big fish – multinational corporations, etc., which would then make Philadelphia more of a competitor for business with New York City. It makes no sense, he said, that Philadelphia doesn’t have a 24-hour district. “Where’s the Soho art district [of Philly]?” he rhetorically asked.
Regarding the school system, he’s in favor of across the board vouchers – not just for the most underserved youth. While he says he was in favor of the School Reform Commission in 2007, it should have been temporary.
He said he’d cut programs the same way he’d hand out vouchers – across the board. City pensions are too easy to get now, he said. Instead of working for a certain amount of time and then getting an automatic pension in retirement, he’d require city workers other than police and firefighters to collect a pension directly related to how long s/he worked. “For instance,” he said, “if you worked 40 years, you’re going to collect a bigger retirement pension than someone who only worked ten years,” and so on.
Joe McColgan: The RCC-endorsed Northeast Philly native and former Naval officer held a pen in his tight fist as he told the audience the problem with Philadelphia is that it’s been run by Democrats for more than 60 years. Therefore, “you can’t blame one thing on a Republican,” he said. We, of course, found this a little strange considering establishment city Republicans seem to have knowingly gone along with the Democrat takeover and city killjob. But, whatever.
The main issues McColgan said he wanted to address was the more than 30 percent of city residents below the poverty level, as well as lowering taxes while bringing in more money. “If you do a better job at creating jobs, you’re going to have more taxpayers in the city” and can lower taxes, he said.
Even so, he called on the city to un-employ a good portion of its workforce, citing the fact that we’ve gone down in population since the 1950s and have gained city employees. Less people, he said, means there should be less government workers. He thinks the City Council can sustain a 25 percent cut in members, itself, and won’t give himself more than two terms in Council.
Elmer Money: E. Money had the misfortune of being the last in line. Therefore, by the time the question got to him, it’d not only been about 15 minutes, but everything you could possibly say about any given issue, had been said. The Northeast hospital rep agreed with Featherman’s assessment on what to do with Philadelphia’s 40,000 vacant properties as well as shortening Council’s summer vacation. He said the Philadelphia pension system needs to be overhauled being that almost half the city payroll goes to retirees.
Mark Untermeyer: The Philly attorney kept it simple. He wants to give businesses that hire, tax incentives. Untermeyer, who claims he’s gone under the wing of former Mayoral candidate Sam Katz for the campaign, said he’d get rid of the sheriff’s office and no-bid contracts. “These are simple ideas, and yet we can’t get them done,” he said. Asked what he’d replace the sheriff’s office with, he wasn’t completely sure, though agreed some sort of doling out of responsibility to the police force and the courts could work.
He also told a story from the door-to-door campaign trail, which involved his labradoodle, apparently named “Fiscal” (though it was unclear if that part of the story was actually true or just a really bad joke). Apparently while Untermeyer campaigns, he tells those who open the door that City Council needs a “Fiscal watchdog.”
Yeah, awful…but surprisingly memorable.
Ivan Cohen: Unfortunately, Cohen stood alongside Money and said even less. The South Philly boxing manager, who hasn’t been allowed to participate in every debate – and wasn’t endorsed by the 30th Ward – said he wants to help the city and everyone in it, no matter who they are and will do his “damndest” to make it happen. He also claimed David Oh had his election stolen from him in 2007, which Oh neither affirmed nor denied.
Al Schmidt: Before he said a word, Al Schmidt had one thing going for him: Everyone in the room really, really likes him. A lot. Featherman even said Schmidt’s election is more important than his own. And while there are three Republicans on the ballot for City Commissioner, said Featherman, everyone in the room was ordered to vote only for Schmidt because the other Republican candidates were propped up by the RCC to dilute Schmidt’s run. (Schmidt’s last run for City government was 2009, when he ran for City Controller. He became notorious for shit talking the RCC.) Other candidates said Schmidt was required voting because he’s the one guy they can trust to make sure vote totals will be fair and “make sure every vote counts.”
Schmidt made the case most have been making about the way Marge Tartaglione conducts business: There needs to be more transparency in the office, less lawsuits to force such transparency and, well, computers. He claimed last time the Commissioner’s office tried to update their system with a website dedicated to reporting vote totals, they spent thousands of dollars on creating such a thing when “you could have given some high school kid $100 to do it.”
Image: PhillyGOP (and not affiliated with all the candidates here)