City Council At-Large Candidates Duke It Out at WHYY Studios
Candidates for councilmember-at-large debated at the WHYY studios last night, covering Occupy Philly, DROP, property tax reassessment, and personally tailored questions.
There are seven at-large seats (at-large means representing the entire city as opposed to a specific district), and any single party can hold a maximum of five. Since Philly’s traditionally Democrat, most expect that party’s candidates to take five. Two incumbent Democrats, of the five Dems running, showed up last night, along with all five GOP candidates.
Here’s a rundown of the debate, in the order of the candidate’s seating.
David Oh, Republican
Occupy Philly: “It’s a consideration of freedom of speech,” he said, adding that he disagrees with the protesters’ positions. He’d let them stay, but “draw the line at disruption.”
DROP: He said he favors modification. “We cannot afford to continue DROP as is. We’re short on cash; we need to pay down our debts.”
Property taxes: “City Council has to set a millage (property tax) rate. Anyone who feels it’s not fair should be able to reach out” to the council.
“Green Beret” controversy: “I did not misrepresent my service for political gain.”
Michael Untermeyer, Republican
Occupy Philly: “The mayor has handled the situation with grace … but how long can we afford to do it? I would give them notice (to move) at some point.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “Every city councilor spends $1.1 million per office. I think the City Council spends too much. The city’s in a financial crisis.”
DROP: “Eliminate it for all besides city police and fire.”
Property taxes: He said he’d champion a deferral for property tax increases for seniors.
Subsidizing employees: “We’ve got to do something that’s going to incentivize (sic) employment coming into the city.” He proposes a 20% subsidy for two years: a $10,000 tax credit each year for $20,000 total, for each employee a business employs in the city.
Al Taubenberger, Republican
Occupy Philly: “As long as there’s no violence … they have a right to free assembly.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “Let the city see where the dollars are being spent. You can’t balance the budget on the backs of the people.”
DROP: He said no DROP for elected officials.
Property taxes: “The city shouldn’t … raise taxes. You’d see an exodus.”
On being fined for breaking campaign finance rules: He said he’d paid $500 but it hadn’t gotten through as for yesterday.
Dennis O’Brien, Republican
Occupy Philly: “I think it’s exciting. They feel like they’re invisible.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “As Speaker of the House I made all budgets public.”
DROP: “I voted to eliminate DROP.”
Property taxes: “Bill Green’s doing great work.”
On being called a Democrat: “I’m proud of my 35 years in elected office as a Republican.” He said he was elected Speaker by Democrats, and “there needs to be less partisanship.”
Joe McColgan, Republican
Occupy Philly: “I know it’s costing the city money we don’t have. That concerns me … Kick them out? I don’t know.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “Yes, openness is a good thing.”
DROP: He said he’d drop it for politicians, but keep it for police and fire.
Property taxes: “We’re walking down a very slippery slope by taxing our citizens more.” He said the city should go after those whose taxes remain uncollected.
On making Philly the next Hollywood: “Comcast is a great company. Thank God they’re in Philly. With them purchasing NBC … it could be a huge revenue generator.” He said the city could encourage Comcast to build a movie studio in Philly, and help the company find property, but not give it away. “We’re beyond that. This is a dying city, folks.”
Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Democrat
Occupy Philly: “I, too, commend the mayor … for being moderate. I’ve been struck by the richness of diversity … it reminds me of my days as a protester.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “We should not apologize for hiring professional staff. I’m open to the notion.”
DROP: She said she voted for DROP modification.
Property taxes: “The time is overdue for us to face reality … It really is a question of when.” She said the city needs a PR team to educate the public about property tax reform.
On getting fined for breaking campaign finance rules: She said she, and every legislator, should make sure to read every single thing they signed – indicating that someone else f-ed up.
On how she’d get revenue into the city: She said she’d look into new revenue streams, like keeping bars open until 5 a.m., or putting ads on school busses.
Bill Green, Democrat
Occupy Philly: “Come assemble, come speak, but you can’t pitch tents here. It’ll be difficult to end it without force, so now we’re all stuck in this situation.”
Publishing the City Council budget online: “In the last three and a half years, the City Council as reduced its budget by $1.5 million … We have a budget but we don’t spend it all.”
DROP: “On the first day of Council I introduced a bill to get rid of DROP.” He said Council has modified it to make it more sound. He repeated that while David Oh was answering the question, too.
On receiving money from an electricians union’s PAC while deliberating on a donation cap in Council: He said he accepted no contributions during those deliberations.
Some of the things the at-large candidates did not discuss: how very obviously the candidate pool poorly represents the population in terms of gender or race; what tax brackets they’re in; sustainability or environment; or how to get people in Philadelphia to create their own jobs by encouraging small business and enterprise.