Adding to an already divisive campaign, Democratic Mayor John Street and Republican challenger Sam Katz squared off at Irvine Auditorium Oct. 1. Though the event was promoted as a nonpartisan, educational forum, the crowd appeared to be one-sided, vociferously cheering the challenger and raining disapproval on the incumbent.
Street, slated to speak first, was 20 minutes late. Though each candidate was scheduled to deliver a speech for 15 minutes and then answer questions, Street spoke for less than 10 minutes.
The mayor opened his speech with the question, “Did somebody say something bad about Donovan McNabb?” harkening back to the recent racial controversy ignited by Rush Limbaugh on ESPN. While timely, the remark failed to elicit a crowd response. Street then began highlighting a five-point program for his reelection campaign: redeveloping neighborhoods, creating a competitive economic environment, developing market rate housing, convincing Philadelphia’s large college population to remain in the city after graduation, and calling for greater regional cooperation in economic development.
Following his speech, Street took only one question from an audience member, who indicted the city’s Safe Streets program and the prevalence of crime and open-air drug dealing around Penn’s campus. Street became visibly agitated at the questioner and vowed to address the issue before walking off the stage, drawing murmurs from the audience.
Challenger Sam Katz related a brief anecdote about his personal troubles with running a business in Philadelphia due to the high-tax environment and spoke of his desire to return Philadelphia to prominence among top American cities.
Katz focused much of his speech on the Penn community and the desperate need to keep the fruits of Philadelphia’s remarkable collection of colleges and universities in the city. “Every first began in Philadelphia, the first computer, all the health firsts, they all came from here at the University of Pennsylvania,” the candidate said. “We need to capitalize on those firsts like the Betsy Ross House and keep them from moving to Malvern.”
Katz admitted that Philadelphia was a difficult political environment for an outsider, especially a Republican. “It’s a different political culture, resistant to change. It’s hard to get things done if you don’t pay the right people.”
The event was hosted by Penn Forum, the Fox Leadership Program, the College Democrats and Republicans, and Penn Rock the Vote.
Originally published on October 16, 2003