Mayoral candidates focus on school violence

Posted: March 16, 2007

With area attention focused on an epidemic of violence against teachers, six candidates vying to become Philadelphia's next mayor addressed the issue at a campaign forum last night sponsored by the city's teachers' union.

They're against violence.

"When I am your mayor, I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep this city safe and, God, keep our teachers safe," said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

"I'm not afraid to go to extreme methods and I'm here to say you need to be protected," said businessman Tom Knox.

"That is a disgrace in the City of Philadelphia that teachers are facing that kind of violence," said former Councilman Michael Nutter.

And so it went as five Democrats - State Rep. Dwight Evans and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah were also on hand - and Republican Al Taubenberger used the gathering at the union hall on Delaware Avenue to go through the rhetorical equivalent of bringing apples to the teachers.

The candidates vowed to hire more non-teaching assistants to keep schools safer, promised to crack down on contracts with the private education firms that unionized teachers generally disdain, and asserted that educators should get better pay and better benefits.

Knox drew the loudest ovation of the evening with a caustic broadside against Edison, a for-profit firm that manages some of the district's schools.

"I know how to get $90 million," he said. "Let's kick 'em out!"

Of course, because the school district is under state control, any Philadelphia mayor would have little ability to get any of those things done. But most of the candidates vowed to fix that problem, too, demanding that Philadelphia regain the power to run its own schools.

One exception was Evans, who championed the 2002 measure that created the state-controlled School Reform Commission. As he defended the system last night, Evans was met with a tepid reaction from the crowd of roughly 400, many clad in the union's red-and-black colors.

Evans heard several catcalls as he maintained that something had to be done about a system that he said was failing students.

"If I'm treating you respectfully, you should treat me respectfully," he said.

Even Evans, though, drew cheers when he, like his rivals, vowed to fully fund the Community College of Philadelphia, whose faculty is now on strike. He said he had a special understanding as a graduate of the school.

"We need to own up to our responsibility to fully fund Community College," said Fattah, who also attended the school and also served on its board.

Befitting a campaign-season event, all of the candidates stressed their personal connections with the group hosting the event. But unlike the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which hosted a forum last week, the teachers have direct connections to most office-seekers.

Nutter said he married into a family of educators. Fattah said his father had been a teachers' union member. Taubenberger's wife, a kindergarten teacher, still is. And Brady, who teaches a class at the the University of Pennsylvania, explained that he himself is a "card-carrying" member of the teachers union: the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

He joked that he paid the 1 percent of his nominal Penn salary to the union: 1 cent. Brady noted that his mother had also been a non-teaching assistant.

"My heart is your heart," he said.


Contact staff writer Michael Currie Schaffer at 215-854-4565 or mcschaffer@phillynews.com.

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