Series of governor candidates' debates closes quietly

Posted: May 12, 2010

An extraordinary series of 30-plus gubernatorial debates came to a muted close Tuesday night with three of the six candidates meeting to discuss issues on the 45th floor of the Comcast Center.

For State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, state Auditor General Jack Wagner, and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel - all Democrats - the hour-long forum sponsored by the Urban League of Philadelphia presented a final opportunity to communicate with a joint TV audience - not counting the limited messages that can be conveyed in 30-second ads.

The debate was carried live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network and will be telecast again at noon Wednesday.

"We have had some good debates, and I have learned a lot from them," Wagner said.

"We need a new direction in state government," he said by way of a closing word. He called for the convening of a limited constitutional convention to reform state government. He said his top priority, if elected governor, would be to create jobs.

Hoeffel, sitting next to Wagner at a long table in front of about 100 people, was the only candidate who did not rule out raising taxes to kick-start the Pennsylvania economy.

"I think Ronald Reagan had it wrong," Hoeffel said. "He used to say government is the enemy. I think it is a necessary partner . . . to a better world. I want a state government that invests in our future."

Without mentioning Williams by name, Hoeffel took a shot at Williams' support for school vouchers - the use of public dollars for private education tuition. He said that such spending would undermine public schools.

Williams, who says he sees school choice as a civil rights issue of the 21st century, replied that Hoeffel seemed to regard the very word vouchers as some sort of "bogeyman" that should inflame voters. He talked of his own good fortune as a Philadelphia child to be given the opportunity to go to a good private school. He said a good school - public or not - should be within the reach of every child.

The overall tone of the debate was quieted, perhaps, by the absence of the two front-runners in the primaries for governor Tuesday.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who held a large lead in polls a week before the Democratic primary, did not attend. The other three Democrats had ganged up on him in a 6ABC debate on Friday.

State Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D., Phila.), who stood in for Onorato, called him "the best choice" for governor and said he would help make communities safer, boost education, and encourage economic development.

The two Republican candidates for governor - state Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Rep. Sam Rohrer - were invited but did not attend.

Fred Clark, an African American businessman from Harrisburg sent by Corbett to represent him, told the largely black audience that he felt like "a leper" when he entered the room and told people he was there on a Republican's behalf.

He urge the crowd to give Corbett a serious look as a candidate and said, "Tom Corbett is the best choice."


Contact staff writer Tom Infield

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