Tensions rise at District 7 debate as hopefuls tackle transparency

Posted: April 22, 2011

It wasn't long before the debate between freshman City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and ward leader Dan Savage got heated.

Things were easygoing at first. The two candidates for the 7th District Council spot discussed their plans to revitalize one of the city's most troubled districts, touching on issues including blight, DROP, drugs, pensions, education, community development and jobs.

But tensions swelled after the event's moderator, Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph, questioned Savage about a campaign release that demanded that Quinones-Sanchez release her 2010 tax returns for the sake of transparency. Savage accused the councilwoman's husband of having a contract with the school district, adding that politics played in his getting the contract.

"I have absolutely nothing to hide," Quinones-Sanchez said, denying any contract between her husband and the school district. She said that she will hand-deliver her tax returns to the Daily News and Inquirer next week to prove that. She said that her husband is a business director for Temple University and deals with minority contracting.

Moments later, she shot back at Savage, challenging him to fork over his E-ZPass. She accused him of living with his girlfriend in New Jersey for the past three years, which he denied. He does visit the Jersey Shore from time to time, though, he said.

Savage lost the City Council seat to Quinones-Sanchez in May 2007 after serving just 13 months. He was supported by a majority of district ward leaders to be their candidate in a 2006 special election after Rick Mariano was sent to federal prison on corruption charges.

Quinones-Sanchez, 42, a longtime community organizer, beat Savage with 52 percent of the vote and became the first Hispanic woman in City Council. She has garnered respect for tackling big issues like the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan and for looking for alternatives to modify the way companies are taxed.

The Committee of Seventy, the League of Women Voters and the Daily News sponsored last night's debate, where a vocal crowd criticized both candidates equally at Urban Hope Training Center & Community Church, on Tioga Street near Ella.

The 7th District, one of most gerrymandered municipal districts in the country, covers a massive chunk of North Philadelphia, winding around Temple University through parts of Kensington and on to Northeast Philly.

To help cure blight in the area, both candidates supported land-banking, the practice of purchasing land, holding it until it is profitable and then selling it for more than what was paid.

"There's too much crime, too few jobs and too much blight," Savage said, noting that land-banking would help on all three fronts by taking advantage of unused land.

On education improvements, Savage suggested a state takeover, adding that it's too much for the cash-strapped city to deal with right now.

Quinones-Sanchez and Savage later bumped heads again about the business-privilege tax, after Savage said that the councilwoman's proposal to revamp business taxes supports a tax that is "killing small businesses but supports downtown law firms. I'm totally against that."

But Quinones-Sanchez said that her proposal would amount to a tax cut for small businesses.

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