District 2 hopefuls discuss taxes, development at debate

Posted: April 26, 2011

The four Democrats who hope to replace City Council President Anna Verna in the 2nd District agreed on one thing at a South Philly recreation center packed with voters - everyone pays too much in taxes in a confusing system that needs reform.

They all see money - be it in economic development to create jobs or the rehabilitation of abandoned lots and houses in the district - as a way to solve the city's problems.

Real-estate developer Barbara Capozzi said those issues won't be resolved until a larger problem is addressed - voter apathy. Capozzi said the predicted low voter turnout in the May 17 Democratic primary means the largest turnover in Council since 1991 will happen without many voices heard.

"To me, that's a disgrace, but that's exactly why this city is in the predicament that it is," she said. "Because voters don't demand anything better."

On the hot-button issue of gentrification and a recently stalled effort at a one-year moratorium for building three-story homes in Point Breeze, the candidates spoke of fear and distrust between longtime residents and newcomers.

Real-estate attorney Damon Roberts said he disagreed with that legislation and would work as a "bridge between those two groups."

"We all want clean neighborhoods," he said. "We all want less crime."

State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson said he didn't like the tone of the dialogue that led up to the Council debate on the issue but did like that it started the conversation moving forward.

Community activist Tracey Gordon blamed developers and city agencies for scaring longtime residents into thinking their property taxes would soar because of new developments nearby.

Capozzi and Gordon said they would not support Councilwoman Marian Tasco for Council president in January if she is re-elected because of her participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Roberts said voters can be "very reactionary" about one issue and, if elected, he would consider a candidate's entire record. Johnson said he was "not inclined" to support Tasco.

Capozzi, Roberts and Johnson said they would keep the DROP program for other city employees but make changes to save money. Gordon said she would work to eliminate the program.

The question that caused the rowdiest outburst from the audience came at the end, when the candidates were asked whom they would vote for if they were not in the race. Capozzi said she favored Roberts, while Johnson said he'd vote for Gordon. Roberts and Gordon said they could not imagine supporting anyone but themselves.

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