The candidates answered questions on wide-ranging issues at the nearly two-hour forum sponsored by 65 organizations involved in education, family, legal, and other issues.
The only Democratic candidate not to appear was Tom Wolf, a multimillionaire York businessman and the front-runner for the nomination. Wolf was opening a campaign office in Pittsburgh on Sunday, spokesman Mark Nicastre said.
During the forum moderated by journalists Holly Otterbein of WHYY Newsworks and Daniel Denvir of City Paper, the candidates said they were troubled by findings first reported in The Inquirer that four Philadelphia state legislators and a Traffic Court judge allegedly accepted money in a sting.
The public officials were not charged because Kane, also a Democrat, said the investigation was poorly conceived, badly managed, and possibly tainted by racial targeting.
When Otterbein asked whether they agreed with Kane's decision, none of the gubernatorial candidates gave a definitive yes or no.
"For me to comment without real facts in front of me is sort of boneheaded," said McCord, who noted that he's not a lawyer.
But he said he was concerned about racial bias in prosecution.
"There's tons of data that show when it comes to sentencing, when it comes to investigations, when it comes to arrests, there is racial bias, and it is something we ought to be talking about," he said.
Schwartz, who also cited her lack of a legal background, said: "It's hard to second-guess."
McGinty acknowledged: "I was at one time an attorney, but that was a long time ago."
During the forum, the candidates frequently bashed Republican Gov. Corbett, who was invited to participate but did not respond, an event organizer said.
"If anyone in this room doesn't think we need a change in state government, you're from another planet," Wagner said.
For one another though, the Democrats had no fighting words.
They agreed on just about everything, from favoring less standardized testing in public schools to more resources for the homeless and hungry, to more taxing of fracking. One exception, however, was Wagner's self-described position as a "pro-life Democrat."
To some in the audience though, the candidates managed to distinguish themselves.
"I was totally impressed with McGinty. I really like what she had to say and how she said it," said Sylvia Metzler, 76, a retired family nurse practitioner from Kensington. "She was very understandable. She really knew why she stood for what she stood for and explained it well with passion."
She also liked McCord, but said: "Wagner's out. He's too right wing for me."
For Andy Saul, 74, a retired housepainter from Media, however, Wagner was just right.
"I liked him a lot," Saul said. "I'm a conservative Democrat, a pro-life Democrat."