About 75 people gathered at Second Baptist Church in Germantown on Sunday afternoon to attend a debate between candidates running for the Philadelphia City Council in the 8th district.
There were a total of seven seats designated for candidates at the platform, although only four showed up. In attendance were Howard Treatman, Cindy Bass, Greg Paulmier and Andrew Lofton. Missing were Verna Tyner, Robin Tasco and William Durham.
The candidates and spectators began to arrive just after noon. The event was sponsored by the church and hosted over a luncheon, prepared by parishioners of the church. Before the debate began, people were chatting and enjoying the communal atmosphere.
Just before 1 p.m., Kezirah Lynn Vaughters, serving as moderator, called the candidates to the platform. The first round of the debate consisted of a two-minute introductory speech in which each candidate introduced themselves, their campaign and their spiritual journey.
After the introduction, the debate kicked into full gear. The first topic was education, which took up a considerable amount of time. The room grew silent as audience members gave unwavering attention to each candidate’s response, which was asked to remain under two minutes.
“We don’t control our own schools. They are effectively controlled by the state,” Treatman said. “Governor Corbett has made cuts and we have a major crisis on our hands.”
Bass followed and agreed.
“I’m a proud graduate of Philadelphia public schools and a big supporter of public schools,” Bass said. “They all need help on some level or another. We need to have control of our schools.”
Lofton agreed with the previous candidates’ responses.
“With respect to education in the city, we are behind the eight ball,” Lofton said. “We need to be concerned about quality schools. It doesn’t matter if it’s public, private or a charter school.
“We all remember home economics and shop and those things have been taken out,” Lofton added. “Over the years they’ve taken out arts and music.”
The crowd reacted to Lofton’s statements as he continued to speak, echoing sentiments of agreement that could be heard throughout the room.
“They don’t take into consideration that all kids learn differently. It’s not realistic,” Lofton said. “Putting 30 kids into the classroom with one teacher doesn’t work.”
After each candidate spoke about his or her opinion on education, the moderator asked if it would be appropriate to raise property taxes to supplement for an increase in education expenses. Each candidate said they would not support a property tax increase.
“Our citizens are already taxed enough,” Lofton said. “I would work on rehabbing properties that are semi-livable for individuals who need affordable housing. Instead of spending $21 million to board houses, we’ve created income instead of spending income.”
Ross suggested taking a look at the some of the most valuable properties in the city, such as the University of Pennsylvania, which are not on the tax roll and asking them if they would be interested in supporting the city by agreeing to pay taxes.
After the topic of education ended, the issue of community affairs and activities took front and center.
“One of the great things about the 8th district is that I’ve met so many great people who are active in the community,” Treatman said. “But I’ve met so many who said they haven’t had a partner in their community and I want to be that partner.”
Lofton recalled a story a student basketball player told him during one of the league games that he organizes.
“If you remember, a pizza delivery man died after being robbed by three or four kids not too long ago,” Lofton said. “I had a kid come up to me after and say, ‘Coach, I just want to say thank you, had I not been with you I would have been with them.’”
Many crowd members gasped.
“Under my watch I would evolve these types of community organizations through churches,” Lofton said.
The moderator then asked the candidates about the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). The retirement and benefit program for retired city workers has recently come under scrutiny for being too generous in payments. Many candidates said DROP can potentially drain the city’s resources and needs to be modified.
“It didn’t work. It gave a fixed interest rate and nowadays there’s no where on earth you can get that kind of money,” Bass said.
“The math behind it was supposed to provide savings and it turned out the math was wrong and it’s dangerous,” Paulmier added. “We need to turn it around so that it’s not going to deplete the pension fund.”
Each candidate was asked to sum up his or her campaign in three words. Each one seemed to struggle with the idea of narrowing down the efforts into three terms.
“Hope, eradication and help,” Lofton said.
To find out where each district is located and who represents the district, select the site below on a specific area of the city.