- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, whose city is a key battleground in the state’s Democratic primary, is inviting the candidates to answer residents’ questions at a town-hall meeting — an exchange with ordinary people that he says Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns lack.

“It’s been too narrowly focused, and life is more complicated than sound bites and the [debate] forums we’ve seen them in,” Mr. Nutter told The Washington Times. “The public should have an opportunity to hear them in a different format.”

Philadelphia voters need answers about urban issues, including school funding, re-entry programs for convicts, jobs initiatives and plans for federal grant programs for policing and community development, the mayor said.

“I think these are the real important, serious issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

Mr. Nutter, who is backing Mrs. Clinton, extended the invitation on Monday. The campaigns have not yet responded.

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, and Mr. Obama, of Illinois, have agreed to participate in a televised debate April 16 in Philadelphia that is co-sponsored by the city’s ABC station WPVI-TV. It will be the 21st time they will have faced off in a debate format.

“The format is so tight that it is hard to expand into other areas,” Mr. Nutter said, adding that city voters are interested in issues other than the national economy, health care and the Iraq war, subjects that have dominated the candidates’ stump speeches and the TV debates.

Sean Smith, spokesman for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania, said the campaign has not received an invitation for Mr. Nutter’s forum.

“Senator Obama welcomes a conversation about urban issues,” Mr. Smith said, noting that Mr. Obama’s career began as community organizer in Chicago. “We are about to embark on a six-day bus tour across the state and anticipate many events will be small town-hall meetings where Senator Obama will interact with voters from both rural and urban settings.”

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