- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The to-do list for the next mayor is a daunting one: Slow a surging homicide rate and change the pay-to-play culture in City Hall.

With less than a month to go before the Democratic primary, a retired businessman with deep pockets, two congressmen, a former council member and a veteran state representative all say they can handle the challenges and turn the city’s fortunes around.

But with nearly a quarter of voters still undecided, the mayor’s office remains up for grabs.

With five viable candidates in the Democratic primary — all under pressure to reduce crime and corruption — the election looks promising for those in the city hoping for change, said Randall Miller, a political analyst at St. Joseph’s University.

“Clearly, they are suggesting that, ‘We were not part of this problem,’ ” Mr. Miller said.

The Democrat who comes in first in the May 15 primary wins the nomination outright; no runoff is required. The winner will face Republican Al Taubenberger, a Chamber of Commerce president, and a possible independent bid by Sam Katz, who lost to Mayor John Street in 1999 and 2003 running as a Republican. Mr. Street cannot run for re-election this year because of term limits.

The Democratic nominee will be heavily favored to win the general election in November. Nearly four out of five Philadelphia voters are Democrats, and the city hasn’t had a Republican mayor in 55 years.

Millionaire former health care executive Tom Knox holds a slight lead in the polls, running as an outsider who promises to take a “for sale” sign off City Hall.

Reps. Robert A. Brady and Chaka Fattah are touting their leadership and congressional records, while state Rep. Dwight Evans is pointing to his legislative accomplishments in Harrisburg. Former council member Michael Nutter has sought to build on his reputation for challenging Mr. Street’s policies.

All have campaigned on hiring more police or on other measures aimed at slowing a homicide count that topped 400 last year and has shown no signs of slowing. More than 100 homicides have already been recorded this year.

Either directly or indirectly, each candidate has spoken about the need for a new start in a city rocked by a long-running corruption scandal. Nearly two dozen people have been convicted since an FBI bug was found in Mr. Street’s office before the 2003 election.

Both the murder rate and corruption convictions have hurt Mr. Street’s legacy, even though he was never charged in the FBI probe and has argued he has done everything he can to fight crime.

“We have had the person who has probably been the best-prepared person to become mayor,” District Attorney Lynne Abraham said of Mr. Street, a former council member. “As well prepared as he’s been, he has not done the kind of job that people wanted of him or expected of him.”

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