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City Councilman Brian O'Neill is part of Philadelphia's old guard. Plaques commending his service to the city and other organizations fill his City Hall office and the longest paragraph on his resume details his committee obligations. In most cities and during most elections, that would be an asset for a mayoral candidate, but this is Philadelphia 1991, a city coming apart at the seams from the effects of crime, dirt and financial hardship. Some say Philadelphia is ready for a fresh start -- but O'Neill and other establishment candidates say they know the city better than outsiders and can guide it to a healthier future. O'Neill, like fellow Republican City Council members Joan Specter and Thacher Longstreth, is waiting to see who party boss Billy Meehan endorses today for the GOP nomination. If endorsed, O'Neill said he will resign his council seat representing a district in North Philadelphia so he can run. If he is not endorsed, O'Neill said he will run for his council seat a fourth time. If he is endorsed, O'Neill said his district will be his base of support. But he added, "I don't see any part of the city I can't . . . speak to." O'Neill, like fellow Republican Sam Katz, said a Republican is the only person who can make substantial changes in the way the government is run. He, like many of the other candidates, proposes modifying the courts and the social services system so that the state and federal governments carry some of the financial burden for the services they require the city to provide. "When the job is too big we need to admit it -- put politics aside and accept help," O'Neill said. This, he said, will allow the city to concentrate on fighting crime, cleaning the streets and dealing with trash. O'Neill also said he wants to to privatize some services, such as trash collection, to increase productivity and better serve the citizens. "Let our people compete and let the taxpayers be the winners," O'Neill said. He said he would not raise taxes because it would cause further erosion of an already shrinking tax base. O'Neill said part of the solution for the city's financial crisis is for the city government to acknowledge that "city government cannot first and foremost be a provider of jobs." According to O'Neill, 70 percent of the city's budget currently pays for the salaries of employees. This figure should be cut, O'Neill said. But "it is not easy when your labor contracts are already negotiated," O'Neill said. While he said user fees -- money to be paid by institutions such as the University in lieu of property taxes -- are an option the city should consider, O'Neill said he will not look at this until the city government solves its own problems. He said the same thing about asking the state for increased funding. "[I would not ask] for one penny more for this mess until then," O'Neill said. "When we have our house in order, then we will discuss it."

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