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As a union leader and a City Council veteran, Democratic mayoral candidate Lucien Blackwell says he is the most qualified person to run for the job in the history of the city. But whether such ties are actually assets still remains unclear one month before the Philadelphia primaries, where some are calling for a cleaning out of city government. The long-time representative of West Philadelphia's 3rd Council District positions himself as more a candidate of the working class than the other powerful black candidate, George Burrell, who carries the endorsement of influential U.S. House Majority Whip William Gray. And Blackwell's strong background as a labor leader is evident in his legislative history, which carries a series of proposals seeking to help the blue collar citizens and working with the city's powerful unions. But Blackwell, in his low, gravelly voice, vowed last week to keep the issue of race on the sidelines in an election which has the potential to become racially charged. He points to his 3rd District, home predominantly to black residents but with a sizable white minority, as proof that he can appeal to a diverse population. Blackwell touts his international experience, saying this gives him an edge in understanding the needs of Philadelphia -- a city with a declining international port. Blackwell also says his experience at the state level is an asset for the city. He served two terms as a state representative. And he explained that his background as a labor leader will be vital in negotiating with unions on city contracts which will come up during the next mayoral term. Blackwell is currently President of the Local 1332, International Longshoremen's Union. "You have to have people who understand the art of negotiating," Blackwell said. Blackwell has released a 14-point plan to end the city's financial crisis, and says that part of the answer to Philadelphia's financial woes is to streamline government operations and increase the productivity of the city employees. He also endorses cuts in the city's labor force, but the labor leader emphasized that these are possible without major layoffs by allowing attrition to do most of the cutting. According to Blackwell, these initiatives will save the city $432 million. But none of Blackwell's initiatives, or those of his opponents for that matter, include increases in city taxes. To combat crime in the city, Blackwell said he supports "prevention, not cure," including methods such as "town watch" programs and community policing initiatives which get citizens involved in fighting crime. "We've allowed a small group of people to terrorize our street corners, and that won't happen anymore," he said. Blackwell dismissed the idea that the voters are tired of the current leadership of the city and might not elect someone who had served recently as a city official. "Last year they said that about the national elections," Blackwell countered. "That is as old as politics." But, he said, "we will only really know May 21," the day of the primaries.

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