Editor's Note: With the upcoming mayoral election November 7, The Daily Pennsylvanian presents a look at Republican challenger Joe Rocks. Reporter Lisa Levenson met with the former state senator earlier this month. Former Pennsylvania state Sen. Joe Rocks is in the race of his political life: A Republican running against a popular incumbent mayor in a traditionally Democratic city. By virtue of his party affiliation, Rocks has a minimal support base and name recognition to match. He is also battling Mayor Ed Rendell, who in the past four years has managed to bring the city back from the brink of fiscal insolvency. It's just after 10 a.m., and the Domino Diner on Umbria Street is bustling with a crowd of regulars. Rocks and press secretary Dale Wilcox are at a table in the front, smoking and talking to a campaign worker. Coffee cups, saucers, empty creamer tubs and sugar packets litter the table. Wilcox is intently revising a position paper on citywide educational reform, but Rocks is ready to talk. The son of a firefighter -- a fact he brings up repeatedly during a 45-minute interview -- Rocks was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1978. He served two terms there, followed by another two in the state Senate. After leaving state government, Rocks worked in business. But running for mayor, he said, was "always going to be my ultimate challenge?my final public passion." Although political pundits have been proclaiming Rendell's virtual invincibility since the start of the campaign, almost all of the city's public safety organizations have endorsed Rocks. Rocks said he believes this support is a result of his placing improved public safety at the top of his priority list, followed by better labor-management relations, increased economic development and revitalization of public education in the city. According to Rocks, the city's police and fire departments have been "decimated by the Rendell administration," in terms of manpower, morale, starting salaries, disability benefits and equipment. Rocks called the contract that city workers negotiated with the Rendell administration "punishing." "Every mayor develops a style, and Rendell's was to run around at public events and leave the management of the city to [Rendell Chief of Staff] David Cohen, and the combination of Rendell and Cohen became mean-spirited?in that they fight their work force," he said. Rocks also criticized the mayor for failing to develop a sturdy partnership with all of the city's workers, who he said are responsible for the health and safety of more than a million people every day. The citizens of Philadelphia need to be treated as customers, Rocks said. This may not be a new idea, but it is one that he believes has not been taken seriously by city administrators. "Making people respect and understand each other and come to a workable solution is a very important role for government to be in," Rocks explained. "In the end, there will be a larger price tag on Rendell's broken relationship with the workers in Philadelphia than there ever would have been from negotiating and treating them fairly." Rocks said he realizes that Philadelphia is not yet fiscally secure, and that for that reason, the city's next mayor will still have to make some difficult choices about how to best allocate limited funds. And despite Rendell's budgetary success to date, Rocks said 44 years of Democratic rule is enough. "Any team in politics that is left in charge too long will by the nature of politics begin to act arrogantly, will become more preoccupied with the political dealings that go on," he said. Rocks also found fault with the current state of the city's public schools, which he said have "the most bloated bureaucracy in the country." "If we don't improve public education in Philadelphia, we are writing off an entire generation," he said. "I want to be the mayor that's accountable."Comments powered by Disqus
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