When Ed Rendell became mayor of Philadelphia in 1992, he compared the city to a patient dying from both a gunshot wound and cancer. The gunshot wound was a budget crisis that threatened to plunge the city into bankruptcy. The cancer was comprised of terrible schools, high crime and enormous taxes. The gunshot wound has healed, but the cancer lingers. If you don't believe that, consider the following: In the 1990s, Philadelphia lost a higher percentage of its population than any other large city in the country. Now, Philadelphia is faced with choosing a new mayor to fight that cancer and make the city healthy again. The right choice is Sam Katz. Katz is a Republican, but thousands of Democrats are planning to vote for him because they realize that this election isn't about parties. It's about which candidate -- Katz or his opponent, John Street -- has a better plan for Philadelphia's recovery. Former Democratic mayoral candidates Happy Fernandez and John White think that Katz's plan is better, as does The Philadelphia Inquirer. In large part, those endorsements are a tribute to Katz's experience. As co-founder of the nation's largest municipal-government consulting firm, Katz has spent his career assisting city governments. That's why Mayor Rendell turned to Katz for help in writing the financial plan that rescued Philadelphia from near-bankruptcy. Katz also sat on Philadelphia's school board for four years, so he understands the school district's problems. Street has tried to mischaracterize Katz's aggressive plan to turn around Philadelphia's public schools by portraying Katz's support for tuition vouchers as its central theme. Don't let Street fool you. Yes, Katz supports experimenting with tuition vouchers, charter schools and other options to help kids learn, just as Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley does. But Katz's primary commitment is to a public school system with smaller classes, alternative schools for disruptive students and more rigorous standards for academic performance. And Katz realizes that state legislators won't pay for those improvements until the mayor has reduced mismanagement and waste in the schools. In contrast, Street would keep asking the state legislature for more money without implementing the reforms that legislators have repeatedly said must happen first. Taxes are the third cause of the city's cancer. Philadelphia has the highest taxes of any big city in the country, discouraging businesses and residents from moving here. To reduce taxes, Katz will make the city government more efficient and apply the saved money to tax relief. Lower taxes will draw more businesses to the city and those new businesses will create new jobs. Street has tried to scare voters by saying that Katz's tax relief plan would cut into city services. But Katz knows that by subjecting government functions to competition, changing union work rules and eliminating unnecessary patronage jobs, it's possible to maintain city services while making them cheaper. In contrast to Katz's fresh ideas, Street offers the kind of thinking that hurt Philadelphia in the first place. On schools, he offers no new solutions. On taxes, he would implement "a modest reduction," not the major tax cut that's necessary in a city which lost 65,000 jobs in the 1990s. On crime, his lukewarm support of Commissioner Timoney would send the police department a message of no-confidence. And in 1998, Street led the fight against domestic partnership benefits for gay city workers, demonstrating that he's not the inclusive leader the city needs. In contrast, Katz supports partnership benefits and has received the endorsement of several Philadelphia gay and lesbian groups. So, when you help choose the city's next leader on Tuesday, ask yourself what you want the Philadelphia of the future to be. Do you want a city whose downtown is thriving but whose residential areas are suffering under crippling taxes, bad schools and high crime? That's John Street's legacy after 19 years in power. Or do you want a safer Philadelphia, a Philadelphia with enough jobs to go around and with good schools for the city's children? I'm voting for the healthy Philadelphia. I'm voting for Sam Katz for mayor.Comments powered by Disqus
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