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Philly Mayor, Republican Challenger Spar In Debate

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(Mayor Michael Nutter and challenger Karen Brown leave the studios of WTXF-TV after the debate.  Credit:  Mike Dunn)

(Mayor Michael Nutter and challenger Karen Brown leave the studios of WTXF-TV after the debate. Credit: Mike Dunn)

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Long-shot Republican candidate Karen Brown gave a spirited challenge to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a taped debate Tuesday, saying the incumbent hasn’t fulfilled an inauguration day vow to reduce homicides by 30 to 50 percent in five years, and has failed to do enough to cut spending and improve the city’s beleaguered school system.

Nutter, who is seeking a second term in next month’s election, and Brown, a former math teacher and onetime Democrat, faced off in a question-and-answer format debate at the studios of WTXF-TV. It was often feisty and the candidates frequently talked over one another, with Nutter repeatedly saying Brown was “confused” about the facts and Brown saying Nutter was “speaking like a politician.”

Brown pointed out that Nutter had not fulfilled his vow in 2008 to reduce homicides by 30 to 50 percent within 3 to 5 years. Homicides are down 22 percent since he took office, Nutter said, but Brown noted that crime has increased over last year.

“While we have not reached the goal that I would like, a 22 percent drop is fairly significant,” Nutter said.

Brown also attacked Nutter on the subject of the city’s beleaguered school system, which has been run by an appointed School Reform Commission for the past decade. She advocated returning to an elected school board and said Nutter hasn’t done enough to help, noting that he has appointed some of the board.

“I truly don’t think you are taking an active part in it,” Brown said, adding that she supports school vouchers among other changes. “I want to make more choices in our school system.”

On the subject of spending, Brown criticized city decisions to increase property taxes and sales taxes in an effort to balance the budget, and said Nutter was making the city more unfriendly to small businesses while catering to big ones. The property and sales tax hikes were necessary to prevent layoffs and preserve core city services, Nutter said.

“You can’t maintain core services if you don’t have any money,” Nutter said during one back-and-forth on the budget issue.

Nutter is considered the overwhelming favorite since Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 6-to-1 in Philadelphia, which has not had a Republican mayor since 1952. He has touted successes in the implementation of single-stream recycling, a new 311 information call center and improvements in police accountability since he took office.

The candidates have taken far different paths to their debate.

In the May primary, Nutter brushed aside a challenge from T. Milton Street, a former state legislator and hot dog vendor who is the older brother of Nutter’s predecessor and longtime political rival, John F. Street. On the Republican side, Brown, the party-backed candidate, narrowly defeated real estate agent John Featherman by fewer than 70 votes. He conceded the next month.

At one point, the general election had the potential to be more dramatic when John Street said he was considering challenging Nutter as an independent. But Street, a two-term mayor who has sparred with Nutter since they both served on City Council, announced in July that he had decided not to run.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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