Democratic candidates turn up heat for televised mayoral debate

Pat Loeb
May 14, 2019 - 7:25 am
Democratic mayoral candidates Alan Butkovitz, Jim Kenney and Anthony Williams.

Wendy Warren / NBC10


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The only televised debate before next Tuesday's Democratic primary election for Philadelphia mayor featured a few new revelations on the three candidates' positions but turned decidedly hostile toward the end when issues gave way to personal attacks.

Challengers Alan Butkovitz and state Sen. Anthony Williams ganged up on Mayor Jim Kenney for most of the debate, criticizing his record on crime, poverty, gentrification, the new school board and taxes.  

Williams even teased the mayor about agreeing to only two debates during this campaign, thanking him "for showing up tonight, appreciate it."


There was a brief moment of harmony when all three agreed on the city's position on sanctuary for immigrants.

"Glad we agree on something. I didn't think it was going to happen at all tonight," Kenney said.

Because the questions concerned the major issues facing the city, all three men gave well-practiced answers, though the mayor seemed rattled at times. 

While returning Philadelphia public schools to local control is one of the big achievements of his first term, he stumbled when asked how he would assess the success of the new school board. And when asked if the business community should do more to help solve the city's toughest problems, he seemed to try to backtrack after suggesting Comcast, which owns debate host NBC, could indeed step up.

"We're standing in one of the most important companies in the country. So, yeah, they should be doing more," he said. Then he added, "And they do. A company like this provides a lot of help for the community."

Butkovitz, meanwhile, came out swinging and stayed relentlessly on the attack. Toward the end of the hour-long debate, Kenney fought back, accusing Butkovitz and Williams both of "hypocrisy."

"[Butkovitz> didn't mind taking $300,000 or so from John Dougherty over the last decade. And my opponent here," Kenney said, referring to Williams, "took $450,000."

As Butkovitz and Williams both tried to respond, the moderator went to Inquirer editor Sandra Shea for another question.

"Oh, I don't know. I think I'd like to watch this for a while," she said.

Even Shea did not escape Butkovitz's wrath. He hinted he thought she was biased against him.

"I understand where your positions are, Sandy, and how you feel about this race," Butkovitz said.

He was also extremely tough on District Attorney Larry Krasner.

"It's like having two public defenders [in court> and nobody representing victims," Butkovitz said. "It's the signal that is being sent out to the police and the communities. People are being asked to put their lives on the line to come forward and tell police if they're aware of any crime going on in their neighborhood, and then they see the guy walk out the back door because the district attorney is ideologically committed to his lifetime career as a defense attorney. That's not right. And what we're going to get is what we're getting: skyrocketing homicide rates and skyrocketing violence."

Only Williams stayed composed through the entire debate. He frequently referred voters to his website for his full position on the issues under debate.

Two of the biggest revelations came during the "lightning round," when the moderator asked for one-word answers.

The candidates were asked if they would keep police Commissioner Richard Ross, and for the first time Williams answered and said, "Yes." 

They were later asked if they would want more, fewer, or the same number of charter schools. Kenney said, "Fewer."

Butkovitz said later he thought momentum was shifting away from the mayor. Williams was more cautious, simply saying he's been getting good comments about his performance. The mayor left without further comment.