Thursday, October 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Election, you say? What election?

I guess next year's tax bill will be quite a big surprise. Wouldn't shock me if homeowners with spiked tax bills get record numbers of solicitations from aggressive real estate agents to sell their houses around that time.

Election, you say? What election?

Danny Alvarez will challenge current Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in the upcoming general election.
Danny Alvarez will challenge current Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in the upcoming general election.

Mr. October.

No. I’m not talking about the Mr. October, former post-season baseball great Reggie Jackson.

I’m talking about which local political candidates will hit the grand slam with less than 30 days to go before the general election on Tuesday, November 5th.

Election, you say? What election?

Yep.

I know.

This season is so much of a sleeper season that most Philadelphians don’t know that there’s an election going on that will seat a district attorney and a controller.

Heck, this really shouldn’t be surprising. After all, as PlanPhilly reported yesterday, a new poll found that almost one half of all Philadelphians didn’t even know what the Actual Value Initiative was.

Asleep at the wheel. Not paying attention. Or perhaps simply not caring.

I guess next year’s tax bill will be quite a big surprise. Wouldn’t shock me if homeowners with spiked tax bills get record numbers of solicitations from aggressive real estate agents to sell their houses around that time.

But despite voter apathy that has me predicting that we’ll have a 15% voter turnout (it was 12% in 2009, the last time we elected a D.A. and controller), there is activity going on behind the scenes, and you should know about it – even an interesting video I’ll be sharing with you.

The two top of the ticket elections – in which the incumbent Democratic candidates are widely expected to win – are, in many ways, not different from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”

On one hand, you have the controller’s race, in which both the incumbent and the challenger debated twice during the primary (a rarity in Philadelphia politics) and have even agreed to a debate this month for the general election (an even greater rarity for a row office race).

On the other hand, you have a district attorney’s race where the incumbent has thus far not only been unwilling to debate the challenger, but has also not been shy as to why he’s rejecting any debates between the two.

The video I’m about to show you may change your mind about a future debate between the two men angling to guide 600 lawyers, detectives and support staff.

However it doesn’t change mine. Not at all.

In this video released this afternoon by Republican Danny Alvarez’s campaign, Alvarez is seen making his way past what appears to be an armed law enforcement officer inside the Lawncrest Diner in Northeast Philadelphia to talk to Democrat District Attorney Seth Williams.

The event took place today.

Alvarez can be seen and heard asking, “Mr. Williams, when are you going to debate me.”

Shortly afterwards, an unnamed man walking with Williams repeated several times, “You’ll get one.”

Will Alvarez get one?

Depends upon which Seth Williams you believe.

The Seth Williams interviewed by Chris Brennan in yesterday’s Daily News column made it clear he wouldn’t debate Alvarez.

The Seth Williams who participates on Twitter also questioned why he should participate in a debate. A Tweet from Darin Bartholomew – the president of the Temple University student government – said, “It would be beneficial for youth voters (our next leaders) to be able to see a conversation with both candidates.”

Williams responded, “it is not my responsibility to give my republican opponent credibility or publicity.”

An email and a phone call to Williams’ campaign manager, William R. Miller V, were both unreturned.

Bartholomew had this to say to me via a messaged statement: “I was personally concerned about the fact that there wasn’t going to be a debate between both District Attorney candidates. I’m a strong believer in young voters being informed and being involved in the political process regardless of party affiliation,” adding, “I will continue to be focused on reminding students of important voting dates and deadlines and hope to see everyone utilizing their right to vote next month!”

Alvarez was short and succinct. “I can't speak for Williams, but I can say that a debate is something that the voter deserves.”

And, in my best Johnnie Cochrane imitation, I will say, “With a debate, you can tear and compare.”

Back to the controller’s race. I felt it would be unfair to single out Seth Williams for refusing to debate Danny Alvarez without strongly commending Democratic Controller Alan Butkovitz for agreeing to debate Republican challenger Terry Tracy not once, not twice, but three times – twice already occurred in the primary (with two additional Democrats) and once for the general, in a WHYY scheduled radio debate to be held Tuesday October 22. Details can be found here.

Why on earth would Butkovitz agree to give his competitor any attention whatsoever when conventional wisdom would say that a popular incumbent should avoid any debate at all costs?

Butkovitz told me on the phone this afternoon that “the comprehensive review of what we're doing in this office, and feedback is very productive to me. We are constantly working on making improvement. It's a matter of respect to the voters, and something I really enjoy."

Wow. Respect to the voters. That’s something that Williams just doesn’t seem to understand, but Butkovitz gets high marks for caring about. By debating his opponents in both the primary and general, Butkovitz isn’t just talking the talk. He’s walking the walk. A victory for the democracy.

Challenger Terry Tracy seemed glad to have this opportunity. “I look forward to the opportunity to debate Alan and talk about the critical issues that revolve around this office and have a direct impact on Philadelphians’ lives,” Tracy told me via a phone interview. “I think all those that are seeking to serve the public in a political office have a responsibility to engage in high minded civic conversation. I encourage the "4th Estate" -- the media -- to give all such parties the opportunity to do just that.”

Not everyone is so lucky.

Last year, when I and two other challengers in Philadelphia ran for U.S. Congress, we were all shut out. Our opponents refused to debate any of us. So I’d say Terry Tracy is pretty lucky – he’s getting 3 more debates than all three of the local Congressional challengers combined.

I said to the Inquirer then as I will say to all of you now. "It is the only opportunity that the public and the media get to see the two candidates side-by-side, measure their intelligence, measure their truthfulness, measure their wit, measure their ability to conduct themselves without any outside help,"

At least our governor across the river knows that.

John Featherman
About this blog
John Featherman is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about politics and consumer-related issues. Reach John at john@featherman.com.

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