Taubenberger takes on Nutter in a final debate

Democrat Michael Nutter and Republican Al Taubenberger faced off in the final debate of the Philadelphia mayoral race yesterday, agreeing more than disagreeing.

Both said that they would prohibit two proposed casinos from being built within 1,500 feet of homes; that Mayor Street did not deserve Time magazine's 2005 designation as one of America's worst mayors; that the Department of Licenses and Inspections should be reformed; and that they would plant hundreds of thousands of trees.

But they did manage to disagree on several matters, politely, as they have throughout this most unusual of campaigns, during a one-hour live debate on NBC10's Live at Issue program.

The election is tomorrow.

Taubenberger said the city was wrong to demand that the Boy Scouts of America's Cradle of Liberty Council pay $200,000 a year "fair market" rent for the city-owned land on Logan Square where its headquarters building sits because of scouting's national ban on homosexual members.

The city has rented the land to the scouts for $1 a year since 1928 but has been reevaluating that break because the ban against openly gay scouts runs afoul of the city's antidiscrimination ordinance.

"They do too much good," Taubenberger said of the scouts, adding that the organization "keeps kids safe and off the streets" during a time of rampant gun violence.

"This is something that can be worked out," he said.

Nutter, however, said that it was a matter of principle and that the council must pay a market-rate rent.

"We either believe in civil rights and human rights and respect the dignity of every person in the city, or we don't," he said. "In my administration, we will not subsidize discrimination."

He said the council could keep its token rent by changing its policy, noting that some local scouting organizations have broken with the national leadership on the issue. The council has said it cannot buck the policy without losing its official charter.

At another point, Taubenberger said he would "take a serious look" at scrapping the city's residency requirement for public employees. "People ought to be here of their own free will," he said. "Why have a Berlin Wall?"

Nutter said he would keep the residency requirement for those who are hired by the city but would allow outside residents to take the tests to qualify for city jobs without moving into Philadelphia. Currently, people must live for one year in the city before becoming eligible to compete for municipal jobs.

Taubenberger also continued, as he has throughout the campaign, to criticize Nutter's proposal to allow police to "stop and frisk" people suspected of carrying illegal firearms, as part of a targeted plan to reduce homicides and shootings.

The Republican said the policy could cause some officers to "cross the line" and violate civil rights, as well as make people feel they are being "singled out" for harassment. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, Taubenberger said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

Taubenberger said he would prefer to hire 600 new police officers and increase the use of surveillance cameras.

Nutter said opposition to his policy, including Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson's contention that it would be a disaster, amounted to a hang-up over semantics.

"How about 'Stop Killing People?' We could call it that," Nutter said. "If people want to change the name . . . that's fine with me. What I'm interested in is results - whatever gets more weapons off the streets of Philadelphia legally and constitutionally."

Taubenberger calls himself a "super-underdog," given the city's domination by Democrats. Nutter has raised $7 million for his campaign, while Taubenberger has garnered $120,000, and a poll two weeks ago found him trailing Nutter by more than 60 percentage points.

Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.