In latest debate, Bailey, Kenney trade jabs - at presidential candidates

Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey and Democrat Jim Kenney face off during Mayoral Debate at Temple University, Monday, October 19, 2015. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The candidates in the Philadelphia mayor's race, so far a sleepy affair, seemed much more inclined to bash politicians seeking the presidency than each other during their third debate Monday evening.

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney, a Democrat, shook his head when discussing what some Republicans seeking their party's nomination have said about women.

"When Donald Trump is leading in the national polls for the Republican Party, I'd be concerned about being a Republican," Kenney said, drawing a smattering of applause from the audience of about 200 people at Temple University.

Melissa Murray Bailey, a Republican for just 10 months and now her party's nominee for mayor, trained her fire on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's controversial use of a private computer server for her government emails.

"I just think we're putting someone on a pedestal who defied all the laws, and did it their own way," Bailey said.

Both candidates demurred when asked whether they had a personal favorite for president.

Kenney complimented Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Vice President Biden, who is still considering whether to enter the Democratic presidential contest.

Bailey praised the GOP field for its diversity, drawing some guffaws from the crowd. She singled out Carly Fiorina for praise, saying she admired how the former Hewlett Packard chief executive was willing to "get her hands dirty."

On local issues, Kenney and Bailey covered what has become familiar ground in the fall campaign, speaking about positions they have expressed in previous debates and events.

Kenney continued to push the notion of expanding the Port of Philadelphia to create blue-collar jobs for city residents.

Bailey took one shot at Kenney, noting that members of the Holt family, whose company runs the port's Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, were "significant contributors" to Kenney's campaign.

Kenney offered no rejoinder. Indeed, he stuck to his campaign script and took no shots at Bailey, even when asked directly about her proposals to change the city's personal and business tax structure.

"I'm here to talk about things that are doable," the Democrat said. "I'm not going to critique any other candidate."

The debate was sponsored by The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, along with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Temple's Center for Public Interest Journalism. Inquirer staff writers Chris Hepp and Diane Mastrull posed questions for the candidates.

Kenney and Bailey found some common ground when asked about extracting more concessions from Comcast Corp., which is trying to negotiate an extension of the cable giant's 15-year franchise agreement with the city.

Bailey said she would push the company to open more customer call centers in Philadelphia. "When we're talking about people who are unemployed or underemployed, call centers are great because the training is all there," she said.

Kenney said he would seek improvements to Comcast's Internet Essentials program, which provides low-cost access to the Web for people who otherwise cannot afford it.

"A lot of people won't even use it because it's so slow and frustrating," Kenney said of the program. "If families and their children can't access the Internet, they're doomed."

Kenney, 57, served on City Council from 1991 until January, when he resigned to enter the six-candidate Democratic primary election for mayor. On May 19, Kenney, who lives in Old City, won that race with 56 percent of the vote.

Bailey, 36, is a newcomer to politics and Philadelphia. She grew up South Jersey, lived in Singapore and Australia, and moved to Society Hill three years ago.

Bailey, who works for a consulting firm that helps companies attract employees, switched her registration from Democratic to Republican in January and ran unopposed in the GOP mayoral primary.

Three other mayoral candidates - Jim Foster and Boris Kindij, both independents, and Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party - were not invited to participate in Monday's debate.

The trio was invited to the first of four debates and have protested the decision to keep them out of the other three events.

The final debate will be taped by 6ABC on Friday and broadcast on Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan

Inquirer staff writer Claudia Vargas contributed to this article.