Goode's competence issue in primary race

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Philadelphia's image suffers from a paradox, and it is likely to be a factor in tomorrow's mayoral primary. On one hand there is new development and a revived economy, epitomized by the appearance of skyscrapers in the city. On the other, there is the unforgettable picture of a neighborhood burned to the ground in the 1985 MOVE confrontation, an image that made front pages around the world.

Voters here no doubt will have these two images in mind when they go to the polls. And, despite a general effort to keep it in the background, the issue of race will also be a factor in the City of Brotherly Love.

Mayor W. Wilson Goode, who was elected the city's first black mayor nearly four years ago on a tide of goodwill and hope, faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from Edward G. Rendell, a liberal former Philadelphia district attorney, who charges that Mr. Goode's mismanagement has hurt the city.

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And on the Republican side, former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo is trying to revive his power base after switching parties. He is being closely chased by John J. Egan Jr., former chairman of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.

Polls show Goode ahead in the Democratic campaign, and most observers predict he will go on to reelection in the fall. But Goode's critics and investigative bodies looking into the MOVE incident have attacked his administration as inept. The two daily newspapers have declined to endorse him.

``The issue is, simply, incompetence,'' says Jack Nagel, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dissent over resource recovery plans, a perception that city services are deteriorating, and housing woes combine with the trauma of the MOVE tragedy to tarnish Goode's image in some people's eyes.

Others say there are few actual issues at stake. Goode and Mr. Rendell do not differ greatly on substance.

``I think people will vote far more on the perception of style,'' says Sandra Featherman, director of the Center for Public Policy at Temple University, who also sees race as a significant undercurrent.

Supporters say Goode has accomplished some major items in his first term. Sierra Romendesz, a student who lives in West Philadelphia, says she will vote for the mayor. There are more jobs in the city, she says.

Goode supporter Lucien E. Blackwell, a City Council ally, says the mayor stands head and shoulders above recent mayors.

``I think he's been a fairly decent mayor,'' says Mr. Blackwell, who ticks off cable television, plans for a new justice center, no tax raises, and a somewhat steamlined government as major accomplishments. He admits the mayor has had weak spots.

But ``he's done a number of things - big-dollar items - that others couldn't do,'' Blackwell says. ``Take [the MOVE incident] away, and they'd be afraid to run against him.

Indeed, part of Goode's dilemma, Professor Nagel says, is that he had an ambitious agenda and expectations were high. It is almost natural that he would lose some support, Nagel adds.

Rendell, who last year ran unsuccessfully for governor, was popular as a district attorney. He accuses the mayor of leading the city into defeatism. People have given up on government, Rendell says, and he promises he will dig in to help Philadelphia turn around.

There have been some complaints about negative campaigning in the race. Rendell's campaign ran an ad that showed the homes burning in the MOVE incident. The mayor's campaign ran some ads focusing on traffic tickets that were fixed for Rendell while he was district attorney; Rendell has admitted a mistake.

Political observers say voter turnout will be a key part of the election tomorrow. While Goode leads Rendell 55 percent to 35 percent in a poll by KRC/Research last week, with 10 percent undecided, a good chunk of his support is in the black community. He will do well, says Blackwell, if there is a good turnout among blacks, combined with support from some liberal whites.

But others predict that voter turnout may be down. Many people are ``severely conflicted'' about the race, Nagel says. Blacks, he says, would find it hard to vote against Goode, even if they were unhappy with him. White liberals and moderates have similar tensions. So some may simply stay away from the polls.

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