For the first time in the gubernatorial campaign, the Democratic candidates showed some energy during a debate, directly challenging each other on the issues during a forum aired this evening on WITF-TV.
Senator Anthony Williams and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel had several lively exchanges, including a back-and-forth on whether Hoeffel would pledge to bar campaign contributors from winning state contracts or serving in his administration.
Hoeffel said he wouldn’t take Williams’ pledge.
The two also tangled on school vouchers. Williams is a strong supporter of subsidizing poorer and middle class children’s private educations with state money, but Hoeffel says that would undermine public schools. “What’s going to be left? What public school’s going to survive if the kids leave?” asked Hoeffel. “I’m going to worry about the child, and not the district,” responded Williams. “That’s the difference. For you, I think you believe in systems that are job employment places. But you don’t worry about — suppose somebody’s not doing their job?”
“You’ve got to have a public school that’s good covering every neighborhood in Pennsylvania,” said Hoeffel. “Survival of the fittest in public education would be a disaster.”
The forum featured several unscripted moments, as well. At one point host Nell McCormack Abom asked the candidates to name a mistake they had learned from. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato couldn’t think of one.
Onorato had another rocky moment early in the forum, when Abom asked the candidates to pose questions directly to each other. The request seemed to take Onorato by surprise, and it took him an uncomfortable 16 seconds before he came up with a question.
The debate was held hours after the latest Quinnipiac University poll found most Democratic voters still have no idea who’s running. Onorato leads the latest survey with 20 percent, but nearly half of likely voters are still undecided, and seven in ten say they’re open to changing their minds between now and election day.