Last Wednesday, May 8, more than 150 people turned up for a candidates night sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors and the evening’s host, New Covenant Church in Mt. Airy.

More than 52 candidates for judge, sheriff, register of wills, city council at-large, city commissioner and mayor attended the event, which I had the honor to moderate.

The order of the evening, to give community members the opportunity to get to know more about people running for the city’s most important offices in approximately two hours, was a tall one. In fact, the evening pushed just past the two-and-a-half-hour mark.

While keeping to a schedule was a challenge, the evening went well. There’s only so much you can learn about candidates in a combined three to five minutes of responses to a few questions, but organizers reported that many attendees were happy for the chance.

Northwest Philadelphia residents – and residents across the city – have some very important choices to make, including the guy (there are no women running this time) at the top. Incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney did not attend the candidate’s forum, but his two Democratic challengers, Anthony Williams and Alan Butkovitz, made it clear that they both believe the current mayor is not doing enough.

Philadelphia’s poverty rate has led big cities across the U.S. at a stubborn 26%. The homicide rate has been surging after years of decline. At issue is the state of an ever more unpopular 10-year tax abatement on new construction and Kenney’s soda tax. Both Butkovitz and Williams would work to repeal the tax and want the abatement targeted to only those who need it the most.

Those themes – onerous taxes, stubborn poverty rates and distressed public schools – carried over into the panels for the many candidates running for city council at-large. Incumbents Helen Gym, Derek Green and David Oh were joined by 13 of the 41 total candidates running for the seven available seats. Seven candidates are Republicans, who get two of the minority party seats as directed by the city’s charter.

While each candidate expressed differences in their priorities and offered variations on possible solutions, there was actually substantial common ground. Most striking, perhaps, is that all – even the few Republicans in the group – expressed the need for more funding for the city’s schools. It’s at least one issue where all political flavors in the city agree.

The primary election is on Tuesday, May 21. And, as has often been said in this space and elsewhere, the primary election in this very Democratic city is almost always the deciding election. Use our helpful list on Page 3 to find your polling place. To learn more about the candidates, find the comprehensive voting guides compiled by both the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY, both online and a Google search away (the links are too long to offer here in print).

Whoever you vote for, just be sure to vote.

Pete Mazzaccaro