But Biggest Issue in Tuesday Election Is Problem of Trash : Goode and Rizzo Vie Against Their Pasts in Philadelphia Mayor Race

October 31, 1987|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — The two men who want to be mayor of this city are running as much against their pasts as against each other.

Incumbent Mayor W. Wilson Goode, a Democrat, cannot escape memories of his Police Department's 1985 bombing of a house occupied by the radical cult MOVE. Eleven people died, 61 houses were destroyed in the ensuing fire and Goode was left looking weak and indecisive.

Frank L. Rizzo, a 67-year-old Democrat turned Republican, remains saddled by his image as a bigoted, bullying cop and two-term mayor, who once failed a lie-detector test amid charges of corruption.

Central Issue Is Trash

The biggest issue in next Tuesday's election--some say the only real issue--is trash, another problem from the past.

Goode, 49, who was mayor last year when striking blue-collar workers let tons of garbage pile up, now says that building a trash-to-steam plant is the way to solve the city's long-term garbage problems. Rizzo says a regional authority ought to build such a plant.

Goode defeated Rizzo in a 1983 primary contest and probably would be an easy victor Tuesday if the MOVE tragedy had not occurred. Downtown, or Center City, as it is called here, hums with new construction, and unemployment is at a 10-year low of 5.9%. At the same time, Republicans probably would have a better chance with a candidate less controversial than Rizzo.

Many people here say that no matter who wins the election, the city will wind up with a problem.

"Let's face it," said Dorothy Wartman, director of a program for senior citizens, "neither of them is a good candidate. They're both handicapped by the past."

Low Voter Turnout Seen

Jack Nagel, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, who has a longstanding interest in political contests here, said the handicaps have caused many voters to say "a pox on both their houses." Political observers here are predicting unusually low voter turnout, about 60%.

Nevertheless, in the final days before the election, both candidates--like men trying to outrun their shadows--are dashing about in an effort to recast their images.

Last Wednesday, Rizzo, a hefty man and the son of Italian immigrants, told a small group of elderly citizens that he wanted to win in a "last hurrah," that he would solve the trash problem and that, among other changes, he would ensure that more workingwomen had access to day-care facilities.

"We're going to make the city safe again," Rizzo said in an appeal that was low-key compared to his pronouncements on law and order back in the 1960s, when he burst onto the national scene as the police commissioner who showed up at trouble spots carrying a night stick.

As a policeman for 28 years and as mayor from 1972 to 1980, Rizzo--to black people and liberal white people--was synonymous with police brutality. They still recall that he once said he would "make Attila the Hun look like a faggot."

Campaign Tactics Hit

James W. Baumbach, Rizzo's campaign spokesman, accused Goode's supporters of making a "caricature" of Rizzo, asserting that "we really try to talk about the future."

A year after the MOVE bombing, Goode, the city's first black mayor, called for "a time for healing and renewal," but clearly the wounds remain.

Even the executive director of the state Democratic Committee, Mark Schreiber, concedes that the police bombing of the MOVE building remains "an albatross around Goode's neck."

The most enduring line from the only mayoral debate Oct. 6 was Rizzo's: "Frank Rizzo never killed 11 people." The next most memorable line: Goode's description of Rizzo as "a certified liar," reminding voters of the 1973 polygraph test.

On Wednesday, Goode was still trying to put MOVE behind him, telling a small luncheon gathering of key supporters that a victory Tuesday would be an "absolutely liberating experience" that would allow him to be a "courageous leader."

Philadelphia Democrats outnumber Republicans almost three to one. But analysts expect race to be a factor, and whites outnumber black voters 513,000 to 357,000, with 50,000 other minorities registered. Analysts say Goode needs about 18% of the white vote to win.

Goode is ahead in practically every poll, his lead ranging from 5 to 18 percentage points, but Rizzo strategists said their surveys show a group of voters who are not saying who will get their votes and that Rizzo will win this group.

Sandra Featherman, a political scientist at Temple University, believes the race will be closer than most polls indicate. "Apparently some voters are lying about their vote," she said, noting that Rizzo won the Republican primary after pollsters predicted his defeat.

Still, she said: "I'd put my money on Goode, but I'd also worry a lot about the weather."

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