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Big drama in at-large race

On Tuesday, 11 candidates will be vying for seven City Council at-large seats.

The five Democratic incumbents — Jim Kenney, Wilson Goode Jr., Blondell Reynolds Brown, Bill Greenlee and Bill Green — are all but guaranteed another four years because their party has a voter-registration advantage of more than 6 to 1 over Republicans.

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Actually, for Green, it’ll probably be a term of about two and a half years, since he is widely expected to resign to run for mayor in 2015.

The race also includes independent Richard Johnson, but he is not expected to be a factor.

The real race is for the two seats guaranteed to the minority party by the city charter. Republicans have settled for those seats for 60 years. The candidates are Joe McColgan, Denny O’Brien, David Oh, Al Taubenberger and Michael Untermeyer.

Here is a look at the candidates:

• Joe McColgan, 49, of East Torresdale, finished third in the nine-person primary and later declined overtures from some to switch to the mayoral race. He is a two-time congressional candidate, losing in 1990 and ’96 to then-Rep. Bob Borski. He is a U.S. Navy veteran who earned an MBA from Villanova University and has worked in the financial services industry.

His campaign has not officially released polling, but is spreading word that a large survey of likely Republican voters show him trailing only O’Brien, with Taubenberger third, Oh fourth and Untermeyer fifth.

He has been endorsed by the police and firefighters unions.

He was a vocal critic of former School District of Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman and has called for the elimination of the School Reform Commission and creation of smaller school districts and an elected school board. Philadelphia is the only one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and 501 school districts that does not have an elected school board.

He has declared his opposition to Councilwoman Marian Tasco’s bid to become Council president, citing her enrollment in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Tasco will collect $478,057 in retirement money in January but stay on the job and collect her full salary.

McColgan would refuse to accept a city pension or vehicle.

He describes Philadelphia as a great city that is “taxed too much and educated too little.”

“The problem is, it doesn’t have great leadership.”

He’d serve only two four-year terms and would limit Council members to three terms.

“If nothing else, it would bring new ideas to the city of Philadelphia,” he said.

• Denny O’Brien, 59, of Millbrook, was the runner-up in the primary despite not having the party endorsement. He was first elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1976. He served two terms, then lost a close congressional primary in 1980. He won back his former seat in 1982 and has coasted to re-election ever since. In fact, Democrats haven’t even run a candidate against him since 1998.

He defeated fellow Republican John Perzel to become speaker during the 2007–08 session. Democrats held the majority but couldn’t agree on a candidate for speaker, so most of them joined with several anti-Perzel Republicans to elevate him. Democrats controlled every committee under him, but eventually dumped him for the 2009–10 session after electing one of their own as speaker.

Most political observers expect him to be the top Republican vote-getter next week. If he somehow loses, he’ll face a dilemma, since the 169th Legislative District was moved on Monday to York County. A special election will be held in the new 169th, assuming he wins the Council seat.

He lives in the 66th Ward, 43rd Division, which is scheduled to be moved into the 173rd Legislative District. If he loses the Council race and runs for re-election, he’d square off against Democratic Rep. Mike McGeehan in what would be an epic showdown.

He is best known for his advocacy of children with disabilities.

“We cannot afford not to be for the most vulnerable.”

Other focuses of his over the years have been health care, education, criminal justice and youth organizations.

“I’m very passionate about what I do. I think my advocacy separates me from everybody else. I am not going to be a back-bencher.”

He has been endorsed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the police and firefighters unions.

• David Oh, 51, of Southwest Philadelphia, topped the primary field. He also sought an at-large seat in 2003 and ’07, losing narrowly to Councilman Jack Kelly, who is retiring.

He is a lawyer, ward leader and former assistant district attorney who has served on the boards of, among others, Nazareth Hospital and Nazareth Academy High School.

“The response has been very favorable,” he said of voters’ reactions to his current bid.

During the campaign, he apologized for any confusion or misimpression he created when he erroneously described himself as a Special Forces-qualified Green Beret or Special Forces Officer. In fact, he was a 2nd lieutenant assigned to a National Guard Special Forces unit. The Roxborough-based Review newspaper called for him to leave the race.

He is proud to be endorsed by the United Veterans Council.

Crime increases and quality of life decreases when there is a lack of jobs, he believes. He wants the city’s tax structure to be “smart” and “stable” for businesses and residents.

“We have to see to it that our existing employers can pay their employees, and new opportunities come to our city so we can crank up the economy.”

He plans to be a hard worker and accessible to residents of all neighborhoods.

“I believe we’re one city, that together as a city of neighborhoods, the sum is greater than the parts.”

He has enjoyed meeting people during all three campaigns and is hoping for a big celebration on Tuesday night at McGillin’s Old Ale House in Center City.

“I’m hoping they give me chance to represent them and, given the opportunity, I will do the best I can.”

Among those endorsing him is Democratic Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez.

• Al Taubenberger, 58, of Fox Chase, finished fourth in the primary. He’s the longtime president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the Burholme Community Town Watch and Civic Association. He lost Republican congressional primaries in 2004 and ’06 and was the GOP candidate for mayor in 2007.

He has released a poll showing him running neck-and-neck with O’Brien and Oh. His strongest support comes from Republicans, according to the poll, which also suggests Oh could be hurt by the military issue.

He has criticized Oh for being the attorney for Burholme’s Purple Orchid go-go bar, which was trying to reopen following the arrest of a manager on drug charges.

“There are differences among the candidates.”

He believes he is uniquely qualified to be an at-large councilman because of his past employment as a district Council aide and his roots in community activism. One focus would be abandoned houses.

“Our neighborhoods are worth fighting for.”

He said the actual value initiative could be “disastrous” for city property owners. The initiative is scheduled to be implemented next year and would assess properties at their market rate. Council would set the millage rate to determine yearly real estate taxes.

Mayor Michael Nutter recently appointed him to the Philadelphia Jobs Commission, and he is proud of his assistance in helping the Agusta helicopter manufacturer grow to 600 employees at its Red Lion Road site. He plans to be an advocate for small business in Council and to oppose any future legislation to raise the tax on sugary drinks.

Former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, a Democrat from Bustleton, has endorsed him.

Taubenberger has vowed to oppose Marian Tasco for the Council presidency because of her enrollment in DROP.

• Michael Untermeyer, 60, of Old City, was fifth in the primary despite being unendorsed. Having the top ballot position helped. He’s a real estate developer and lawyer who has spent 15 years as a prosecutor and counsel in the governor’s inspector general’s office. He ran in the 2007 Democratic primary for sheriff and was the Republican candidate for district attorney in 2009.

He’d sell Philadelphia Gas Works, golf courses and maybe the airport. He’s give businesses a 20-percent tax credit for two years for each new employee.

“I want to be your fiscal watchdog,” he told voters at a recent forum. “The city should get out of the business of running businesses.”

He is running on a message that Council members need to wake up.

“I think City Council is asleep.”

He rails against no-bid contracts and the use of outside lawyers by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

“It’s fiscal insanity.”

DROP should be for police officers and firefighters only, in his opinion.

He’d have a zero tolerance policy for school violence.

“If you’re seven or seventeen, I’d have you out of the general school population that day. No second strike. No third strike.” ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com

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