White, Darragh clash in first and only debate

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Residents of the 170th Legislative District last week had a chance to see state Rep. Martina White and challenger Matt Darragh differ in a debate on issues such as abortion, school funding, sanctuary cities and the presidential candidates.

White, a Republican, and Darragh, a Democrat, debated on Oct. 27 in the Somerton Youth Organization gym.

White, a Somerton native, was a financial adviser when won a special election last year to replace Democrat Brendan Boyle, who was elected to Congress. She won almost 56 percent of the vote against Sarah DelRicci, who sat in the front row at last week’s debate.

Darragh, a 66th Ward committeeman since 2006 and former intern for then-state Sen. Mike Stack, has a law degree and is a liquor store examiner for the auditor general’s office. He is making his first bid for office.

Both candidates live in Parkwood and have significant union support, with White perhaps having the edge because of her backing from unions representing police officers and firefighters.

At the debate, the candidates clashed on the same topics that voters have seen in mailings, newspaper ads and TV commercials. They insist the other is lying about their views.

“I’ve never met Chaka Fattah. I wish him well in prison,” Darragh said of his fellow Democrat, recently convicted of corruption charges.

On abortion, Darragh is pro-choice and White is pro-life. Both accuse the other of being extremists on the issue.

Darragh owns a home and notes that White is a renter. He said one of the things that makes the Northeast great is its relatively high percentage of homeowners.

“I made that investment. I made that choice,” he said. “I feel great about the future of Northeast Philadelphia.”

White plans to buy a home.

“I’m saving and looking,” she said.

Darragh faults White for using tax dollars for private schools. And he accuses her of being a Donald Trump supporter.

“She puts politics ahead of governing. We need to do better,” he said.

During her time in office, White has hosted community cleanups, a kids fest and senior citizen dances. She’s sponsored two pieces of legislation that have generated strong support along with some opposition.

The House and Senate have sent to Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that would prohibit municipalities from releasing the names of police officers involved in a discharge of their firearm or other use of force while an investigation is ongoing.

“They can be criminals coming after our local law enforcement officers,” she said.

Darragh is OK with the bill.

The other bill deals with sanctuary cities. It would hold cities and municipalities liable for damages caused by illegal immigrants and deny certain grants to cities that don’t turn over illegals to federal officials.

A protester twice interrupted the debate by holding a sign that read, “Stop TrumpMartina. No HB 1885.” The woman said, “We are humans,” before a man ripped the sign out of her hands, and the debate continued.

Darragh said he opposes “unauthorized legislation,” but thinks White’s bill could leave the city open to lawsuits and doubts it will deter crime.

White calls her bill “common-sense legislation.”

“We don’t want criminals walking amongst our citizenry,” she said.

Republicans hold a 119–84 advantage in the House of Representatives, and White believes she’ll be more effective working with fellow GOP Reps. John Taylor and Tom Murt to advance the city’s interests.

“I work with Democrats and Republicans. I get the job done,” she said. “I stand up for the people of Northeast Philadelphia.”

Darragh opposes vouchers that would divert money from public to private schools. He said public schools are reeling from past Republican cuts.

A member of the Stephen Decatur Elementary School advisory council, he favors abolishing the School Reform Commission.

“We need a local school board,” he said.

White said she has voted for money for public schools and Education Improvement Tax Credits for private schools.

As for the presidential election, Darragh said he wished Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren had run. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. In the general election, he said Hillary Clinton is “the only sane choice for president of the United States.”

White said Clinton showed a lack of respect for Donald Trump supporters when she said half of them are in what she calls a “basket of deplorables.” She has denounced some of Trump’s comments and said her vote for president is a private decision.

“I have not endorsed any candidate for president,” she said.

Both candidates favor increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hours, with Darragh adding that he would index the rate to inflation so it rises over the years.

If elected, Darragh said he would not accept per diems, which some lawmakers have used to enrich themselves while in office.

White does not take per diems or paid lunches.

“Does anybody pay for lunch when you go to work? No,” she said. ••

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Head to head: State Rep. Martina White and challenger Matt Darragh debate the issues on Oct. 27 in the Somerton Youth Organization gym. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO