Sunday, June 25, 2006

"It Used To Be A Greater City"

Raj presses crime issue in the Northeast Times.

Congressional candidate Raj Bhakta is inviting the community to attend upcoming "Save the Northeast" rallies.

Bhakta, the Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-13th dist.), held a news conference Friday afternoon at Frankford and Cottman avenues to discuss the rising crime rates in the Northeast.

The issue of crime will be a big part of the rallies, which will be scheduled soon. The campaign will also unveil a "Save the Northeast" bus.

Campaign workers have been standing on Roosevelt Boulevard and near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge with signs reading, "Honk to Save the Northeast."

Bhakta, a star on The Apprentice 2, decided to press the "Save the Northeast" theme after conversations with voters.

At the news conference, the challenger cited statistics compiled by the University of Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Information System project. He displayed charts that showed sharp increases in violent crime in Oxford Circle from 1998 to 2005 and aggravated assaults with guns in Mayfair and Oxford Circle during the same period.

Bhakta blamed Mayor John Street for resisting efforts to hire more police officers, adding that he thinks there is a manpower shortage in the Northeast police divisions.

"Northeast Philadelphia doesn’t get its fair share," he said.

The 30-year-old Republican, a Fort Washington resident who spent the first few years of his life in Northwood, also attributed the rising crime rates to new residents who, in his view, don’t value safety, cleanliness and civic-mindedness.

"John Street and Allyson Schwartz are very happy about that," he said.

Citywide, Bhakta pointed to statistics showing that Philadelphia’s rate of murders, rapes and aggravated assaults with guns is far higher than the national average.

"Philadelphia is a great city. It used to be a greater city," he said.

Bhakta, whose campaign is being filmed for a documentary, criticized Schwartz for staying silent when Street proposed cuts to the fire, police and recreation departments and temporarily closed the local mini-City Hall.

"I would stand up to John Street," he said.

The Schwartz campaign fired back, attacking the challenger for his two drunken-driving arrests, failed entrepreneurial ventures and missed votes.

"Raj has had multiple run-ins with the law, repeated business failures, and a history of not voting — the only achievement he has to stand on is having been voted off a reality TV show," said Rachel Magnuson, a spokeswoman for Schwartz.

"Compare that to Congresswoman Schwartz, someone who Northeast residents know they can count on. Allyson has fought for tough-on-crime bills, and she has delivered in her first term by securing millions to strengthen and secure Northeast Philadelphia, including $3.2 million to make Roosevelt Boulevard safer."

If elected, Bhakta would support increased federal funding for police officers.

He’d use the dollars that are being appropriated by the Department of Homeland Security to areas — such as Alaska, Montana and Nebraska — that he doesn’t view as security risks.

The candidate recalled when President Bill Clinton hired 100,000 new police officers after taking office in 1993.

"We need that same sort of action," he said. ••

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