Debate? In the governor’s race, they vote for beer

JIM Gardner’s not even finished announcing the ground rules, and the first buck is in the jukebox at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk.

The last debate in the fiercest mayoral election campaign in memory is on TV – an ideal opportunity for Philadelphians to listen to the candidates, to get a feel for their political views, to watch them get nasty.

To drink beer and listen to the Rolling Stones. “Who wants to watch this junk?” says the guy behind a mug of lager. Well, actually, I did. Or, more accurately, I wanted to watch the barroom watch the debate. Yet, at Manayunk’s neighborhood corner bars, there seemed little interest in the debate.

At Cheese’s, Ridge and Terrace, all five TVs were tuned to a rerun of “Friends.” At the Old Eagle, at Terrace and Markle, they were watching “Seinfeld ” and getting ready for the World Series. And at Grill’s, Terrace and Salaignac, they were watching “Sanford & Son.”

Said Henry the bartender: “I’d rather watch Fred. He makes more sense.”

At Dawson Street, “The Simpsons” usually are on the tube at this hour. This is the kind of bar where the reg’lars recite Marge’s dialog and relate to Homer in a real and personal way.

When I ask Jake the bartender to switch channels to the debate, he’s OK (I tip pretty good), but the rest of the room gives me the kind of groan that’s usually reserved for stale beer and soggy pretzels. Rather than argue, though, the guy with the lager stands up and hits the juke.

“I’m a monkey,” goes Mick Jagger.

“Who really cares?” wonders Maxine from Mount Airy. “I mean, I care, I guess. But nobody really cares about the election. “I don’t really think it’s that interesting.”

Not interesting? The mayor’s under a federal investigation and John Ashcroft of the Evil Empire is coming to town!

“Yeah, well,” says Maxine, taking a sip from her Bloody Mary, “I don’t think Mayor Street did something wrong.”

The Stones get louder, and Jake finally gets the closed-caption to work. Street is saying something about how nobody’s ever questioned his integrity.

“I guess he doesn’t read the newspaper,” laughs Dave Wilby, the owner. But Wilby doesn’t want to hear about FBI bugs in the mayor’s office or lawsuits against Katz – the topics that dominated last night’s debate.

“Those are non-issues,” he says. “Neither of the candidates should have to debate pending court cases. What they really should be talking about is urban blight, the state of the school district.”

Not that anyone in a barroom would care to listen. *

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