ERIE, Pa. - The city of Erie's comprehensive plan is something that will likely drive the next mayor's agenda. But it won't be the focus of Republican nominee, Jon Whaley. The first priority for the Erie businessman and former aide to current mayor Joe Sinnott, if elected, is reorganizing city hall -- cutting or privatizing some city programs, to save money.

"I understand the budget fully," said Whaley, "and like it or not, hard choices or not, things have to be done better and differently."

His opponent, attorney John Persinger, supports the comprehensive plan. But the 35-year-old Harvard graduate and former White House aide to George W. Bush believes supporting Erie's Public Schools is the biggest issue facing the next administration.

"If we don't have a great public school system in the city, it's game over," said Persinger, who practices at the MacDonald Illig firm. "No one will want to live here, no one's going to want to move here, no business is going to want to invest here."

The two nominees differed on some other key areas.

Whaley -- while crediting current Erie Police Chief, Don Dacus -- is calling for a nationwide search for a new police chief who's successfully fought crime and violence. Whaley also wants to implement a controversial policing tactic.

"I'm all for the Terry Stop, otherwise known as 'stop and frisk'," Whaley said during the 30-minute forum. It was the second forum in as many days hosted by Erie News Now, the Erie Times-News and Mercyhurst University. Seven Democratic candidates running for their party's nomination for Erie mayor met Wednesday night.

Persinger is relying what's called the "Broken Windows Theory" and "Broken Windows Policing," which calls for increased policing and combating less-serious crime in neighborhoods before the disorder leads to more serious crimes being committed.

"It sends a signal that the city won't be lawless, and it discourages crime," he said during the third topic on social issues.

Erie hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1961 when Charles Williamson won. He served one term through 1965.

Despite past history and facing a 2-to-1 Democratic voter majority in the city, both candidates not only feel they win not only on May 16, but in November as well.

"What we plan on doing is entirely different than the Democrats," said Whaley.

"They (voters) are hungry for a change," said Persinger. "They want the best candidate to tackle these issues."