9 memorable moments from Philly’s mayoral debates and forums

 At an April mayoral debate held at St. Joseph's University, Nelson Diaz made a memorable quip about legalizing marijuana. (Stephanie Aaronson/via The Next Mayor partnership)

At an April mayoral debate held at St. Joseph's University, Nelson Diaz made a memorable quip about legalizing marijuana. (Stephanie Aaronson/via The Next Mayor partnership)

Since speaking before the Business Association of West Parkside on Feb. 19, the six Democratic candidates embarked on a campaign schedule that saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 mayoral forums and debates.

That works out to roughly one such event a day over the past three months. And yes, as you may have already heard, that is a lot of forum-ing.

While the candidates have told NinetyNine that they welcomed the chance to meet as many voters as possible, from a coverage standpoint, the events have offered a litany of moments on which to focus.

Here are nine such moments:

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1. Business Association of West Parkside mayoral forum (Feb. 19): Right out of the gate, candidates Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney got into a tiff about the pension system. Specifically, “Abraham questioned the wisdom of a 2007 law change championed by then-councilman Kenney that required the city’s pension fund ‘regardless of how underfunded it might be … to share some of its good fortune with retirees if it manages to outperform its investment goals.'” Kenney then seized the opportunity to fire back with a response regarding the controversial DROP program, namely Abraham’s $371,000 DROP payment.

2. Next Great City Philadelphia Mayoral Forum (March 3): What was memorable about this relatively tame forum, held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during the flower show? It marked one of few times that an attendee hijacked the room’s attention, if only for a moment. When the candidates were asked about clean water, an audience member answered with a “Ban Fracking Now” soft scream. Order was quickly restored.

3. Al Dia’s mayoral-conversation forum (March 30): In response to a direct question about police/community relations, candidate Doug Oliver said, “The sad truth is that the police have good reason to fear black men” and that “black men do have reason to be fearful of police at times,” noting that the trust-rebuilding responsibilities lie with both sides of that dynamic. What ensued in subsequent days was a pitched discussion about race and police, which Solomon Jones more deeply explored in a Philadelphia Experiment post for NewsWorks.

4. Chamber of Commerce/NBC10 debate (April 7): Ten minutes into the first of three televised mayoral debates, candidate Lynne Abraham fainted on stage. Despite some tense moments as cameras cut away, Abraham quickly recovered after a doctor treated her offstage. She said she was suffering from low blood pressure and toted a big bottle of Vitamin Water along with her when she embarked on a long day of campaigning the next morning. She also refuted whispers that held it was a moment that damaged her prospects of victory.

5. WHYY/Perjerdel Council Mayor Forum (April 15): During a forum designed to examine the candidates’ leadership qualities, the topic of how T. Milton Street Sr. would have handled the 1985 MOVE situation was broached. And just how would Milton have handled it? “I would have had enough guts to have gone there and talked to ’em. [Former Mayor Wilson Goode] was afraid. I’d have gone out there and said, ‘Bring your butt out here. Let’s talk.’ You know, I knew Delbert Africa; all of em. They were not people who you couldn’t talk to. You know, now, they didn’t smell too good, but you still had to go there and talk to them.”

6. Fox29 Mayoral Debate (April 23): During the quick-fire round at the second televised debate of the campaign season, candidates were asked whether they supported the legalization of marijuana, which was the questioner’s way of bringing Jim Kenney’s marijuana decriminalization bill into play. And, what did candidate Nelson Diaz jokingly say? “I want some, yes.” That debate also featured a dust-up about gun violence between Kenney and Anthony Hardy Williams.

7. WHYY’s Leading Questions debate (April 27): Kenney was asked whether “controversial union leader John Dougherty” would have undue influence on him as mayor. Kenney responded that wouldn’t, but Williams and Diaz took verbal shots at their opponent, even suggesting there were ethics violations involved. Kenney then brought up Williams support from “three hedge-fund billionaires who want to privatize public education.” Yep, things got chippy that day.

8. Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement mayoral forum (May 4): In one of the campaign’s most poignant moments, the candidates were asked about police/community relations in the wake of  Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore. When it came time for candidate Doug Oliver to respond, he did so with two questions of his own for the dozens of students inside the auditorium: Show of hands, how many of you consider police to be your friends, and how many of you do not consider police to your friends? To the first question, fewer than five hands rose; to the second, more than 60. It was a stunning moment.

9. Next Mayor Philly debate (May 4): Police/community relations remained a topic of conversation at a debate held the same night as the Rendell Center forum. The question: Is Philly really Baltimore, as the name of local protests maintained? After Kenney reiterated his thought that city police officers should learn civil-rights history (particularly that of Selma, Ala.), Williams angrily shot back. “That is insulting to a generation who know the significance of Selma,” he said, before declaring that his opponent’s marijuana decriminalization effort “is not about some kid smoking weed … who has to pee in a cup and then get fired. This is about the truth. The truth is we need to take action, not talk about it.”

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