In a jam-packed Center City co-working space, the sextet of Philadelphia Democratic mayoral candidates engaged in a lively (oft-Kafkaesque) “conversation” about an array of issues (including some for which Milton Street did not steal all the attention, which happened often on Monday night).
Hosted by AL DÍA News, the journalist-led forum featured many quirky and/or insightful moments including (in candidate last-name alphabetical order):
— Lynne Abraham on strained police/community relations: During her time as district attorney, she faced these issues and spoke with people in every neighborhood in the city and visited a wide array of religious centers including the mosques that “have let me in on occasion.” She also touched on how it’s understandable why some would prefer Uber to “dark, crummy” taxi cabs.
— Nelson Diaz on immigration and education issues: “Immigrants die to get here because you can get an education here.” Also, he brought the oratorical-subtweet thunder, noting that “it’s nice of people to start caring about the Latino community” now that it has a 40-percent poverty rate.
— Jim Kenney on his penchant for having blocked “rotten” people on Twitter: “It’s such a liberating feeling to go bye,” but having gone through a lengthy unblocking phase, he knows “I’ll need to do less blocking and more passing.” He also noted that he’s proud of helping create a “sanctuary city” dynamic in which people aren’t constantly fearful of deportation.
— Doug Oliver: In response to a direct question about police/community relations, Oliver stated, “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. He also said that he’d talk with the city council president, SEPTA and the Police Department about his mission of turning Philly into a 24-hour city.
— Milton Street: Where to start? Asked why he should be trusted in light of an article calling him a “serial liar,” he angrily threw the same accusation at the writer of that story. Then, he suggested moving random people into vacant properties as a means to flush out tax-delinquent owners. And added that it’s impossible to improve the image of a city where “three year olds get shot.” But “I whipped [that junkyard lawyer] good” in regards to the challenge filed against his candidacy drew the best reaction (even if he’d said it similarly before).
— Tony Williams on millennials (after a question which posited that he hasn’t paid much attention to that voting bloc): “I talk to a lot of millennials. The average age of campaign staff is 27. I’m down with millennials.” Asked how he’d pitch Philadelphia to international investors, in an elevator, through a translator, he leaned on the promise of the energy hub.
For the most part, the first 90 minutes of the conversation delivered a lively discussion amongst the candidates and journalists posing the questions (but for the oddity of politicians sometimes getting cut off mid-sentence by a moderator’s buzzer with no recompense.)
‘It all devolved from there’
The arrival of the 30-minute “speed round” marked the point when the session went “off the rails,” devolving into a vocal free-for-all.
Since I had to leave a few minutes early, WHYY’s Shai Ben-Yaacov (there as a moderator) and Elisabeth Perez-Luna (there working on an upcoming election story) brought me up to speed Tuesday morning.
Here’s what they said:
EPL:”It slowly transformed into the chaotic discussion that all debates end up being in. [Candidates] making points while attacking what the other candidates didn’t get right or understand. ‘You don’t know history.’ ‘I’ve already done that.’ ‘I have a better take on this or that.’ It was nothing unusual, but kind of lively and unproductive. And everything is crazy with Milton.”
SBY: “It was pretty amazing. The question that started it off was ‘In addition to getting specific about revitalizing [the] Police Advisory [Commission], hopefuls should talk about the new community oversight board.’ Kenney got the question, but then Williams said he wanted to answer too. It all devolved from there. Once one responded, all of them wanted to respond. So, we were only able to get three or four questions in during that half hour.”