At-large interview: Andy Toy

As primary elections approach, NEast Philly will interview council-at-large candidates so readers can get to know the names they’ll see on the ballot.

First up is Democratic candidate Andy Toy. The Cheltenham native was born in Boston, but has been in the area almost his entire life.  Toy earned bachelors and masters degrees in Urban and Public Policy from the University of Pennsylvania following his days at Cheltenham High.

The son of a Philadelphia teacher, Toy got involved in community relations young, and worked for years in the City Commerce Department. Most recently, he’s helped small businesses through his work at the Local Initiatives Support Center and the Enterprise Center.

NEast Philly: Why council-at-large and not a specific district?

Andy Toy: Good question, I get this all the time. I think council members-at-large should have a plan to move the city forward and work to implement new policy that affects residents across the city, not just in one specific neighborhood. I know I have the experience and vision to help change our city and that is why I am running at-large.

Our problems are bigger than fixing the pothole in front of my house (though still important), and we need strategic and experienced doers to address these issues.

NEP: You’ve talked about a focus on safety. What are your specific plans and goals for the city?

AT: One of the reasons the Fraternal Order of Police recently endorsed me is because I have an understanding of how to improve safety. We can’t clean up our streets simply by putting more police officers on the streets. We need to take a holistic approach to solving crime. We need to drastically improve our educational system and create new jobs in this city so that children who graduate have an opportunity to succeed.

And when I talk about creating jobs, I mean jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage. Our city has nearly 60,000 tax-delinquent properties and tens of thousands of these are vacant. These vacant properties are not only eyesores to the community, but crime hazards. By turning these properties into productive use, creating new homes and small businesses, we can improve neighborhoods and increase residential foot traffic on streets once occupied by drug dealers.

NEP: What others issues do you plan to address, and what should Council be focusing on?

AT: We need ethics reform and we need it now. I recently released my Council Reform Plan, which in part calls for term limits and eliminating the three-month summer recess and one-month winter recess. I’ve pledge to serve no more than three terms and if council does not eliminate the recesses, I will take a one-third pay cut.

I believe there is a sense of entitlement among many council members and it’s time we work to restore public trust in our elected officials. There are little things we can do, like giving up a tax payer-funded car, that can begin to show the public that this is about public service, not about entitlements and holding a job with excessive perks.

NEP: Why now? Why run for council in 2011?

AT: I actually ran in 2007 and received nearly 42,000 votes. Since then, the problems in our city haven’t been resolved, in fact we’ve seen Philadelphia’s unemployment rate almost double since then. I have a proven record of creating jobs and helping small businesses, which I believe are the backbone to a strong economy, neighbor and city. I see serving on City Council as another step in my public service and my hard work in improving our great City. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

NEP: Paint us two pictures of the future: One in which you’re elected, on in which you’re not.

AT: (Laughter) Well, I’ve put everything on the table to get elected. My wife and I both took leaves from our jobs to work on this full time and are living on our savings. I don’t plan on losing, so I can’t really say what life will be like if I do.

Once elected though, I plan on getting started right away. Expect to see some of my policy plans introduced as legislation my first week in office!

The picture of Philadelphia with my election will be one of a more welcoming city — one that lives up to its name of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. There will definitely be fewer vacant properties and more businesses.

NEP: Is there anyone in Council right now you think is doing a particularly good job at addressing a key issue?

AT: I think all the st-large incumbents are talented individuals, each with a specific area of expertise, but in a time of high unemployment we need someone on council who has a plan and a record of creating jobs.

NEP: What should people expect from their council and council-at-large members?

AT: First and foremost, honesty and transparency. We need to do a better job listening to constituents and presenting legislation that focuses on the problems they’ve addressed to us. I haven’t heard from anyone along the campaign trail that doesn’t think creating jobs, holding absentee landlords accountable and turning vacant properties into productive use isn’t a top priority. These are just some of the issues I plan on working to resolve once elected.

NEP: What’s your take on DROP?

AT: It’s clear that DROP is costing the city money and needs to be fixed immediately. No matter what study you believe, the mayor’s study or Council, it’s costing the city money, which it never intended to do.

I’m glad the loophole allowing elected officials to enroll in DROP is being closed. If it hadn’t been closed before I was elected I would have immediately worked to close it.

NEP: Do your think your ethnicity is at play at all in your candidacy? Could it hurt or help you in anyway?

AT: Not at all, and I certainly hope not. I do think that not being white or black sometimes helps me to present another perspective and be a bridge-builder. Having a City Council that represents the diversity of our City makes sense to many people of all backgrounds.

NEP: What’s the next big event coming up in your campaign?

AT: It seems like there is a big event almost everyday! Not a day goes by without some sort of big announcement, but stayed tuned to my website for more updates.

NEP: Council-at-large can be a tough sell. How do you plan to get into the neighborhoods? Any more visits to the Northeast planned?

AT: I think that’s true if you aren’t known outside of your own neighborhood. Luckily for me, I’ve been involved in civic organizations across the city for my entire life. I’m on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, which has connected me with people from across the city.

I can honestly say there isn’t a section of the city that I haven’t had my hands in on a project. My campaign has support from organizations, elected officials and volunteers from every corner of the city. I’ve already spent a lot of time in the Northeast on this campaign and I look forward to continuing to visit up there.



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