At-large interview: Joe McColgan

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.

Today we meet Joe McColgan. The St. Martha’s and Archbishop Ryan grad has traded his days in Walton Park for East Torresdale and his time at the Far Northeast Athletic Association for political involvement.

McColgan got involved in politics long before earning political science degrees from Villanova. What began with knocking on doors to hand out political literature at 9 years old has led to a run for council-at-large.

In between all that, he focuses on raising his tow young daughters in a Northeast different from the one he grew up in.

“Today, everything seems more homogenized, more controlled. I think sometimes there won’t be anything authentic or unique left in Philadelphia by the time my daughters are old enough to notice. When the children of today grow up in a mall, when everything is the same everywhere you go in whatever city or state, I think life kind of loses its meaning.  When you sacrifice that feeling of uniqueness, of tradition, of neighborhoods, for the need for comfort, I think you tend to lose a sense of memory, a sense of feeling.  It’s not just a certain time in one’s life; it is what a place is as well.  That is how you knew it.  Sometimes I believe we just might be in danger of losing those things we care about the most.”

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

Joe McColgan: My passion is Philadelphia, not just a part of the city.  I believe we can be a much better city than we are and that will take strong leadership across the city.  It is no longer about any one political party or politician, race, creed, color or sexual orientation.  What it is about is 1.5 million people who are taxed too much, educated too little and hide, afraid, in their own homes.

As a councilman-at-large from the minority party, it is my intention to go around the entire city of Philadelphia and have the dialogue, the discourse, the debate, the discussion regarding the good things about Philadelphia and how we can make them great, and the not-so-good things and how we can make them better.

Philadelphia is a great city with great people and even greater opportunities.  What we have not had is great leadership.  Sometimes I think Philadelphia is facing west waiting for the sun to rise

Other NEast Philly at-large interviews

Andy Toy

Isaiah Thomas

Elmer Money

Video: candidate speeches

NEP: You mention getting back Philadelphia’s reputation as a City of Firsts. Do you have specific goals there and ways to achieve them?

JM: I believe it is about new, fresh ideas not the failed policies of the past.  Creating a sense of pride.  From geographic location, to climate, to history and arts, to restaurants, to people – Philadelphia cannot be beat!  But yet Philadelphians do not believe that, probably because we have been so beat up over the years. Let’s start putting square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes.

At the end of the day, when you turn over rocks and look at all the slimy things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say, ‘It is my job is to turn over rocks and look at all the slimy things’ even if what you see scares the hell out of you.  That is the job of a city councilman-atlarge – to turn over rocks, and fix the problems.  Following along the same old path will only bring the same old results and the first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you are not going to stay where you are.  Career politicians got us into this mess and you can be certain it will not be career politicians who lead us out. Someone once said Philadelphia is just a rest stop between New York City and Washington, D.C., and that bothered me.  We are so much better than that and people should be coming here  and driving 1.5 hours north to visit New York or three hours south to visit Washington, D.C.

NEP: Are there any other main focal points you’d like to address, or that you’d like Council as a whole to  address?

JM: We need to start worrying about the children who are being cheated out of their innocence and their future because the educational system in Philadelphia has failed them.   At the end of the day there are two types of schools: those you want to send your kids to and those you don’t.  I am the only council-at-large candidate calling for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission, the resignation of the school superintendent [Arlene Ackerman] and moving toward an elected school board like they do in the other 66 counties of the Commonwealth.

Our tax policy in Philadelphia is downright stupid and we propose budgets suggesting we tax soda and lay off police officers and close firehouses, when in fact we should be hiring more. It is about priorities that are so out-of-whack and ideas that are so out of date and stagnant that they offer yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems and in the end, we can choose one issue a day for the next 365 days and not discuss the same issue twice.  That is how bad it has become.  Remember one thing; if you take a very low dose of Aspirin, all you will get is a very small amount of pain relief.

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

JM: No time like the present.  My wife said to me about two years ago I should think about running for City Council as she was becoming tired of me yelling at the television every night during the news for something less than brilliant coming out of city hall.  She made good points and I began to turn over those rocks I mentioned earlier. At that point I had two choices – turn the rocks back over, or talk about what is under them.  I guess I want to talk about what is under them.

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

JM: If elected: My intention is to have the dialogue, the discourse, the debate, the discussion regarding the things that matter.  What is lacking in the Commonwealth, in this country, is a true urban agenda. For as long as the cities are a burden to the states, the states will always be a burden to the federal government.  The cities need to become more self-sufficient.  When 25 percent of the people living in Philadelphia are living below the poverty line and no one is talking about it, we must ask the question, where will we be five, 10, 15 years from now if we do not starting talking about it.

It is not about more taxes.  It is about more taxpayers – jobs.  The way we create jobs is to entice businesses and entrepreneurs – the innovators who create the jobs – to locate, relocate or start a business here in the city.  They only way we do that is to lower taxes.  We also better have a pool of well qualified and educated individuals to fill those jobs or it is all for nothing.

Education has failed a generation of children, as well as each and every one of us living in Philadelphia.  This is priority number one in my book: Dissolve the School Reform Commission on the basis that it has become too political and using our children as pawns and currency for the benefit of special interests. Our School superintendent needs to either resign or be fired. We need to move toward an elected school board.

So if elected I see more quality, family paying jobs; more people living in the city because jobs are available; the tax burden has been lifted off the backs of individuals and corporations; our children, when it comes to educations, are far exceeding our expectations.

If not elected: Mediocrity, complacency and the status quo will prevail.  Career politicians will prevail.

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

JM: Seventeen members of City Council and I believe each as individuals believe they are  doing what is best for their constituents.  Does any one individual stand out? Not particularly.

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

JM: Everything.  Nothing.  It is about accountability.

NEP: What’s your take on DROP?

JM: It aas never meant for elected officials.  The fact they took advantage of a “loophole” shows a lack of integrity on their part. In its current form, it is unsustainable for municipal employees going forward. I am in favor of maintaining it for uniformed personnel – police and fire on the front  lines.  If used properly as a managerial tool, knowing how many recruits we will need  and how many classes to schedule two, three, four years out is invaluable in my book.   The problem is the police and fire commissioners are not utilizing DROP in that manner, thus it becomes a retirement benefit and not a management tool.

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

JM: They May 17 primary.

NEP: Council-at-large can be a tough sell. How do you plan to make yourself a city-wide candidate?

JM: It is not as difficult as you might think.  Again, it is no longer about any one political party or politician, race, creed, color or sexual orientation.  What it is about is 1.5 million people in the city of Philadelphia who are taxed too much, educated too little and hide, afraid in their own homes.  That fact resonates across the city regardless of race, economic background, whether you are pro-labor or pro-business.

In order for Philadelphia to survive and thrive for you, me, your children and my children, we cannot keep going down the same path of failed policies and stagnant ideas.  Leadership does not begin with just a vision.  Leadership begins with getting Philadelphia to confront brutal facts and to act on the implications.



WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal