Doug Oliver on why he’ll soon launch his mayoral campaign in Germantown

Tony Williams did it in the Independence Visitors Center’s Liberty Ballroom. Lynne Abraham and Nelson Diaz opted for the Franklin Institute’s Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion and Tierra Colombiana’s second-floor nightclub respectively.

After Jim Kenney gets through his mayoral-campaign launch event — slated for Wednesday afternoon in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall — the lone candidates yet to ceremonially enter the fray will be the field’s youngest (Doug Oliver) and oldest (T. Milton Street Sr.)

Details of Milton’s gala are confined to a specific date (Feb. 17) because the setting isn’t yet definitively nailed down (it’ll be a church since he couldn’t find a worthy funeral parlor, though).

For his part, Oliver scheduled his launch for 3 p.m. Saturday at the Flying Horse Center in Germantown (near the corner of W. Chelten Ave. and Pulaski St.)

NinetyNine asked Oliver to explain why he chose a location and neighborhood that’s essentially off the beaten path for citywide political-party planners.

What follows is an explanation that can be tl;dr’d to personal ties to the area and campaign-platform items education and job creation.

Why did he choose Germantown?

“We wanted to signal our world view on how we’re approaching our campaign. I grew up in Germantown, 5015 Wayne Ave., four or five blocks up from Wayne Junction and a block and a half up from Happy Hollow Playground. We called the neighborhood ‘Hollow.’ Everybody else just calls it Germantown, but not people from ‘Hollow.’ To them, it’s ‘Hollow.’

“That time in my life was such a formative period. Many of the views that I have today about life, about people, about how to approach problems, I learned there…

“Ten year olds shouldn’t have to negotiate the things I had to negotiate as a 10-year-old, and today’s 10 years old have to do it at a higher level than I had to. It was just starting to go the wrong way back then. It’s been wrong way for so long that it’s normal now. I’m 40. So, we’re talking about 1984, 85. [The crack-cocaine era] was just starting.

“I picked Germantown because it felt like home. I live in East Oak Lane. I’ve lived in the Northeast and Mt. Airy. But, I wanted to go back to where I got my foundation because, in many ways, we have to get back to the basics in the city. So, for me, it just felt like the right place. Symbolic, personally, but also for where the city is.

“I wanted to do it at Pickett Middle School. I attended Pickett in the fifth grade. That’s where I got my first dose of reality.

“I attended six or seven schools before I got to high school. Greenfield Elementary. Then, the schools went on strike and my mom got me into High Street Christian Academy for two grades or whatever. Then I moved to Cedar Grove Christian Academy up in the Northeast. I couldn’t behave, so I got myself kicked out of that school.

“Well, actually, I failed the fifth grade there because of my own foolishness. I was on my way to failing it again and I got kicked out of the school. I was a problem child so they said, ‘Nah, nah, Mrs. Oliver, we’ve had enough of him.’ My mom had already exhausted all her moves, so I ended up going to Pickett Middle School. Talk about an eye-opening experience.

“Greenfield Elementary was always Greenfield. It was eden. Then, I was in these very nurturing Christian-school environments. When I got to Pickett, it was like, ‘Whoa. Whoa. Why is me playing a trumpet a bad thing?’ They took my trumpet. I thought they wanted to play it. No, they wanted to break it. As a 10 or 11 year old, you’re trying to just process this, because at Cedar Grove and High Street, playing the trumpet was something you got points for, you know? The rules are changing here!

“I remember getting an A on an assignment and everybody else in the class got Fs. I got in so much trouble with my classmates. You know, I’m smart, I’m going to do what adults do, we adapt, we readjust to the environment we’re in. Suddenly, my mom’s like ‘Why are your grades dropping?’ I didn’t know to say, ‘well, because I’m adjusting to my environment.’ I can say that now as a 40-year-old but then, it was like ‘I don’t know.’

“But, you can’t make me get good grades if I know I’m going to get beat up in the schoolyard as a result. So, I’m learning how to fight. I’m learning to do all sorts of things that I never was born to do, and I never had any inkling to do. And that was back when there was five or six good kids in the class and 10 knuckleheads. But now, it’s altogether different.

“I wanted to launch the campaign at Pickett Middle School because I’d have felt triumphant returning, saying ‘I escaped you.’ But here’s the thing: It’s closed now. It’s not Pickett Middle School anymore. It’s Mastery Charter School at the Pickett Campus.

“Anybody running for mayor has to have education first and foremost. I wanted to have it there because I remember that that’s where things started to derail for me.

“When I think about education, I think about Pickett. It just reminds me of how many kids are in school today just trying to navigate things other than math, other than science, and trying to figure out how to keep their moms happy, how to not be a punk at school, how to get the girl to like them, all the normal adolescent things. But on top of all that, they’re worrying about how not to get shot, not to get stabbed. It’s just too much. So, creating a sense of safety is important to our kids attaining their educational outcomes.

“With Pickett being closed, and [now] being a charter school, I didn’t want to make some sort of charter-school statement by holding it there. We found the closest place we could to it that would be a venue big enough: Flying Horse.

“That was really nice because it tells another part of the story I’d like to tell. That’s development in Germantown. Flying Horse used to be a ratty old car garage that a private developer, an African-American developer, came in and renovated over a couple of years with grants and community partnerships.

“It speaks to the neighborhood experience. It’s on that commercial corridor that used to be bustling when I was a kid. You have the supermarket and the Rite Aid, but then you get a liquor store, a bunch of gold and beeper stores, sneaker stores and, suddenly, you’re at Germantown Avenue.

“What happened to everything else? There used to be a Woolworth’s up here. There used to be vendors selling jewelry and fragrances. Now, the metal grates come down at night and I don’t even want to stop at the PNC Bank after a certain time. That’s just the way it is, and I think it’s representative of West Philly and all over the city.

“We’re going to talk about the things we’re going to focus on in the campaign — education and job creation. It’s easy to talk about the job creation in terms of bringing business back to the city, the big businesses, the ones that bring 500 to 1,000 jobs are important, especially if you can attract manufacturing jobs back using energy as bait to get them here.

“But, we’re also talking about business on these commercial corridors, trying to cut the red tape, to raise the financial literacy of the small businesses and encourage people to take back that entrepreneurial spirit that used to thrive in our neighborhoods.

“Germantown is just a story that’s replicated all through the city, emblematic of neighborhoods across the city with a lot of promise. Philadelphia has been called the city of perpetual potential. We’ve had undervalued properties for years; access to planes, trains and automobiles for years; we’ve had a vibrant and diverse city for years. So, this promise that we keep talking about is not a promise. All it is is opportunity, and it’s opportunity that we haven’t seemed to figure out yet.

“We are blessed as a city because we have so many colleges and universities that constantly attract new, fresh blood. They come for the academic programs. They also come for the nightlife, the urban learning, restaurants, sports teams.

“But, if they don’t have jobs that can sustain their families after they graduate or they don’t have schools for their children after they procreate, they’re going to leave. We squander that opportunity every year.”

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