Republican mayoral candidate Melissa Murray Bailey, 9:30 a.m., Friday April 24; Milk & Honey Cafe, near 4th and Lombard.
99: Do you agree that it’s quite unique for you to be appearing at these mayoral forums when you’re not on the ballot against any of these candidates yet?
Melissa Murray Bailey: I’m getting invitations to maybe 50 percent of the forums. In the beginning, I tried to get invited to some, like the televised debate by the Chamber of Commerce, but they said no. Basically, you’re noise right now, irrelevant right now, we want to give voters a chance to hear from people they’ll be voting on [in the primary].
I’ve stopped using energy to push my way in when I wasn’t really invited, but I’m excited that people are inviting me to the ones I’ve been invited to. Otherwise, I’d be sitting on my hands or creating my own things among Republicans.
If I stand a chance at this, I need to get exposure to Democrats as well. It’s really good for me. Most people at events, it’s 8-to-1 Dems. Typically, they aren’t forced to listen to what the Republicans say because there’s not a lot that happens around the general election typically. Voters are not given a choice based on what the Republican is saying because they’re not going to hear it.
So, that’s what I’ve really appreciated, getting this time in front of Democrats. A lot of them are coming up to me after and saying ‘if what you’re saying is what it means to be a Republican, that’s interesting to me. What you’re saying is making sense.’
It’s giving me an advantage because I get to hear what everybody’s saying, but also it gives me unnecessary nightmares because I don’t have to win against all six of them.
Sitting there and having all six of them, this is really intimidating, but I just have to tell myself every night that it’s just going to be one of them. And I’ve been able to hear what they’re talking about and, rightly so, they don’t need to pay attention to me right now.
What I’ve loved is in recent debates and forums people have used rebuttal against some of the things I’m saying.
99: Can you think of an example of that?
MMB: The tourism one. Anthony Williams. When I said that we’re not that welcoming to outsiders, he was like, ‘I don’t know what she’s talking about.’
But if you look at it: None of them have ever been an outsider to the city. So, they can think that, but they’ve never had that perspective. That’s what I bring to the race: A different perspective. We first have to be honest about our challenges. If we can’t be honest about our challenges, we can’t solve them.
Nelson Diaz, at Central High School, said ‘a Republican is never going to win and surely not this year’ and motioned to me. Great. You know I’m here! I’m worth your airtime to say I’m not going to win.
99: Is your “outsider” positioning similar to Doug Oliver’s?
MMB: He’s definitely positioning himself in that way. He sometimes prefers when I’m not invited because that card’s much stronger for him when I’m not there. Him, with all the Democrats, it’s very clearly the differentiation. But when I’m there, I’m much further away than he is in the sense of ‘outsider with a different perspective’ because he did work in [Mayor Michael] Nutter’s office and he did run a part of PGW.
I think he brings a very fresh and different perspective, but I wouldn’t say that he’s not tied to the machine. Now, the machine isn’t necessarily accepting him and putting him up as their ideal candidate, but he’s weaved into the fabric.
I’m just really shocked at how he’s polling. I know that he’s new and completely different, but I can’t believe there’s not more people who want that.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but he’s saying really smart things at the debates and I can’t believe that’s only resonating with only 2 percent. All of these polls are paid for and run by people supporting someone else so you take it with a grain of salt.
99: Why were you a Democrat in the first place?
MMB: My parents were both teachers, and we all see what teachers do and support. My dad was very active in the union. He was the lead negotiator and this is a strong way of saying it, but he was always “hating the man.” During my time growing up in Absecon (Atlantic County, NJ), that “man” was mostly Republicans.
That was the main reason why. My parents always taught me to be open minded, so although I was always registered, I was always evaluating the candidates.
Until you make a bid for mayor, you don’t really have to think about that because other than primaries, you can make a decision based on the merits.
99: It is weird to have the R after your name now?
MMB: It is. It is. You know, I think with a lot of people — and I bet a lot of people in this city, because I’ve met them — there’s a negative stigma with being a Republican. You have all the nasty stuff that happens, but that’s not really what Republicanism is about.
For me, it’s about, first and foremost, fiscal responsibility. That’s really where I align strongly. It’s super-important in this city. For every person in Philadelphia not to scrutinize where City Hall is spending money and wanting them to be more responsible with it is a mystery to me.
How many times can you open the paper and see “corruption,” see people going to jail, see people spending money irresponsibly and then they’re asking for more money? That doesn’t sit well with me.
I don’t, at all, mind paying taxes to support things that help people, but when you’ve lost your trust in that, you become resentful every time you’re asked for more.
We talk a lot about the proposed property-tax increase; right now, it’s a big issue. Ok, so, yes, I support the schools; 55 percent of that increase goes to the schools. Where’s the 45 percent going? If they said we’re going to do a tax increase and 100 percent of that is going to go to the schools, and we’re going to make sure we audit how it’s being spent, and we’re going to have transparency on everything, I don’t mind supporting that, but not when there’s the black box of the 45 percent.
That’s the core thing for me. It’s about financial responsibility. It’s about I think respect for the taxpayer and transparency.
99: What’s your take on the local and national Republican party?
MMB: I don’t know if you saw last night they officially endorsed me. It was just their next city committee meeting at the United Republicans Club in Frankford. An official vote as opposed to saying ‘You’re the only one so here you go.’
It was so different being with them yesterday vs. Feb. 17 or whenever the petitions started. I was really new to the party so, rightly so, everybody wanted to get to know me. They really wanted to understand if they stood behind my values. They didn’t just want to blindly support me.
Even though the Republicans here are challenged, they didn’t just want to accept anybody. They wanted to make sure I would represent what they wanted the R party to be. So, they were a little more tentative.
Through the past two months, I’ve had a chance to really get to know them; I’ve gone to a lot of their ward events to hear what their people want to see in the city. And then, last night, it was like a group of friends. And it’s genuine; they were genuinely hugging me and welcoming me to the meeting.
People are standing and clapping and just a sense of pride and hope and because it’s such a difference over the past two months, I know it was genuine. I feel that from them so I really respect them for that. They could have been like that from the very beginning but when you’ve been downtrodden, you’ll take anything that comes to you.
I raised my hand and said I wanted to do this. Nobody came to me and asked ‘will you do this?’ There’s lots of people they asked and said no, and there’s this crazy young woman who they never met before?
It was really moving last night.
99: How about nationally? I’m assuming you part ways with them on social issues?
I am open and accepting and want to help everyone move forward. That is a core part of who I am. Some of the presidential candidates are playing ‘I’ll follow the laws.’ I am not just accepting. I’m supportive of moving everyone forward in equality and socioeconomically as well.
One of the key reasons I got into this race is because of the poverty in the city. Education is also super important. But, that presents itself in the poverty that we have. I got choked up at the last forum. We were talking about all these great things about arts and culture [at the Free Library Central Branch]. Right across the street, there are homeless people in the park getting their dinner. That just doesn’t sit right with me. I know it’s not an easy problem to solve. I’m not blind to that. But we have to try and solve it. That’s why I’m here, and that’s different than what we hear in national politics.
I teach my daughter [Cricket] service, at the core. Any time we go to a service event, we bring her. She just got all her hair cut off to donate to Locks of Love. That starts when people are young, teaching them not to be sympathetic, but empathetic, to do everything they can to help others. Sometimes, they just need someone to smile at them and say hello.
Every time I go to Wawa and there’s someone sitting outside, I buy them a sandwich. I know that’s not going to solve the problem, but I cannot look at someone who’s asking me for help and not help. Everyone is not acknowledging them. I’ll say do you want a sandwich? Come in with me. Pick it out. And then they at least get some interaction as well, which really contributes to their morale.
99: What have you learned about the forums about feel and first-time running?
MMB: The key thing that I really didn’t appreciate going into it is the skills it takes to win are not the skills it takes to be successful.
99: How so?
MMB: It’s a lot about fundraising. It’s a lot about, yeah, it’s mostly about fundraising.
Unless something completely different happens in this race — and there’s a chance that it will — it’s going to come down to who has the most support; not necessarily money in their bank accounts, but most support all-around.
Your ability to fundraise is not what’s going to make you a great mayor. What will make you a great mayor is can you set a strategy that people buy into and work towards and you can get it done, and can you lead people to do things differently and better than they’ve done before?
99: How can you do that?
MMB: That’s what I do for a living. I run businesses, or parts of businesses. I build them, and I turn them around. I have never taken an easy job. After entry-level, I was always the one raising my hand for the thing nobody wanted to do because I love a challenge and I do have an ability to get people to work harder than they would typically work and to come together for a common goal.
99: How does that manifest itself? I don’t suspect you bang your shoe on a podium or anything like that?
MMB: It’s about listening. That’s one thing that I notice: I have to listen a lot more since I don’t have as much of the experiential. So, I’m talking to people every day and listening to them. I’m not pre-supposing I know because of my experience.
When you do that, and people hear their ideas represented in your leadership, they want to be a part of it. And they get their friends to be a part of it.
I come in from the outside a lot at work. When I come in from the outside, you have to listen to people and respect what they’re saying; and you have to quickly come together with a plan and share it with people. And, you have to engage them in the solution.
That’s a big difference I’ve learned in government compared to the private sector. In the private sector, it’s much easier to work together for the success of the group. What I’ve learned in politics, it always has to be me against you. If I win, you lose. And it’s really hard to get stuff done that way.
I empower others so that they have wins and successes. I am the leader but I’m not always the one getting patted on the back.
99: So, you must not have much of an ego?
99: Business is a foreign world to me. I’d always thought you had to have an ego to be successful.
MMB: People have different styles of leadership. You can get to the top through power, ego, telling everybody what to do. But, you’re still going to be limited in your potential, especially as we have millennials in the workforce. They’re in their 30s now. They’re not kids. They don’t want to be treated like that. And, there are so many options in the workplace now.
Think about the Uber concept. That’s even translated into business. There are Uber-type coders. There are these things like Elance and oDesk where people can create their own schedules and work for who they want.
You no longer have to work in a corporation to be successful, if you say being successful is having the means to live how you want. You’re not going to be a CEO, but people don’t necessarily have that ambition anymore. What millennials want is for work and life to be integrated.
I’m straddling Gen X and Gen Y. I have some Gen X tendencies, which is I worked my ass off to get where I am. I worked really long hours and I sacrificed a lot.
But that’s not what people want to do anymore. They want to enjoy their life and enjoy work as part of that. So, if you want to be an effective leader of the next generation, you have to engage them almost on a peer-to-peer level and gain their respect. They will only work with you, follow your lead, if they respect you, not because you’re the boss.
99: What have you learned about the mayoral-candidate field these past few months?
MMB: I was reflecting on this just a couple days ago. A lot of the answers to the questions, they are talking about experiences. ‘What are you going to do to make sure there’s more affordable housing?’ ‘Well, when I was dah dah dah, I did this, this and this.’
Everything is like that: All the answers to the questions are history lessons. I don’t have that. So, I have to talk about forward thinking. That’s the stark difference right now.
I don’t have a past to talk about, a history lesson to take everybody through. So, I have to really think hard on progress and what I’m going to do. That’s what I have to talk about. That’s the differentiator I have. Even if I did do those things before, people are still asking the questions, so it’s still a problem. So, what I did before didn’t work anyway.
No matter who comes out, that’s going to be a difference.
99: Unless it’s Oliver.
MMB: Unless it’s Oliver.
Crazy things happen. People are going to say it’s not going to be Melissa, but I still believe there’s a chance that it is going to be Melissa. The door is open a crack, and it’s up to me to push it open more and more. I think it’s going to be how much exposure I can get. When people hear me, they’re open-minded.
99: That could be an effect of the fact that you don’t sound like the traditional image of what people in Philadelphia think a Republican candidate is.
MMB: Someone asked me that at the last debate: Oh, are you ‘X’ person’s campaign manager? I said, I’m a candidate. The Republican candidate. They just brushed it off. But, people are starting to recognize me.
I was up at the Mural Arts Program/Eagles day at Gilbert Spruance Elementary and some little girls came up and asked if they could take their picture with me. I asked if it was because I was wearing a suit and you think I’m important? And they’re, like, ‘No, you’re going to be the first woman mayor!” Awesome! Let’s take a picture!
99: Does that sting you at all when people say that about Lynne?
MMB: It doesn’t. And, Lynne is so gracious and kind. I was sitting right next to her and someone came up and said “How do you feel being the only woman in the race?” And she like, “Have you met Melissa? Melissa’s in the race, too!”
This is clearly a male-dominated world. The City Council races. The mayoral race. And I think there are innate thing that women have that make them strong leaders. If we could bring some of that into Philadelphia, I think it would help.
99: What are they?
MMB: [Former UK Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said well done in politics, you ask a man. If you want something done well in politics, you ask a woman.”
That’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but when you look at the differences, it’s really true.
Women really have to prove themselves so they really get down in the weeds and get stuff done. Although this isn’t the case, they believe a lot more that talk is cheap.
I can only say things that I can do. I would never say something that I didn’t think I could do because I’d be so afraid that someone would come along and call me on it.
My mom, right after I graduated college, bought me a book: “Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman.” When you’re a woman, you read books like that.
It talked about how women coming into leadership roles in the 80s weren’t as successful because they were trying to emulate men. That’s when shoulder pads were big. And you had this tough approach, but the softer approach of women makes them more approachable. Makes them want to listen. Makes them more empathetic. And that translates into people wanting to work with them because they bring people along.
99: Have you started, in your mind, to break down the field, with different approaches depending on who wins the Democratic primary?
Well, I’ll say I’ve been gathering data. The company I run right now is a market-research and branding firm. I have a degree in engineering, so I love data. I’ve been gathering data, more qualitative than quantitative, on what people are saying, what their views are, and how mine are different and if that’s a plus or a minus. So, I’ll know if this is a position of strength for me or is this a position of weakness.
99: How big is your team?
MMB: My husband [Sean] is definitely a great partner in this. It’s been fun. We’re working together to solve problems that are big problems. We’ll sit around and talk about what can we do with the schools? We talk about it all the time. Some people don’t have their families involved, but for me, that’s really important because family is core.
When we campaign on the weekends, [my daughter] Cricket comes and she loves it. If she doesn’t love it, we’ll probably figure something out. But, she knows all the candidates. She knows stuff about all the other candidates. She asked me the other day why there aren’t more Republicans. She’s listening, and she’s grasping.
As for a team, I’ve been overwhelmed by people who say they want to support. I’m trying to figure that out right now.
99: Is that purely Republican support?
MMB: Crossover, too. I just got a voicemail yesterday saying you were supposed to come to this civic association meeting, you didn’t because everyone else forgot there was a debate, but I’ve been reading a lot about you and want to support your campaign so please give me a call back.
So, this isn’t just people who I’ve met. These are people coming out of the woodwork and saying I want to be a part of this.
99: Do you have any preference on who you face in November?
MMB: I think anyone I face, it’s going to be hard as they’ll have a lot of experience. I think I have advantages no matter who comes out; they’re just different.
So, I ask everyone who has more experience than me “Who do you think I should want to come out of the primary” and everyone has a different view. …
There are scenarios where I can win.
The ambiguity is the hard part. In a month, we’ll know everything. I’ll have a much more crystallized strategy once we figure out who the Democrat is going to be, and if any of these independents come forward.
99: Take me to May 20 and beyond. You know who you’re running against. What happens then?
MMB: First things first, I sit down and create this strategy based on who I’m running against. We have whiteboards and powerpoint presentations; in my job, I always have to present to the board of directors: Here’s how I am going to accomplish these goals and I need to instill in them that they have the confidence I’m going to be able to do what I say. Nitty gritty plans. I suspect I’m going to do that exact same thing with this race.
And, I also have to plan for fundraising. People don’t want to throw their money away, and they don’t want to be associated with, this is an insider’s town, you want to align with someone who is going to win, and there are typically ramifications for people who betray. So, that makes it really hard.
It’s almost like a venture capital pitch. When you’re a small business starting out, you need to go raise venture capital and prove to people that you’re worth investing in. That’s how I’ll approach this as well.
99: Back to the preference of opponent in the general election…
MMB: I think running against Lynne, there would be a woman mayor, and I think that’s great.
Philadelphia is going to run itself into the ground if it doesn’t change and we need someone completely different if it’s going to change at all. Someone who isn’t tied to anything. I’m not getting into politics. I’m running for mayor. So, I’m not setting myself up for the next thing.
That’s the really tough thing about politics.
People are always covering their ass so they’re electable in the future. This is their job. This is their bread and butter. This is not my job in the sense that if I’m not the mayor, I’m going to continue to run companies. I’m not trying to build up my resume so I can run for Senate or Congress or anything like that. I want to fix Philadelphia. I want to be the catalyst for change.
MMB: Like we were talking about before, with the poverty. I cannot live some place, see these things happening, know that I could do something about it and not do it. That’s really the only reason I’m sacrificing my entire career to be doing this.
It’s only going to get worse. We have a horrible poverty problem and we don’t have a plan to fix it.
And the schools, everybody’s complaining about money for the schools, but the schools were bad before there were money problems. It really irks me. Getting money for the schools isn’t the question. The question is how are we going to fix the schools, and no one’s asking that question.
If I won the lottery and gave $1 billion to the schools, it doesn’t make it better. As a city, we’re orienting not around the root cause of the problems. That’s why I’m doing this. I know how to get to the root cause of problems, and I know how to solve for that. We need to do that.
We’re just delirious. We were at a recent forum talking about the pensions and everyone’s like “Oh, if we just build the economy up, and fix the schools, the pension problem goes away.” How can anybody listen to that and say that makes sense? That’s what we’ve been doing. We can’t control if the economy collapses again. Hope is not a strategy.
And, unfortunately, we’re going to have to make hard, unpopular choices but if we want to fix things, that’s what we have to do.
There’s been plenty of times when I’m saying the unpopular thing, but I hear people saying afterwards that I appreciate that you’re telling the truth.
They might not agree with my truth, but I think people are realizing that what I’m saying is real and true. It’s not always what people want to hear, but that’s the reality of fixing the problems we have to fix in the city. …
I don’t have a stump speech because I’m learning new things every day and there are different things bothering me that day that I want to be talking about.
We were talking before about things you do during the race that don’t make you a good mayor: In order to get people to understand your message, you have to say the same thing all the time, you have to have consistency. But, you can’t be doing the same thing all the time when you’re mayor, right?
I feel so self conscious in the forums because I’m thinking ‘Oh, these guys have already heard me say this a million times.’ I know what they’re all going to say.
99: Oh, no doubt. I could probably recite an entire hour of a debate at this point.
MMB: Exactly! And that’s what I have to remember: That this is a new audience. So much if [candidates and media members] have heard me say this before.
Any picture that’s in a forum, everybody’s like this [looking down at papers] and I’m still looking at them and listening. There’s a level of respect and interest.
I’m still interested, genuinely, in how they’re responding. Maybe it’s because one of them is going to be my opponent but maybe it’s because I’m not the only one with good ideas. Other people have good ideas, too, and if I become the mayor, we’re going to need all the good ideas we can get.
I tell my team at work this all the time: There’s no gold star for coming up with the answer yourself and doing it yourself. The gold star is for accomplishing the goal and, so, leveraging the resources you have, the team you have, to accomplish that goal, accomplishing the goal is the only thing that matters.
Whether it’s my idea or your idea, who has the better ability to get it done?
99: How has this affected your day job? Are you going to have to walk away for a little while once the primary approaches?
Right now, I do everything [campaign related] at night. I’m still working during the day and trying to manage those two things.
Now, as the campaign heats up, I’ve talked to the leadership, the board [at work], about what I’m doing. They’re disappointed because they like what I’m doing at my company, but they also know me well enough to know that when I really believe in something, there’s really no talking me out of it.
And, they want to be supportive because we’ve had a great journey together, we’ve done really good things together. I have the flexibility at work and they’re willing to support me in what I’m need to do to accomplish this goal.
I think they hope a little bit that I don’t win.
99: That’s not very nice.
In the kindest way. Because I’d have to leave altogether.