Over the din of mid-morning traffic on the sunny, windswept gateway to the Philadelphia School District building on North Broad Street, Ken Trujillo announced his candidacy for Philadelphia Mayor in front of a small crowd of reporters and supporters.
Trujillo was introduced by his wife Laura, who attested to her husband’s personal virtues (he once won an actual “Father of the Year” award) and gave us a preview of the official campaign bio: a self-made lawyer and small business owner who grew up in poverty, benefitted from safety net programs like food stamps, found opportunity in Philadelphia, and later went on to become a crusading federal prosecutor taking on heroin gangs, bank robbers, “unethical banks and corporations” and handgun manufacturers; a City Solicitor; and director of nationally-recognized Latino anti-poverty organization Congreso.
Laura Trujillo also had some reassuring words for those who worry that the professionalism and evidence-based policymaking the Nutter administration brought to key city departments will be dealt a setback in this election:
“Some politicians are intimidated by being around smart people who challenge them – not Ken,” she said, “While he is extremely smart, Ken isn’t afraid to surround himself with people who are smarter or more experienced than him. He thrives on it, and he works hard to attract the best people he can to get the job done. Ken will attract the most talented people. They will join him in generating the best ideas, creative thinking, and innovative strategies that our city needs.”
Candidate policy agendas tend to be fairly thin at this point in the contest, because they are shaped by the ongoing give and take of the conversation the Philadelphia Democratic Party, its constellation of voters, activists, interest groups, and donors, will have with itself over the next several months.
Trujillo declined to tip his hand as to which coalitions of voters and groups within the Democratic Party he’ll try to put together, and also declined to talk specifics on a range of issue questions, but we did learn some facts about his political style this morning:
1) Change election
One thread of the election that will be interesting to watch is how the candidates choose to differentiate themselves from Michael Nutter. Does this become a change election, or a status quo election? Ken Trujillo wants it to be a change election, as least when it comes to education:
Those who think that we’re doing all right, that the status quo is just fine – they’re going to have plenty of candidates to choose from. The Philadelphians that I speak with want a new direction. Most Philadelphians understand that the status quo just won’t work for our children. As Mayor, I’m going to lead the fight to take back our schools. We must end the state takeover of education in Philadelphia. it’s time for the SRC to go.
What’s not yet clear is, if this is a change election, what kind of change should it be? Will the story be that Nutter tried to govern in a high falutin way that cut against the natural order of governance in Philadelphia, and the prescription is going back to the old ways of doing things? Or will change mean that Nutter-era reforms were essentially on the right track but change is coming too slow, or that a shift in focus or strategy or values are needed?
2) Education views
The choice of the School District headquarters as a backdrop for his campaign kick-off signaled Trujillo’s intent to make education a major campaign issue, but all of the policy ideas he’s proposed so far (perhaps with the exception of his promise to halve illiteracy in a generation) are things that require state cooperation or authorization – a new fairer funding formula, universal pre-kindergarten paid for with natural gas severance tax revenue, and disbanding the School Reform Commission. Terry Gillen’s education agenda was similarly heavy on state budget and policy changes.
“The state takeover has been a failure, and it’s been a failure because no one has ownership of the schools today. As Mayor, I want to take ownership of our schools. But ownership isn’t enough without the right leadership. And we need to continue to support the right leadership, and as Mayor, I’ll recruit the best leadership, I’ll retain the best leadership, and I’ll support the best leadership, from superintendents to principals to teachers.”
Note the word “continue” in there. Does Trujillo agree with Terry Gillen that the current school district leadership is essentially doing a good job but for the limited resources and weird political situation with the state?
On the question of charters, Trujillo said that he believed charters would continue to be a part of the system, but declined to declare any positions on charters, as the campaign is currently gathering information from a broad range of education stakeholders about the issues they want to see addressed in his platform.
3) Small business capital
Trujillo said his administration would be more focused on small business growth and neighborhood corridors than megaprojects.
“We do an awful lot in Philadelphia to support big developers and make sure that there’s large projects but we have to do the same for our small business. Small business is the backbone of Philadelphia, and of our country … I am a small business owner myself. I know what it’s like to struggle to make payroll. I know what it’s like to have to deal with City Hall … I’ll make it easier to open small businesses in Philadelphia. Not just in Center City, but throughout our great city.”
4) Land bank
Land bank implementation will still be an issue in the next Mayoral administration. Trujillo didn’t really hold forth on any of the touchier unresolved issues around land disposition or maintenance, but he expressed a general interest in making the land bank work as intended, which is not something that can be assumed of candidates in this campaign.
“Recently the land bank was enacted – I want to build on that. I want to make sure we utilize the land bank in a way that allows us to get unused lots to business owners so they can put it to work, make sure blight’s taken care of, and create new jobs and new sources of revenue.
5) Zero tolerance for police abuse
One interesting thing that Trujillo brings to the table is a familiarity with the criminal justice system, so one issue he was able to speak about in greater detail was public safety and police accountability. Championing police accountability is a bit of a risky move now that the FOP can collect PAC donations from officers, but Trujillo nonetheless embraced an agenda of zero tolerance.
“All Philadelphians deserve to be safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods, and as Mayor, I want to ensure that we have effective law enforcement, efficient law enforcement, and fair law enforcement. We need effective approaches to make sure that our citizens are safe and have their rights respected. I will fight to end racial profiling in Philadelphia, and there will be a zero tolerance policy for any kind of police abuse”
Pressed on the issue by a reporter, Trujillo agreed this meant he would end the practice of “stop and frisk,” and proposed requiring police to wear body cameras, because “this ensures that whenever they have an interaction with a citizen, there’s going to be greater accountability and transparency.”
When I asked Trujillo if his promise to utilize all existing technologies as part of a smart policing strategy meant he would seek Harrisburg’s permission to install more red light cameras, and introduce speed cameras, he said every idea will be on the table, and he’s willing to consider it.
6) Theory of governance
Name-dropping some of his Philadelphia heroes – Ben Franklin, William Penn, Sadie Alexander, and Leon Sullivan – Trujillo said one thing these figures have in common is that “they were not afraid to take risks. They were not afraid to challenge the status quo. They were not afraid to be bold.”
What bold means exactly on a range of issues left unaddressed this morning – pensions, the structure of a local school authority, the fate of Philadelphia gas works – remains undefined for now, but will fill out more when the campaign proceeds in earnest.