The way Wali “Diop” Rahman was talking while he canvassed Germantown with campaign literature one recent night – and as he held a press conference outside the Roundhouse Thursday to propose big changes in the police department – you get the impression the guy really thinks he’ll be the next mayor of Philadelphia.
No matter what Michael Nutter thinks. Or every pollster in town.
“It’s clear that people want change,” the independent candidate said. “I see it as my responsibility to challenge Michael Nutter to put forth real alternatives. It’s clear that my campaign, the ideas that I’m putting out, are starting to impact everybody. That’s a good thing, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to become the next mayor of Philadelphia.”
If Rahman accomplished that goal, it would represent the biggest upset in Philadelphia political history. Rahman, a 34-year-old grassroots organizer who heads the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, has called the area near Chew and Locust avenues home for the past three years.
As a late-entry independent candidate, Rahman joined Nutter and Republican aspirant Karen Brown as the three horses in a race that’s supposed to be a runaway for the Democratic incumbent. When he says his campaign budget is “$18 million less than Nutter’s,” what he’s saying is he has very little cash in his coffers.
“That’s why we’re out there 24/7, hitting the concrete,” Rahman said after declaring that the first move he’d make as mayor is getting rid of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, which just happens to be something that Milton Street noted when announcing his unsuccessful primary campaign. “Since we can’t depend on ads or the media, it’s our responsibility to get word out.”
Getting the word out is what Rahman and a handful of neighbors and supporters did Wednesday night. They carried “Vote Wali ‘Diop’ Rahman for Mayor” palm cards, the middle name designed like the LOVE Park statue.
“I never saw, and still don’t see, myself as a politican. I’m a freedom fighter,” he said.
‘Development, not containment’
Rahman said he decided to run shortly after Nutter’s primary victory. He was spurred on by low turnout which “was evidence to me of a lack of confidence in the Democratic Party leadership. I also found it interesting that Nutter lost votes in all parts of the city. Center City. West Philadelphia. Wynnefield, and that’s where he’s from. And all the way up here [in Germantown].”
His platform boils down to two things: Community growth through locally owned businesses and slashing the money spent on law enforcement and prisons or, as he puts it, “Economic development as opposed to police containment.” He maintained that too many business owners don’t live in the community, so they take their money elsewhere.
“Their solution to the problems is to flood the community with more cops and build more prisons,” Rahman said. “The reality is that crime doesn’t happen in our community because there aren’t enough cops. The problem is that people don’t have jobs, don’t have access to resources, despite what Michael Nutter may say when trying to criminalize our community.
“I just spoke at a halfway house. They weren’t asking me where they could get their next kilo of coke. They were telling me we need jobs. We have people in this community who want to work, but a billion dollars are going to police and prisons.”
He conceded that Nutter wasn’t personally to blame, but said the city’s Democratic Party and its relationship with “big businesses” and labor unions are.
Out for (community) business
“That Fresh Grocer down the street, it isn’t owned by someone in the community,” he said. “They may hire some people locally, and they might call that economic development, but the reality is that’s economic extraction.
“All the money that gets spent at Fresh Grocer leaves our community on a regular basis. There’s no reason something like the Fresh Grocer shouldn’t be owned by the community. That way, dollars spent in the community stay in the community. Dry cleaners should be owned by a resident of the community. The hardware store.”
Supporting that stance was Michelle Tollen, owner of a Chelten Avenue beauty salon who’s involved with the East Germantown Improvement District, and Margaret Carroll, a committeeperson in the 12th Ward, Division 3.
While Tollen “has an interest in making sure things go well around here” since it’s where she works and lives, Carroll intimated that chains that come into the neighborhood engage in a bait-and-switch, promising development and jobs that never quite pan out. That has to change, Carroll added.
“Germantown mirrors what’s going on all over the city. The gentrification. These so-called developments like the Lowe’s and ShopRite in Parkside don’t speak to the needs of the community as a whole,” he said. “What I’m calling for is city investment in community-led business.”
The next morning, Rahman, who remains on probation from an assault conviction stemming from a Council Chambers scuffle with police during Nutter’s 2009 budget address, stood outside the Roundhouse calling for “a massive infusion of capital into the African and Latino communities” in addition to an overhaul of independent police oversight.
“If the people of Philadelphia make the decision to elect Wali ‘Diop’ Rahman as mayor,” concluded Rahman, who successfully fought for NBC10 airtime after Nutter and Brown got some, “then the construction of the road to social progress and a more just city will have begun.”