NewsWorks will host Eighth District debate and voter forums

An open seat has generated a Kentucky Derby-sized field of candidates in the Eighth Council District Democratic primary.

At least 10 candidates have announced their intention to run.  Other potential candidates might still emerge before March 8, the deadline for filing nominating petitions.

How are voters to sort through all these options, to figure out which candidate best fits what they seek in a Council person?

NewsWorks and WHYY, along with other community partners, are holding a series of election events to help Northwest Philadelphia voters do just that.

The project, Eyes on the Eighth, will hold three voter forums in different parts of the district in March and April.

The project will conclude with a candidates debate to be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 27, at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, 35 West Chelten Ave.

The goal of three opening forums is to harvest voter concerns and turn them into voter-oriented questions that will encourage candidates to address real concerns, think on their feet, and venture away from those practiced talking points.

Here are the forum dates and sites.  All forums begin at 7 p.m., with doors open for registration and refreshments at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 22,  First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19144
Monday, March 28,  Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, 8855 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19118
Tuesday, April 5,  the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen Street Philadelphia, PA 19119

Any eligible Eighth District voters are welcome to attend.  The candidates will not speak at these three preliminary forums, though they will be welcome to attend and listen in as voters discuss the issues.

NewsWorks’ partners in this project are the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, Germantown Community Connection, the Committee of Seventy, G-Town Radio, and the League of Women Voters.

The Penn Project for Civic Engagement will lead the voter forums, where residents of the Eighth will get to name and discuss their top neighborhood issues, and frame questions for the debate.  GCC will help spread the word about the events.  The Committee of Seventy and the League will provide background information on the election.  G-Town Radio will stream the April 27 debate live on the Internet.

Dr. Harris Sokoloff, co-founder of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, has been doing this kind of thing since 1995, and he’s learned a bit about how to put voters into meaningful contact with their candidates.

“We’ve created a format in which you have residents talking with each other, talking about things that they think are important and what they think is important about it,” he said. “What you get then in a question that is more nuanced.”

Not ‘gotcha’ questions, but questions to make the candidate – and the audience – think.  Questions, perhaps, that force the candidates to peel back their shells a little.

“When the questions move the candidates out of their comfort zones, then I know we’ve done good job,” Sokoloff said.

Beyond the April 27 debate, NewsWorks will also publish the candidates’ written answers to the voter questions, and present them in a series on its Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill and Germantown local news Web pages in the two weeks leading up to the May 17 primary.  We also will invite candidates to give short, video statements of their case for their candidacy.

In the last mayoral election, the Penn Project conducted a city-wide series of forums like these, which many credited with helping set an issues-oriented and serious tone for that election, Sokoloff said.

This contested primary is set up by the retirement of the incumbent, Donna Reed Miller, who served four terms.  The winner of the May 17 primary will have to face any possible Republican nominee in the November general election, but the history of the Eighth is that the winner in May usually wins the seat. But with no major primary opposition to Mayor Nutter at the top of the ticket, and possibly a double-digit number of district candidates, every vote in this primary will weigh heavily in what’s likely to be a very close contest.

So join in.

With an open spot on City Council waiting to be filled by a new voice speaking for Northwest Philadelphia, there’s a lot at stake for the future of your neighborhood, your block, your family.

All you have to do is bring your concerns and your willingness to listen.

 

For more information, e-mail to newsworks@whyy.org, or call 215-351-2386.

 

This story is a corrected version. The original listed an incorrect date to file nomination petitions.

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

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.