Philly mayoral contenders talk Black economic opportunities at candidate forum

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James "Jimmy" DeLeon announced his mayoral campaign in November after serving as a municipal judge for 34 years. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

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Nearly a dozen people are running to be Philadelphia’s next mayor, including multiple former City Council members, a pastor, and a grocery store magnate.

On Sunday night, the Meet the Candidates Mayoral Forum — hosted by the BBEx Network at the P4 Hub in Germantown — brought together Black and brown professionals from across the Philadelphia area to hear from some of the candidates directly. Up for discussion: the economic advancement of Philadelphia’s Black business community.

Helen Gym speaks at a mayoral candidate forum
Former City Councilmember Helen Gym said Philadelphia is the most exploited city in the country when it comes to business. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Addressing the forum audience, mayoral candidate and former City Councilmember Helen Gym said the city needs a conscious break from the system, calling Philadelphia the most exploited city in the country when it comes to business.

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During an interview with WHYY News, Gym said this could be the result of having a mayor that isn’t truly working with citizens and connecting with communities to improve outcomes.

“When you have a city where 37% of children are born into poverty …[this] may not be intentional, but it is conscious and there are conscious actions that are taken each and every day to keep so many people down,” Gym said. “I have a mission, though, on a new generation of people who are going to drive the city’s future, both economically, socially, culturally, and politically.”

Maria Quiñones Sánchez, another former council member running for mayor, compared the crowded field of candidates to a competition to become the city’s next CEO. And that Philadelphia has long lacked a leader with the “political will” to make equitable opportunities for all communities.

“There are people who are running who are very well-intentioned right? And they do it from their space of privilege,” Quiñones Sánchez said. “I am just as angry and as frustrated because all I’ve ever seen represents the most challenging neighborhoods in this city is resilient communities who just want access and opportunity and don’t want [to] have you doing me a favor.”

María Quiñones Sánchez speaks at a Philly mayoral candidate forum
Former City Councilmember María Quiñones Sánchez said Philadelphia has long lacked a leader with the ”political will” to make equitable opportunities for all communities. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

When discussing the impact a mayor could make for Black businesses in Philadelphia, former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker told prospective voters not to listen to numbers potential investors may throw out to marginalized communities.

“When somebody comes before you and tells you they created 60,000 jobs, you say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so great,’” Parker said. “But if it’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation, I want you to start asking questions. How many of those 60,000 jobs pay Black people $9.65 an hour?”

Cherelle Parker speaks at a Philly mayoral forum
When businesses tout job creation numbers, former City Councilmember Cherelle parker urged the audience to ask questions. “How many of those 60,000 jobs pay Black people $9.65 an hour?” (Cory Sharber/WHYY)
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Other candidates in attendance Sunday included former City Councilmembers Derek Green and Allan Domb, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, Jeff Brown, and Jimmy DeLeon. Candidates Jon McKay, Fareed Abdullah, and state Rep. Amen Brown did not attend.

Voter Miquon Brinkley, owner/curator of the Think Makers Society, said he appreciated hearing the candidates’ different takes on how to improve economic opportunities for Philly’s Black communities, but his ears perked up when the topic switched from creating and maintaining jobs to running a business.

Philly mayoral candidates are seen on stage at a candidate forum
Nearly a dozen people are running to be Philadelphia’s next mayor, including multiple former City Council members, a pastor, and a grocery store magnate. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

“I’m interested in ownership, so it jumped out more to me when people are talking about creating programs with loans and access to capital and even access to people as far as giving technical assistance with running a business that we might not get — we definitely ain’t getting — in the public school system,” Brinkley said.

Beyond business, Brinkley said he wants the next mayor to be someone who is willing to engage and have a direct dialog with the community.

“If you look at the people that are here, it’s all real Philadelphians, a lot of different demographics, obviously mostly Black, but just giving us access to have those conversations.” he said.

Sunday’s event was held as part of the Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, with lead support provided by the William Penn Foundation. Other event partners included DiverseForce, PA Chamber for Black Owned Business, and the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, DE, and N.J.

This story is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. Learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters here.

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