Philly’s Dem. mayoral candidates appear at campaign’s first group forum

Excluding that possibility that the Rev. Keith Goodman and Queena Bass will end up on the ballot, a Thursday morning forum in Parkside marked the first time the entire Democratic field for mayor spoke about their candidacies from the same stage.

Fine, the 90-minute event didn’t feature a stage stage. The focal point of the Business Association of West Parkside‘s mayoral forum was six microphone-adorned tables (with chairs) set up in the front of a room at the Philadelphia Business & Technology Center.

It provided Nelson Diaz, Jim Kenney, Milton Street, Doug Oliver, Anthony Hardy Williams and Lynne Abraham the first of many chances to pitch themselves as the best replacement for Mayor Michael Nutter while fielding questions from the audience of about 150.

The 8:30 a.m. event was moderated by Richardson Dilworth III — director of Drexel University’s Center for Public Policy — who deemed the campaign to be the “the longest job interview in Philadelphia.”

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Candidate introductions

Here are the whittled-down versions of the candidates’ three-minute opening arguments:

— Diaz is running “because I am very tired of seeing what happens to children struggling through the school system and poverty. We need someone who understands those stuggles.” (Which he maintained he does thanks to an upbringing bereft of any silver spoons.)

— Kenney concurred that the city’s high poverty rate “is atrocious, and we need to start moving the needle away from that number” through better education and job creation, which he said he is well positioned to do because of a respectful relationship with his former City Council peers.

— Street said violence hurts childrens’ ability to learn and the city’s ability to attract businesses. He noted that people don’t care about inner-city violence but when “ISIS kills one person, that life has such value that they send the Air Force to start bombing.” Of the charter-school students in the audience, he said “anyone can leave this building and run into an unfortunate situation and get shot, but nobody would seem to care.”

— Oliver acknowledged that, yeah, “they could get shot when they leave, but I think it’s important to realize that they can also leave here and start their own business, be the next president, end up being our bosses one day.”

— For his part, Williams said, “We’ll all talk about schools, creating jobs, reducing violence and having a fair judicial system, but the question is who has done something about it, not who complained about it.” The implication, of course, was that he has done something about it rather than complaining.

— Having pulled the sixth position in a random draw for seating order, Abraham closed the intros with a message of positivity: “I believe we live in a wonderful city. Philadelphia is on a roll. It is about to become the next great American city, and I want to be its leader.” Then, she echoed the others’ sentiments about how the schools are subpar and a “killer tax structure” turns businesses away.

Onto the questions

Exercising moderational privilege, Dilworth kicked off the queries of the candidates by asking what single thing would they’d like to change by the time they closed out eight years in office.

The answers: Kenney (“the level of poverty is dramatically reduced”), Street (“it would be a safe city”), Oliver (“solving our core problems” of education, employment and a fair, safe city), Williams (“a city unified around the issues of safety, schools [and] quality job creation”), Abraham (improved education and a thriving business community) and Diaz (“It’s criminal what we do to our kids. [I want] every opportunity given to every child.”)

Questions asked of the candidates by audience members centered on education (namely, charter vs. traditional public schools and boosting graduation rates), taxes, re-entry programs for ex-offenders, streamlining the processes and paperwork required of entrepreneurs and, among others, minority business contracts.

(A story from WHYY’s Katie Colaneri examines those forum moments. You can read that via this link.)

There was a lot of agreement between the candidates, so if there is to be drama and conflict in the race, you’ll have to wait to see it.

The lone fiery exchange came when Kenney responded to an Abraham barb about his 2007 pension-fund bill with the assertion that he’s not the one tapping into the DROP program.

Oh right, Milton Street also talked about “occupying” vacant properties rather than tracking down tax-delinquent owners (which is kinda illegal) and dismissively referred to Jay-Z as “AZs or something,” (which is kinda troublesome when framed in the future of a Made In America concert weekend should he be Philly’s 99th mayor).

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