Q&A: GOP candidate Melissa Murray Bailey on female leaders, work ethic and her unique mayoral-race position
Melissa Murray Bailey: Highly regarded international-business executive, South Jersey native who now calls Society Hill home, former Democrat, wife and mother. Oh yeah, the 36-year-old is also running for mayor of Philadelphia.
Sure, six candidates are vying to win the May 19 Democratic mayoral primary, but look closely at the stage at some forums and debates, and you’ll notice a seventh candidate.
In that unique position of getting airtime and attention despite her uncontested primary is Murray Bailey, who recently sat down with NinetyNine at Milk & Honey Cafe to talk about lessons learned since switching from a Democrat to Republican in advance of her mayoral mission.
You can read the full 45-minute interview via this link, but see below for the highlights:
99: It’s quite unique for you to be appearing at these mayoral forums when you’re not on the ballot against any of these candidates yet, no?
Melissa Murray Bailey: I’m getting invitations to maybe 50 percent of the forums. In the beginning, I tried to get invited to some, like the televised debate by the Chamber of Commerce, but they said no. Basically, [they said] you’re noise right now, irrelevant right now, we want to give voters a chance to hear from people they’ll be voting on [in the primary].
I’ve stopped using energy to push my way in when I wasn’t really invited, but I’m excited that people are inviting me to the ones I’ve been invited to. Otherwise, I’d be sitting on my hands or creating my own things among Republicans.
If I stand a chance at this, I need to get exposure to Democrats as well. … It’s giving me an advantage because I get to hear what everybody’s saying, but also it gives me unnecessary nightmares because I don’t have to win against all six of them.
99: Why were you a Democrat in the first place?
MMB: My parents were both teachers, and we all see what teachers do and support. My dad was very active in the union. He was the lead negotiator and this is a strong way of saying it, but he was always “hating the man.”
During my time growing up in Absecon [Atlantic County, NJ], that “man” was mostly Republicans. That was the main reason why. My parents always taught me to be open minded, so although I was always registered [Democrat], I was always evaluating the candidates.
99: It is weird to have the “R” after your name now?
MMB: It is. It is. You know, I think with a lot of people — and I bet a lot of people in this city, because I’ve met them — there’s a negative stigma with being a Republican. You have all the nasty stuff that happens, but that’s not really what Republicanism is about.
For me, it’s about, first and foremost, fiscal responsibility. That’s really where I align strongly. It’s super-important in this city. For every person in Philadelphia not to scrutinize where City Hall is spending money and wanting them to be more responsible with it is a mystery to me.
How many times can you open the paper and see “corruption,” see people going to jail, see people spending money irresponsibly and then they’re asking for more money? That doesn’t sit well with me.
I don’t, at all, mind paying taxes to support things that help people, but when you’ve lost your trust in that, you become resentful every time you’re asked for more.
We talk a lot about the proposed property-tax increase; right now, it’s a big issue. Ok, so, yes, I support the schools; 55 percent of that increase goes to the schools. Where’s the 45 percent going? If they said we’re going to do a tax increase and 100 percent of that is going to go to the schools, and we’re going to make sure we audit how it’s being spent, and we’re going to have transparency on everything, I don’t mind supporting that, but not when there’s the black box of the 45 percent.
99: What have you learned about the forums about the field and running for the first-time?
MMB: The key thing that I really didn’t appreciate going into it is the skills it takes to win are not the skills it takes to be successful.
99: How so?
MMB: It’s a lot about fundraising. It’s a lot about, yeah, it’s mostly about fundraising.
Unless something completely different happens in this race — and there’s a chance that it will — it’s going to come down to who has the most support; not necessarily money in their bank accounts, but most support all-around.
Your ability to fundraise is not what’s going to make you a great mayor. What will make you a great mayor is can you set a strategy that people buy into and work towards and you can get it done, and can you lead people to do things differently and better than they’ve done before.
99: How can you do that?
MMB: That’s what I do for a living. I run businesses, or parts of businesses. I build them, and I turn them around.
I have never taken an easy job. After entry-level, I was always the one raising my hand for the thing nobody wanted to do because I love a challenge and I do have an ability to get people to work harder than they would typically work and to come together for a common goal.
99: How does that manifest itself? I don’t suspect you bang your shoe on a podium or anything like that?
MMB: It’s about listening. That’s one thing that I notice: I have to listen a lot more since I don’t have as much of the experiential. So, I’m talking to people every day and listening to them. I’m not pre-supposing I know because of my experience.
When you do that, and people hear their ideas represented in your leadership, they want to be a part of it. And they get their friends to be a part of it. …
People have different styles of leadership. You can get to the top through power, ego, telling everybody what to do. But, you’re still going to be limited in your potential, especially as we have millennials in the workforce. They’re in their 30s now. They’re not kids. They don’t want to be treated like that. And, there are so many options in the workplace now.
Think about the Uber concept. That’s even translated into business. There are Uber-type coders. There are these things like Elance and oDesk where people can create their own schedules and work for who they want.
I’m straddling Gen X and Gen Y. I have some Gen X tendencies, which is I worked my ass off to get where I am. I worked really long hours and I sacrificed a lot. But that’s not what people want to do anymore. They want to enjoy their life and enjoy work as part of that.
So, if you want to be an effective leader of the next generation, you have to engage them almost on a peer-to-peer level and gain their respect. They will only work with you, follow your lead, if they respect you, not because you’re the boss.
99: What have you learned about the mayoral-candidate field these past few months?
MMB: A lot of the answers to the questions, they are talking about experiences. ‘What are you going to do to make sure there’s more affordable housing?’ ‘Well, when I was dah dah dah, I did this, this and this.’
Everything is like that: All the answers to the questions are history lessons. I don’t have that. So, I have to talk about forward thinking. That’s the stark difference right now.
I have to really think hard on progress and what I’m going to do. That’s the differentiator I have.
Even if I did do those things before, people are still asking the questions, so it’s still a problem. So, what I did before didn’t work anyway.
99: You don’t sound like the traditional image of what people in Philadelphia think a ‘Republican candidate’ is.
MMB: Someone asked me that at the last debate: ‘Oh, are you ‘X’ person’s campaign manager?’ I said, ‘I’m a candidate. The Republican candidate.’ They just brushed it off.
But, people are starting to recognize me.
I was up at the Mural Arts Program/Eagles day at Gilbert Spruance Elementary and some little girls came up and asked if they could take their picture with me. I asked if it was because I was wearing a suit and you think I’m important? And they’re, like, ‘No, you’re going to be the first woman mayor!” Awesome! Let’s take a picture!
99: Does that sting you at all when people say that about Lynne?
MMB: It doesn’t. And, Lynne is so gracious and kind. I was sitting right next to her and someone came up and said “How do you feel being the only woman in the race?” And she like, “Have you met Melissa? Melissa’s in the race, too!”
This is clearly a male-dominated world. The City Council races. The mayoral race. And I think there are innate thing that women have that make them strong leaders. If we could bring some of that into Philadelphia, I think it would help.
99: What are they?
MMB: [Former UK Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said well done in politics, you ask a man. If you want something done well in politics, you ask a woman.”
That’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but when you look at the differences, it’s really true.
Women really have to prove themselves so they really get down in the weeds and get stuff done. Although this isn’t the case, they believe a lot more that talk is cheap.
I can only say things that I can do. I would never say something that I didn’t think I could do because I’d be so afraid that someone would come along and call me on it.
99: Have you started, in your mind, to break down the field, with different approaches depending on who wins the Democratic primary?
Well, I’ll say I’ve been gathering data. The company I run right now is a market-research and branding firm. I have a degree in engineering, so I love data. I’ve been gathering data, more qualitative than quantitative, on what people are saying, what their views are, and how mine are different and if that’s a plus or a minus. So, I’ll know if this is a position of strength for me or is this a position of weakness.
99: Do you have any preference on who you face in November?
MMB: I think anyone I face, it’s going to be hard as they’ll have a lot of experience. I think I have advantages no matter who comes out; they’re just different.
So, I ask everyone who has more experience than me “Who do you think I should want to come out of the primary” and everyone has a different view. …
There are scenarios where I can win. The ambiguity is the hard part.
In a month, we’ll know everything. I’ll have a much more crystallized strategy once we figure out who the Democrat is going to be, and if any of these independents come forward.
99: Take me to May 20 and beyond. You know who you’re running against. What happens then?
MMB: I sit down and create this strategy based on who I’m running against. We have whiteboards and powerpoint presentations; in my job, I always have to present to the board of directors: Here’s how I am going to accomplish these goals and I need to instill in them that they have the confidence I’m going to be able to do what I say. Nitty gritty plans. I suspect I’m going to do that exact same thing with this race.
And, I also have to plan for fundraising. People don’t want to throw their money away, and they don’t want to be associated with — this is an insider’s town, you want to align with someone who is going to win, and there are typically ramifications for people who betray. So, that makes it really hard.
It’s almost like a venture capital pitch. When you’re a small business starting out, you need to go raise venture capital and prove to people that you’re worth investing in. That’s how I’ll approach this as well.
99: Back to the preference of opponent in the general election…
MMB: I think running against Lynne, there would be a woman mayor (unless a third-party candidate unexpectly and successfully ran), and I think that’s great.
Philadelphia is going to run itself into the ground if it doesn’t change and we need someone completely different if it’s going to change at all. Someone who isn’t tied to anything. I’m not getting into politics. I’m running for mayor. …
I want to fix Philadelphia. I want to be the catalyst for change.
MMB: I cannot live some place, see these things happening, know that I could do something about it and not do it. That’s really the only reason I’m sacrificing my entire career to be doing this.
It’s only going to get worse. We have a horrible poverty problem and we don’t have a plan to fix it.
And the schools, everybody’s complaining about money for the schools, but the schools were bad before there were money problems. It really irks me. Getting money for the schools isn’t the question. The question is how are we going to fix the schools, and no one’s asking that question.
If I won the lottery and gave $1 billion to the schools, it doesn’t make it better. As a city, we’re not orienting around the root cause of the problems. That’s why I’m doing this. I know how to get to the root cause of problems, and I know how to solve for that. We need to do that.
We’re just delirious. We were at a recent forum talking about the pensions and everyone’s like “Oh, if we just build the economy up, and fix the schools, the pension problem goes away.” How can anybody listen to that and say that makes sense? That’s what we’ve been doing. We can’t control if the economy collapses again. Hope is not a strategy.
And, unfortunately, we’re going to have to make hard, unpopular choices but if we want to fix things, that’s what we have to do.
There’s been plenty of times when I’m saying the unpopular thing, but I hear people saying afterwards that I appreciate that you’re telling the truth.
They might not agree with my truth, but I think people are realizing that what I’m saying is real and true. It’s not always what people want to hear, but that’s the reality of fixing the problems we have to fix in the city.
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