Yes, Philadelphia, there is a Republican mayoral-primary candidate

 Elmer Money, who ran for a City Council at-large seat in 2011, picked up his mayoral-primary nominating petitions on Friday. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Elmer Money, who ran for a City Council at-large seat in 2011, picked up his mayoral-primary nominating petitions on Friday. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

The easiest question to ask Elmer Money on an arctic-themed Friday morning was this: Does a Republican candidate who fared poorly in 2011’s City Council at-large field stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning Philly’s mayoral race?

But that query would also be belittlingly rude to pose of the lone GOP candidate to personally pick up his nominating petitions at the County Board of Elections office thus far, wouldn’t it?

Instead, NinetyNine sat down with Money inside a coffee shop near City Hall so the candidate-to-be could discuss the state of Philadelphia through his line-item budgetary lens (PDF) of fixing what ails a city he loves. (This, because the job of mayor is “to make sound fiscal policies,” he translated of the City Charter.)

State of the race

The lifelong Philadelphian — a Bishop McDevitt High grad who now works in health care and finance, he’s earned a bachelor’s from Saint Joe’s U. and an MBA from Holy Family U. — has already started building a team to help with door-to-door canvassing, media and fundraising.

“[Those efforts will] give my campaign the strongest footing should I have the honor of running as the Republican Party’s nominee,” he said of a field occupied by speculation that business executive Melissa Murray Bailey (a former Dem) and non-profit veep Sean Clark could run.

“It all kind of built up to this. You can’t run in a race like this without having run for something before,” he said of name-recognition drawn from that 2011 council race, attending countless civic meetings, membership in community groups, Philadelphia Forward and running for state committee.

“Enough people know who I am that I have a little bit of credibility. There is a need in this city for people who want to do things I’m talking about doing,” the Morrell Park resident continued. “It’s not about accumulating power. It’s not about building a legacy. Get elected, work hard, go home and try to make the city a better place to live.”

The current field — from which Democrats and their gargantuan registered-voters lead will select a candidate — has done nothing to discourage Money from running, either.

“Talk about opportunity, I can’t think of a weaker field of candidates in my lifetime,” he said. “This is an opportunity you have to take. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m the only person who sees it. I don’t want to insult anybody. You can’t insult ambition. But, you can insult qualifications.”

Tough task at hand

Having finished ninth in a nine-person field for two Republican council seats — he got 1,429 votes, while winners David Oh and Dennis O’Brien drew 10,928 and 10,228 respectively — Money admittedly has his work cut out for him.

Thus far, that work has included poring over the 3,000-plus page city budget looking for places to combine or cut.

“Three-fourths of the budget is Health and Human Services, public safety and pensions. So, if you’re going to look to fix anything, that’s where you have to look,” he said. “The topic I hate most in the budget is ‘to be determined.’ There are millions of dollars sitting there ‘to be determined.’ To me, that is an absolute waste, and all that money should be put into the schools.”

Diving deeper budgetarily, he said any cuts should be predicated not on whether a city wants to have something, but if the city needs to have something.

“You have to balance what you want to do, with what you can do,” he said. “It’s not about not caring. It’s about ‘are we using the money the way it should be used?’

“You’re talking about $500-plus million in unpaid property taxes, another $480 million in unpaid nuisance liens. I mean, c’mon, figure it out and do something about it. Don’t talk to me about budget shortfalls when you have a mess that you haven’t cleaned up.”

Defining Philly’s Republican brand

Money, a self-described “conservative Republican,” also discussed an ongoing struggle to define what the party is in Philadelphia. He maintained that social issues should be dealt with on the state and federal levels so the city should “stay out of them.”

“You’re going to be judged on how well you managed the city, not on whether you created ‘feel-good legislation,'” he said, alluding to the paid sick-leave bill that current Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law one day earlier. “This is the philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans. We both want what’s best for the city. The difference is how we get there. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want success.”

Discussing Nutter’s tenure from a “what you leave should be better than what you started with perspective,” Money said, “I do think that he’s done well in some aspects, but he’s done a horrible job with the School District, a horrible job with the budget. The city still has to be business friendly.

“Should we be focusing on sick days, or should we be focusing on L&I and the ‘is it safe to eat in my restaurant’? It’s election-year legislation which creates more of a class struggle.”

The road ahead

Money will soon know better what he’s facing in the May primaries.

Tuesday is the first day that candidates can circulate nominating petitions in pursuit of at least 1,000 signatures. That process ends on March 10.

He’s aiming for 2,000 signatures to bolster something that feels like a calling buoyed by hopes that high voter-turnout in November could deliver Philly its first Republican mayor since 1952.

“It’s something that feels right,” said Money, a married 49-year-old father of two. “I have to do it. I want to do it. And, at least I hope to be able to create a little bit of ‘putting people on the spot and saying what do you want to do and how are you going to do it?’ Don’t give me platitutes. Don’t give me hot air. What makes you qualified to do this job?”

So what makes Elmer Money qualified to do the job?

“I think being involved in the community is part of it,” he said. “Having children that go through the public-school and charter-school system is part of it since that makes you able to understand the mechanism that’s in place.”

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