By Vidya Pandiaraju, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Six of the Philadelphia mayoral candidates discussed numerous key topics at a forum at Houston Hall on March 28 ahead of the Democratic primary in May.
Hosted jointly by Penn Leads the Vote, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition, and Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, Patrick Christmas, Chief Policy Officer at the Committee of Seventy, moderated the forum.Community members heard from candidates Allan Domb, 2016 Fels Institute of Government master’s graduate Cherelle Parker (D), David Oh (R), Derek Green (D), Jeff Brown (D), and Maria Quiñones Sánchez (D).
The candidates — all of whom are former city councilmembers except for Brown — unanimously agreed that Philadelphia’s education system was in need of a change but were divided on how best to approach the overhaul.
Green, a Philadelphia councilmember, advocated primarily for the reinstatement of vocational education, particularly in the context of contemporary innovation.
“We need to expose young people to the 21st century vocational opportunities we’re seeing in our city, and [right now] we’re not preparing our young people for that perspective,” Green said.
Brown focused more on the pipeline from strong public schools to higher education.
“Why is it that we only have one Masterman [School]? One Central [High School]? Why can’t we have two? The direction is to figure out how to get high quality college slots for every child that wants it,” Brown said.
When asked about building upon the momentum of Philadelphia’s Navy Yard and establishing a similar economic and social center, Parker spoke about the idea of a “hydrogen hub.”
Parker described the “first true-blue green alliance” between Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, adding that the proposed hydrogen hub would help Philadelphians limit their carbon footprint. Parker said that she expected the project would create over 38,000 jobs at a “family-sustaining wage.”
The panel of candidates were also asked yes or no questions, for which they could only use only a sheet of paper with the words “yes” or “no” to answer.
When asked if the proposed 76ers arena could “coexist with a thriving Chinatown community,” the audience audibly dissented. All of the candidates, however, held up a “yes,” with Quiñones Sánchez abstaining from the vote entirely, telling the moderator that “it [was] just not a yes or no question.” The proposed arena has sparked outrage from students and community members.
When Christmas asked the panel if they’d commit to combating antisemitism by engaging with Jewish leaders in the city, they unanimously agreed.
Domb reflected on his own experiences with antisemitism, telling the audience that just one month ago, he received a call from the police telling him that he was on an attempted murder list for his Jewish identity.
“[There’s] no tolerance, because a hate crime against one of us is a hate crime against all of us, and we need to stand together,” Domb said. “We’re stronger together.”
Pro-rent control protestors were present in the audience, holding handmade signs with sayings such as “Rent Control is the Bare Minimum” and “Universal Rent Control Now.” Before the panel began, event staff confiscated the signs before the panel started, citing an anti-sign policy. Nevertheless, the panel was interrupted by one protester who loudly said: “[all] of these other issues are crap, you need to talk about rent control,” before being escorted out.
The candidates also answered a question about the recent chemical water spill and whether they would have approached the situation differently if they were mayor.
Oh, who is the presumptive Republican candidate, said that the city’s response to the situation lacked follow up and regular communication.
“Guide [people] through the process, so every time your phone alarm goes off, you’re not shocked — you’re just following along the process and [are] in good hands,” Oh said.
Attendees said that the forum encouraged them to reflect on each of the candidates.
John Dent, an attendee of the forum, said that Quiñones Sánchez had piqued his interest as a result of the forum.
“[She’s] drawn me into wanting to go back to her website and read further,” Dent said.
Skip Gaus, also an attendee, was “proud” of the candidates he witnessed.
“They had plans to offer, they stated where they stood, and what they would do if they became mayor,” he said.
Gaus added that no matter the outcome, he hopes the next mayor of Philadelphia raises citywide morale.
“[They’ve] got to raise up Philadelphia. They’ve got to raise up hope,” Gaus said.