mayoral forum

Next Great City mayoral forum: Tony Williams is late, Nelson Diaz is loud and Jim Kenney loves poetry

Most of Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates met on the stage at the Convention Center Tuesday night at a forum hosted by the Next Great City Coalition, and fielded questions about everything from bike lanes to healthy lunches for Philadelphia’s kids to naming their favorite mayor.

WHYY’s Dave Davies moderated the evening, and six Democratic candidates showed. (In case you were wondering, T. Milton Street didn’t appear — but Keith Goodman did!) Here’s how each candidate did, and how they responded to topics:

Lynne Abraham

Overall impressions: While Lynne Abraham didn’t name him by name, she’s undoubtedly going after likely frontrunner Anthony Williams when she says over and over that she’ll “be no one’s mayor but yours.” Abraham had some good ideas about biking and environmentalism, but her strengths often lie in public safety issues which really weren’t addressed tonight. She did fine — nothing bad, nothing spectacular either.

Favorite mayor: Richardson Dilworth

Something people don’t know about you: Everything from French to Chinese, Abraham says she *loves* to cook and bake, and she gets tons of enjoyment from watching the Great British Baking Show on WHYY.

Ideas for/ stances on…

Tax abatement program: Abraham said she still sees value in the city’s tax abatement program, and said the city wouldn’t have revitalized like it did without it.

Healthy food/ water in schools: This woman who was once in a school gardening club herself says school gardens could be vital in providing healthy lunch options for students while teaching them about sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Bike-related issues: Abraham said that there has to be more done to try to figure out more bike lanes and trails, but admitted that her dream is to see a New York City-style High Line park going through Center City to provide a place for people to walk around the city. Though, she said, that’s a longterm dream.

Plastic bag tax/ charge: Abraham said she’d legislate a small fee for plastic bag use at stores that’d hopefully force people to use reusable bags. When asked how she would go up against the retail lobby, she replied, “I’ll take on anybody, what difference does it make?” Alright, Lynne.

Expanded power for council president: Abraham said she vehemently opposes more power for the council president to approve mayoral appointments, as the city can be “great” if it has a mayor who leads and a council that acts strictly as a legislative body.

Nelson Diaz

Overall impressions: Nelson Diaz is an experienced judge and political figure, but he has trouble with, eh, volume and keeping things short. Seriously, moderator Dave Davies actually told him twice that he needed to shorten his answers, and at several points it kinda sounded like he was screaming. Diaz clearly has strong feelings about education and where it needs to go in the city, but he struggled to outline specific policies for getting things done besides, basically, “eff the SRC.” He’s also clearly trying to grab the women vote — when asked something interesting about *himself* he talked about his wife who fights for equal rights for women.

Favorite mayor: Richardson Dilworth and Ed Rendell

Something people don’t know about you: Diaz noted that his wife is passionate about equal rights for women and claims she was able to get President Obama to make sexual assault in the military a primary issue for his administration. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he said. D’aw.

Ideas for/ stances on…

Tax abatement program: Diaz wouldn’t give a stance one way or the other regarding Philadelphia’s tax abatement program, but said he sees issues with landlords that coming in, getting the abatement and immediately leaving when the 10 years are over. He says “you have to make sure there is benefit for all citizens.”

Healthy food/ water in schools: So Diaz was asked about increasing access to drinking water in schools and his immediate response was “the entire school system is broken” and “I want to end the SRC.” You can’t say he’s a man without a plan!

Bike-related issues: On Philly Bike Share, Diaz said he “loves riding bikes,” and that “we have to make it accessible to everyone.”

Expanded power for council president: Diaz came out strong against a measure that would allow the council president to approve mayoral appointments, but stressed that a mayor has to work harder to better communicate with council.

Keith Goodman 

Overall impressions: This was one of the first times the public has seen Rev. Keith Goodman in action. The North Philadelphia pastor recently announced his candidacy for election, and his inexperience showed tonight. While Goodman seemed to have good ideas for tapping into the city’s underserved communities, he didn’t come up with specific policy ideas and seemed to bounce more off of what the other candidates were saying than pave his own way.

Favorite mayor: John Street

Something people don’t know about you: “I can play the piano… pretty well.”

Ideas for/ stances on…

Tax abatement program: The program should be modified. Goodman really didn’t specify how it should be modified, but added that the most important thing is that “we need students to be educated.”

Plastic bag tax/ charge: Goodman said he felt putting a fee on plastic bags would serve as a regressive tax and would hurt low-income residents affected by an increase in cash they’d need to hit the grocery store.

Expanded power for council president: Goodman said he’s against expanded power given to council that would provide for them to approve appointments normally made the mayor.

Jim Kenney

Overall impressions: Obviously Jim Kenney is a decades-long veteran of Philadelphia government, and one of his most clear strengths is being able to get into the policy weeds and show that he really does know what he’s talking about. However, Kenney got some strange looks when one of his ideas for affordable housing was building homes out of… shipping containers? Still confused on this one, Jim.

Favorite mayor: Kinda Wilson Goode Sr., but mostly Ed Rendell

Something people don’t know about you: Um, Kenney loves poetry? Both Irish and American, apparently.

Ideas for/ stances on…

Tax abatement program: It should be kept. Kenney says there are issues relevant to neighborhood restoration would not have happened without it.

Healthy food/ water in schools: Food trucks! Kenney says low-cost-of-entry options and small businesses on wheels could partner with city schools, deliver fresh food to the kids and generate business and exposure.

Bike-related issues: Kenney basically said that he used to get really pissed at bike riders in the city before he understood their importance. “There needs to be an education process,” he said, “when we explain to people, ‘you have to learn to calm down and allow the person riding the bike to share the space with you.'”

Plastic bag tax/ charge: Kenney said recycling needs to be a business to turn trash into products that can be marketed.

Expanded power for council president: Kenney said he’s not in favor of the proposal, but said he understands that it comes from a place of council feeling like there was a culture of non-communications between it and the mayor. (Read: They’re mad no one told them about PGW.)

Doug Oliver

Overall impressions: Doug Oliver is deeeefinitely trying to tap into the millennial vote. We already knew that, but he pounded it home tonight. He advocated for better bike lanes and environmental sustainability, and was the only candidate to voluntarily mention keeping millennials in the city. In fact, Oliver spent the majority of his closing statement discussing how “we’re kidding ourselves” if we think the city can continue thriving and growing if millennials move in for a few years and then promptly move out.

Favorite mayor: Wilson Goode Sr.

Something people don’t know about you: “I actually am 40 years old,” Oliver joked. But seriously, he’s had two hip replacements and said that anyone who thinks he is young, should “just ask my knees and my back and my hips.”

Ideas for/ stances on…

Tax abatement program: Oliver said he’s not convinced the city needs its tax abatement plan, saying “if [people] want to be here, they’re going to be here.”

Healthy food/ water in schools: This candidate wants to create urban farms and partner with nonprofit organizations to find ways to grow food, invest in small businesses and provide healthy food options for local schools.

Plastic bag tax/ charge: Yes, Philadelphia should have a plastic bag charge to cut down on litter and overconsumption of plastic.

Expanded power for council president: Oliver said he doesn’t have a problem with council approving mayoral appointments because it’s done at the state level, and “works just fine.”

Anthony Williams

Overall impressions: So it was a little awkward because Anthony Williams was an hour late (it was icy and budget day, we forgive him) and was then kinda scolded by Davies for being on his phone like five minutes into him being there. Anyway, once Williams started caring about being in the room, he did just fine. Obviously this long-time senator is comfortable working a crowd and discussing policy, and clearly stood up for underserved communities and neighborhoods. Lucky for him, he really didn’t have to address his support of charter schools, the position he’s been hammered for most recently.

Favorite mayor: Wilson Goode, John Street and mostly Ed Rendell

Something people don’t know about you: “I’m a grandparent, and happily so.” Williams said his daughter and grandson live with him, and every night he makes sure his grandson gets to sleep. Awwww.

Ideas for/ stances on…

Bike-related issues: “Obviously I ride a lot, can’t you tell?” Williams joked. LOL, good one, Tony. He added that bikes are an intersection of the haves and have-nots — the people who ride bikes because they want to and the people who ride bikes because they have to. He said Philly Bike Share should, and will, continue to work to move into underserved neighborhoods to provide opportunities for those residents.

Plastic bag tax/ charge: Williams was one of only two candidates to oppose a charge on plastic bags in the city, saying it’s a regressive tax that would unfairly target low and modest-income residents. He said he’d prefer to invest in cleaning the streets on a weekly basis which would also create jobs.

Expanded power for council president: Williams said he’s not in favor of the measure, adding that the the approval process kinda sucks at the state and federal level.

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