In what turned out to be the most, um, entertaining mayoral forum of the election season thus far, AL DÍA News hosted a conversation with the candidates Monday night that culminated in a yelling match dotted with outbursts by Milton Street, arguments in the audience and Tony Williams actually throwing his hands in the air.
Topics of discussion ranged from policing to immigration to transportation. During the first half, local journalists asked questions of each candidate and then the politicians had a set time to answer. But the second half was a “quickfire” round moderated by AL DÍA News managing editor Sabrina Vourvoulias. The answers weren’t timed, and things got a little weird. The reporters asking questions included Solomon Jones from 900AM WURD, Shai Ben-Yaacov from WHYY, Helen Ubiñas from The Daily News, Steve Bo-Le Yuan from Metro Chinese Weekly, Chris Krewson from Billy Penn (holla!) and Ana Gamboa from AL DÍA News.
Here are the highlights of what went down:
What the candidates said
On Uber and Lyft operating in Philadelphia:
Abraham said that while she understands there has been controversy between cab drivers and Uber operators, she believes competition is good and supports Uber’s presence in the city. She suggested ride-sharing companies pay licensing fees in order to pay their fair share and “appropriately” compete with the cab companies and drivers paying for taxi medallions. She also called cabs “crummy” and “cramped,” saying riders oftentimes feel more welcomed and comfortable in Uber and Lyft vehicles.
Funding city schools:
Current Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed a property tax increase in order to further fund the School District of Philadelphia. Abraham said tonight that she disagrees with that — she “wouldn’t even consider imposing a property tax, especially because we have several ways to make that in different ways.”
On tax policy:
When Abraham spoke to the audience about tax policy, she at one point referred to herself as a “trusted, fearless leader.” At least she kinda smiled when she said it.
On keeping businesses in Philadelphia:
Diaz said that though taxes are lower in the suburbs and businesses could easily bolt for outside the city, he’d work to restructure the tax system to make it less regressive, more progressive. That starts with the real estate tax, he said, which is often highest in big cities.
One of Nelson Diaz’ more passionate responses of the evening came with regard to community policing, and he pointed out that 30,000 people are being stopped and frisked each year: “That is degrading and that should stop.”
On the SRC:
Diaz seems to think that even though the mayor can’t technically abolish the SRC, he can still do it since a majority of Philadelphians want it. We’re not entirely sure that’s how government works, but own it, Nelson.
On blocking people on Twitter:
Kenney, who used to be a councilman and is famous for calling out Chris Christie on Twitter, has become notorious on social media for blocking people that disagree with him. When asked how he’ll handle this as mayor, he said that he’ll adopt friendlier Twitter practices if elected and knows he can’t just block people when they criticize him. But he did acknowledge the personal empowerment that comes from hitting that “block” button: “It’s such a liberating feeling to just go BYE.”
On gentrification and labor:
Kenney has been identified as the union and labor candidate of choice, and has backing from Philadelphia union boss Johnny Doc. One journalist asked Kenney how he can prevent gentrification from pushing people out if he’s backed by special interests like labor who might benefit from said gentrification. Kenney said he doesn’t believe gentrification is a labor issue, but said it’s about properties that in some ways make a community and a neighborhood better. He then threw a little bit of shade at Williams, who has also garnered union support.
On policing and race relations:
The candidate called for “cultural sensitivity” training for Philadelphia Police, saying that he believes every officer should be trained in civil rights and the history of various cultures.
On police-involved shootings:
Oliver heard some backlash from the crowd Monday when he talked about police-involved shootings. The candidate said that black men have reason to be afraid of police, but in some ways, police have reason to be afraid of black men.
“When I look at what it will take to make our streets safe, it’s education and jobs, because when you look at the shootings and who did them, you’re talking about people who are uneducated and did not have a job,” Oliver said. “Education and job creation is how you create safe streets.”
On keeping housing projects affordable:
Solomon Jones from 900AM WURD pointed out that housing projects deemed affordable can cost $1,400 a month — not exactly affordable. Oliver said that much of his campaign revolves around fairness, and suggested that investors partnering with community groups can come together to actually define the word “affordable” in a concrete way.
On a 24-hour city:
Oliver has proposed making Philadelphia a 24-hour city to better engage young people and night owls. He said once in office, he’d engage with the council president, work with SEPTA and have conversations with police in order to make Philadelphia the 24-hour city he thinks it can become.
On task forces, in general:
Alright so Milton Street basically thinks task forces are pointless — he says “all you have to do is meet with community groups” to solve problems like the relationship between police and the neighborhoods they serve.
On race and policing:
Street said that it’s important for politicians and community members to “admit that race is a problem… we have to have situations where there is equal distribution of goods and services.” He then maybe questioned Mayor Michael Nutter’s race. Kenney may or may not have giggled.
On the Philadelphia Land Bank:
Get rid of it!
“What is the purpose of a land bank?” Street said. “I never found the purpose of a city sitting on the land. The Land Bank makes no sense.”
On policing in Philly:
Williams called for the implementation of all 91 recommendations outlined in a recent Justice Department review of the Philadelphia police department and police-involved shootings. He also asked his fellow candidates to sign off on a pledge to implement recommendations outlined by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which is co-chaired by Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey.
On charter schools:
Williams was asked about his support of charter schools, and he pointed out that many parents don’t care about the name of a school or what type it is — they care about the quality of education, and he believes school choice can provide that.
On keeping young people in Philly:
Billy Penn editor Chris Krewson asked Williams about keeping millennials in Philly (more on that later), and Williams responded that young people in that age group are often stereotyped — it’s not just young people who use Uber and ride bikes, and “millennial” is an age group, not a race or income bracket.
Most awkward moment
During the first half of the mayoral debate, journalists had ten minutes to ask each candidate a question. When Ubiñas went over (she was first, everyone forgave her), Jim Kenney ended up getting snubbed and didn’t get to answer a question regarding police and community relations. It was another several minutes before he was asked a question, and we’re pretty certain he thought no one would ever call on him. No questions for Kenney time was basically like:
Who got pissed
Maybe I’m biased because he straight up yelled at my boss, but Milton Street was not very happy when Billy Penn‘s Chris Krewson brought up a column posted this morning that essentially called Street a liar. Street lost his mind, accused Krewson of not doing his homework and said he’d released a response to the Philly.com column. We have yet to locate that response.
After that, Street went on a tirade about the challenge process (he was challenged on the validity of his residency and his party registration), saying his opponents sent in a “scrapyard” lawyer who Street “whipped.” Alright!
Nelson Diaz has made his stance on education quite clear — he wants to abolish the SRC. But WHYY reporter Shai Ben-Yaacov pointed out to Diaz that the mayor really can’t do that. With the recommendation of the state Secretary of Education, the SRC has to vote to essentially abolish itself. Ben-Yaacov asked Diaz how he would deal with the SRC if he can’t immediately abolish it. Diaz completely dodged, and said that he’s certain that with high support in Philadelphia for the abolition of the oversight body, he’d be able to get it done. Womp.
Doug Oliver also dodged very nicely — an AL DÍA News reporter asked Milton Street a specific question about a new bill in New York regarding people who aren’t citizens voting. When she posed the same question to Oliver, her buzzer went off signaling she was out of time. Oliver responded: “I would have answered that but, you know…”
Lynne Abraham claimed that Jim Kenney didn’t vote for her police corruption unit in 1997 which would have been funded with $600,000. Kenney later shot back, saying the unit would have done little to actually hold police accountable. Here’s a look at what Abraham’s proposal actually entailed.
Best audience response
We’ll stick with the first half, because the audience went kinda off the rails during the second half. But everyone in the crowd went “OOOOOHHHH” when Billy Penn‘s Chris Krewson asked Anthony Williams about millennials. He said, “We haven’t heard much from you regarding millennials, because we know you don’t need them to win the election…” Williams went on to, of course, disagree with this characterization, saying he is totally “down with millennials.”
How the audience was involved
This is what happens when you have wonky mayoral events over dinner time — people get a little crazy. When there was time for one more question for the candidates, three people in the audience actually started yelling at each other. One guy even yelled, “I’ve been waiting 40 years for this!” He then proceeded to ask a question about whether or not Jim Kenney would keep Charles Ramsey in office as police commissioner. FWIW, Ramsey has been the top cop for seven years, not 40.
You probably couldn’t see it from a livestream, but while Milton Street was answering a question early in the event, Lynne Abraham broke out a package of Necco wafers and handed them out to Tony Williams and Jim Kenney. If you don’t know what a Necco wafer is, they are basically the taste equivalent of Tums. Mmmmm?
— Billy Penn (@billy_penn) March 30, 2015