After Jim Kenney voted on Tuesday, he joked that he considered voting for Doug Oliver. Oliver, who finished fourth with 4.3 percent of the vote, was the guy everyone seemed to like in this mayoral race — if they knew him.
The 40-year-old Oliver, the lone Democratic candidate in the race under 50, had the least political experience of anyone running. Though Philly is skewing younger and is considered a hotbed for millennials, he ended up not coming close against Kenney and the Democratic machine that supported him. But with big kudos during the process from Kenney and former mayor and governor Ed Rendell, it sure looks like Oliver has a bright political future in Philadelphia. Billy Penn spoke with Oliver late Tuesday night about what he learned from his campaign and what his plans are for the future (Yes, Mr. Democrat-Elect, he would be interested in working in city politics). The interview has been briefly edited and condensed.
Hours after finding out the results, what’s on your mind as you think about the race?
I’m very proud of the campaign that we ran. We knew from the beginning it was going to be difficult and knew that raising money would be difficult and political support was going to be difficult. We knew that name recognition was going to be a challenge. It’s not quite surprising that the results showed the way we did. But I feel proud. So proud of the campaign we ran. Not including independent expenditures we spent about $4 per vote compared to about $55 a vote for Nelson Diaz or Lynne Abraham. We think the efficiency of our campaign is something that can be built upon.
The challenge I think we had was name recognition. A lot of people even as I went from poll to poll (Tuesday) they said, ‘I haven’t heard of you.’ That’s the truth of where you need big money to win these races. I’m still proud. The people who joined with me, to fight what they knew was uphill is something I don’t regret and something I will take with me. It means so much and I can’t say enough for the people who were willing to gamble on a guy from Germantown in a race for mayor in the fifth biggest city in the country. I’m excited about what comes ahead.
What is ahead for you?
From the beginning I think it was for important to not have a Plan B because when you know the odds are against you, you might take advantage of Plan B. We didn’t want to have a safety net. So, remove the safety net and go hard, play the hand the best you can. The upside is that I think we played a very good hand. The downside is a I don’t have a sense of what’s next yet. I will wake up tomorrow and return phone calls and listen to voicemails and I won’t pass on any opportunity. Might that be a role in government? That’s not up to me. That would be up to Jim Kenney. If it’s the private sector I will return a few of the phone calls I’ve received already.
I will not do anything in this city that doesn’t allow me to advance the ball on things I put out this campaign. I will be focused on schools and creating jobs and maintaining a sense of fairness for people who are forgotten, particularly ex-offenders.
But long term, say years from now, do you see yourself in politics?
Yes, I’ve always been interested in politics. What I said to my team tonight is I am committed to serving my city, and I tend to hold who is elected accountable to the words spoken in the same way I hold myself accountable. We’ll see what the future brings. If Jim Kenney doesn’t keep his word he should be concerned about me running in 2019. And at the same time if he does keep his word I may very well support him for his re-election in 2019.
Have you called Jim Kenney yet (as of last night)?
I’m going to call tonight and congratulate him on a race well run. I don’t think he had any guarantees he was going to be mayor of Philadelphia. My criticism of him not jumping in the game has now been disproven. I have a tremendous amount of respect for every one one of (the other five candidates) including Milton Street, to be able to live with their public lives on the line. I think Kenney has won fair and square. I do wish him well as mayor.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you could go back?
I would have given myself about three to four more months to get to know the city. One of the scary things to me was people were like, ‘I liked you but I just didn’t know you.’ They needed a little more time to poke and feel. They didn’t have that and that was to my detriment. I’m proud of my $40,000. I got that from the poorest city in the country. (Ed note: Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 26 percent.) When someone came and gave me $15 that’s far different than a corporation giving me $15,000. It’s not equal gifts but equal sacrifice.
I saw people studying ballots as they walked into the booth and I thought, ‘my God I’m in trouble,’ and that’s just the reality of it. It’s the complete antithesis to everything we learned in civics class. But that said that’s the reality of Philly.