Philadelphia mayoral primary candidates at a March 2023 forum focusing on Latino issues at Gloria Casarez Elementary School. (Aubri Juhasz/WHYY)

Democratic mayoral nominee Cherelle Parker’s campaign on Monday issued a statement calling a Latino-focused town hall a “hoax” and a “fictitious event” due to a lack of proper planning and ties to the Philly GOP. 

Residents associated with the effort to host the event set for Wednesday evening, including a Republican ward leader who’s co-chair of Philadelphia’s Moms For Liberty chapter, maintain it’s far from fake. 

But clarity on exactly who or what organization is the primary host of the gathering is hard to come by. 

Parker’s team says they didn’t get invited to participate until Aug. 26, less than a week before the Wednesday event date. A flier for the event was just made within the past week, according to Phillip Fisher Jr., Republican leader of the 42nd Ward.

Asked about the event’s origin, Fisher said it was prompted by a collective upsurge.  

“It was an organic process,” Fisher, who is also pastor of the Center of Universal Divinity and runs DrakoKami Entertainment, a clothing brand for gamers, told Billy Penn. “It was never something where one person said that I’m going to spearhead this.”

Oh, a former City Council member who resigned last fall to run for the city’s top office, said he believes that the event was his idea — at least in part. 

His conversations with more established Latino media outlets about hosting debates between the two nominees stalled out due to Parker’s lack of interest, but members of the Latino community were still interested, he said.

“I said to Phil Fisher, we should maybe host something like a debate,” Oh told Billy Penn. “Invite Parker, maybe she’ll come, maybe she won’t … that’s, I think, where the idea got planted.”

“I had just done an interview with Philatinos and I asked them, ‘Would you be interested in doing a town hall?’” Oh added, referencing a Philatinos Radio interview in June. 

In the Monday statement, Parker deputy campaign manager John Dolan painted the effort as beyond just being poorly organized, calling it “typical political dirty tricks that we are used to seeing from the Republican Party, meant to deceive and mislead voters for political gain.” 

The campaign views it as an effort to craft a circumstance where Parker could be accused of ducking on a public event, part of a wider conversation about the lack of any scheduled general election debates between her and Oh.

‘A lot of people have questions’

Representatives for USALA Media — a Latino-focused media hub listed on the event flier that’s a tenant in the building where it’s slated to be held — and Philalatinos, an online media platform, each told Billy Penn the other organization was the main host for the evening. 

Fisher, the Republican ward leader, said he reached out to Parker’s campaign at the behest of local media organizations and community members who had tried to reach out weeks earlier. He said the idea bubbled up just over a month ago, though he did not mention David Oh’s involvement. 

Olga Rentería, executive director at Philatinos Media, described various concerns she’d heard brought up in conversations about the mayoral town hall. 

“Some of the businesses have been victimized,” Rentería told Billy Penn, describing a situation along South 9th Street that’s been widely covered in local media. “Alma del Mar, they stole his truck in front of his business … the other place, Los Taquitos de Puebla, they have stolen their vehicle as well.” 

The police killing of Eddie Irizarry added renewed motivation to have people turn out, according to Fisher. 

Through the many forums that took place leading up to Philly’s May primary, Parker’s campaign has “become accustomed to a professional process” in planning these events, said Dolan, the deputy campaign manager, in the Monday statement.

“Given the overt partisanship and lack of coordination, we are left to believe that this ‘town hall’ is a hoax, and our campaign will not be participating in this fictitious event,” Dolan said.

Oh responded that the slapdash arrangements come with the territory. “That’s not even a big deal, and her campaign knows it,” he said. “What I’ve been told by the organizers is that they have a very diverse group of people, from pastors of small churches, community activists, that type of thing.”

Still, he wasn’t sure the event was still on and reached out last week for clarity, he said, as organizers hadn’t yet followed up.

People in the city’s Latino media networks seem certain that the neighborhood meeting will take place on Wednesday, with or without Parker.

“We are inviting the audience, it’s a civic event,” said Rentería, of Philatinos. “A lot of people have questions, and a lot of people are planning on coming.”

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...