Nine of the remaining candidates running for Mayor of Philadelphia came to Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church on Thursday to share their vision for the city. But they were also reminded that when it came to their mostly African American audience, they had a lot of convincing to do.
By Denise Clay-Murray
There was a buzz in the air at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church on Thursday as a combination of the church’s members, activists, politicos, and potential voters gathered for the Black Media Matters candidate forum.
The forum, which was sponsored by the SUN, Enon, WURD radio, the Philadelphia Tribune, Fun Times Magazine, the Mount Airy Community Council, the West Oak Lane Community Council, and the Lenfest Foundation’s “Every Voice, Every Vote” was designed to bring the issues of the Black community to the forefront.
Former City Councilmember and Republican candidate for mayor David Oh joined several of the remaining Democratic candidates — former Councilmembers Allan Domb, Helen Gym and Cherelle Parker, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, State Rep. Amen Brown, businessman Jeff Brown, former Judge James DeLeon, and pastor Warren Bloom — to try and sway Black voters.
The forum came at a crucial time in the race. A recent poll conducted by the Black Leadership PAC — a coalition of business, labor, community, and civil leaders dedicated to progress for the Black community, — shows that 42% of those sampled were still undecided with less than six weeks left until the May 16 primary.
WURD host Andrea Lawful Sanders, the forum’s moderator, made sure to remind the candidates that when it comes to the Black vote, nothing is set in stone.
“These Black media professionals will be asking you the questions that impact Black people,” she said. “Black women in particular are super voters who want more than to have their votes taken for granted.
And we appreciate candor that goes to the heart of the questions you’re about to be asked. It is, therefore, important that we go beyond rhetoric.”
That was top of mind for the panelists — Lavonne Nichols of Fun Times, SUN publisher Catherine Hicks, Irv Randolph, executive editor of the Tribune, and WURD host Solomon Jones — as they asked questions on topics ranging from education to the future of the Philadelphia 76ers proposed new stadium in Chinatown.
But while the topics varied, the answers to most of the questions alluded in some way to the city’s problems with public safety and gun violence. For example, when Hicks asked a question about ways the candidates could recruit and retain teachers for the district’s schools, Rhynhart answered the question…mostly.
“The first thing we need to do is create school safety because teachers need is a safe place to teach your kids,” she said. “And what that means is safe from asbestos and lead and safe from violence.”
But while her answer wasn’t completely focused on education, it at least didn’t anger Sanders, the moderator. Warren Bloom wasn’t so lucky.
After pledging to make Parker his deputy mayor and promising to use Domb’s education plan should he become mayor, he gave the audience a little educational “history” in the form of telling them that the curriculum for the schools hadn’t changed since 1873 and promising to bring it to the 21st century in his administration.
Sanders, who had worked with the School District on curriculum, took exception to this. She also took Bloom to task.
“Part of what you do when you’re running for mayor of this city is that you have to be able to take correction,” she said. “If you are so thin skinned that you can’t take a little bit of knowledge on top of what you’ve been offering, then maybe we shouldn’t be having this conversation. What happens in this city and the people of this city matters to me, and no more can we take votes for granted.”
With the exception of appointing school board members and maintaining a liaison through the City’s Office of Education that can possibly provide additional funding for teacher recruiting, the mayor has no real influence on the School District. The School District and City Government are two independent entities that are self-governing.
Another issue that came up was the issue of safe injection sites. While no one has proposed that as a means of handling the city’s opioid problem, Jones of WURD asked the candidates about it.
Parker’s answer drew the most support from the crowd.
“When the crack epidemic was hurting poor, Black neighborhoods, we never talked about a safe crack house,” she said. “When you ask people about safe injection sites, listen to the answer, and leave it there. When people say no, they mean no.”
The deadline to register to vote in the May 16 primary is May 1. For information on how to register and how to obtain a mail-in ballot if you desire, visit: https://vote.phila.gov/voting/registering-to-vote/.
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