Philadelphia mayoral candidates talk public safety, schooling, and Sixers arena in lone debate
Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh are both former members of Philadelphia City Council
Cherelle Parker (l) and David Oh, candidates for Philadelphia mayor (campaign photos)
Less than two weeks before the general election, the two candidates vying to be the 100th Mayor of Philadelphia met for the only scheduled debate of the campaign on Thursday.
Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh, both former members of Philadelphia City Council, are running to replace term-limited Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney.
Parker and Oh shared their visions for public safety, schooling, a proposed arena for the Philadelphia 76ers, and more during the hour-long debate, which aired on KYW Newsradio.
Oh and Parker both stressed making public safety a priority.
Parker, described herself as a “collaborator,” and said she’d bring stakeholders to the table to address public safety, including law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and the courts, as well as partners at the local, state, and federal levels.
“We have to have a comprehensive approach that doesn’t include finger pointing,” Parker said. “When Philadelphians have heard me say that there will be some decisions I will make as mayor that some people won’t like, one of those decisions is that we want to bring all of the stakeholders together to report on the progress that they are making.”
Parker added that she supported having a modern forensics unit and a full-fledged team monitoring social media as part of the solution to combating crime.
Oh cited policies championed by Kenney and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat as the reason for the “lawlessness” in the city.
“In dealing with a district attorney,” Oh said, “I’ll have a frank conversation with him. I write his budget, his budget will be tight.”
Oh added Krasner has done things that he appreciates – without going into detail– but criticized Krasner for removing “very important units” from the office “units that people can go to when they feel there’s a conflict because of a city employee or a politician or someone even in the police department,” he said.
“So, I will certainly encourage him and incentivize him that the more you fight crime, the more money you get,” Oh added.
Parker said while she might not agree with all of Krasner’s decisions as district attorney, she views collaboration with his office as important.
“I know the DA’s Office plays an essential role in helping us to address public health and safety in our city and one of the things we’ll do is make sure that we are at the table,” Parker said. She didn’t elaborate during the debate about what that collaboration would look like.
The next mayor will also be tasked with appointing a new police commissioner. Danielle Outlaw resigned earlier this year to take a job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and John Stanford currently serves as the interim commissioner.
“I will appoint a police commissioner who knows the city, who has a history in this city, a history of success,” Oh said.
“To be our police commissioner, knowledge of our city is extremely important to me in the midst of this crisis, but I think we have to look both national and we have to look local,” Parker said, adding she would take a “comprehensive approach.”
The candidates also shared their thoughts on so-called Terry stops, also known as “stop-and-frisk” searches by Philadelphia police officers.
“I’ve affirmed that I will allow a police department under a Parker administration to employ the use of every constitutional and legal tool available to make Philadelphia’s public health and safety our number one priority,” Parker said. “And that does include Terry stops.”
Parker said she has concerns about how such stops could be used to profile young Black men, however, she said she viewed the term “stop and frisk” as polarizing. She said that a Parker administration would have zero tolerance for police officers who abuse this policy, but ultimately said she supports Terry stops “wholeheartedly.”
Oh said that while there is “legal stop and frisk” in Philadelphia, he doesn’t view it as a successful way of policing.
“The reason Terry stops, or stop and frisk does not produce the same type of results is because it is used to harass and bully people,” he said.
He suggested that enforcing the current laws and making car stops legal once again would help fight crime. Oh appeared to be referencing Philadelphia’s Driving Equality Act, which aims to reduce traffic stops for certain minor vehicle violations.
Parker said that community policing is essential and added that police officers walking the beat, riding the bike, and getting to know the community would help rebuild trust.
Another key difference between the candidates was their vision of how to improve the current drug crisis and crime in the city’s Kensington neighborhood.
Parker suggested deploying the National Guard as a solution, an idea which has garnered headlines in Philadelphia. However under current rules, only a state’s governor can authorize use of its National Guard, something her policy would have to address.
“The National Guard can provide medical support, it can deliver food, it can assist and protect property,” Parker said. “There is a comprehensive approach and just for the record because of my intergovernmental experience, I fully know that you have to work in partnership with the General Assembly along with the governor’s office in order to get that done.”
Oh said that he believes local law enforcement officials are better equipped to help improve the current situation in Kensington, and said the National Guard was better used for natural disasters, not community policing.
Year-round schooling as a possible solution
Parker said she supports a pilot program of year-round school in 10 of the city’s public schools.
“We have to deliver public education in a different way here in the city,” Parker said. She said the year-round plan would require involvement from the teachers’ union, and other stakeholders.
Oh said that he didn’t support the concept of year-round school in Philadelphia, it’s better to “tailor the education to the needs of the child as much as possible,” he said.
“There is a balance for children, between learning in the classroom, practical experience, having fun and having time off to spend with their families,” Oh said. He added he supports expanded learning for children who need it.
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Parker clarified that year-round schooling did not have to be mandatory and said “creative scheduling” would improve educational outcomes for Philadelphia students.
Proposed Sixers arena
The Philadelphia 76ers proposal for a new stadium at Market East has been a point of contention in the nearby community.
Parker said she remains open to the idea, because of the positive economic impact she believes it could have for the city. Oh said he opposes the plan because of the potentially disastrous impact the arena would have on neighboring Chinatown.
“If it is going to move forward there it’s certainly going to displace Chinatown,” Oh said. “Chinatown is 152 years in the making. It has gone through a lot. It is also a cultural and economic engine for our city. But if we have an arena there, it’ll probably be the end of Chinatown.”
Parker said that outright opposition of the plan is a “knee jerk reaction” that the city couldn’t afford.
“An economic development project of this magnitude has to be vetted and people in the city have to know its impact on them as well,” she said.
The candidates were asked what they would do if the Sixers threatened to build an arena outside of the city if the city didn’t meet the team’s demands.
“That’s up to them. I don’t control them,” Oh said. “We have a stadium area. We have other places for them to invest in.”
“If they can show all of us — because it won’t just be me — that that stadium is a benefit to the area to the city to the region then sure, I’ll certainly support it,” Oh said.
Parker said she wants to keep the stadium within city limits.
“The 76ers training facility is in eye-shot of my office and it makes my stomach churn every time I look at it,” Parker said, of the 76ers training facility across the river in Camden, N.J.. “They belong in Philadelphia.”
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