How did Philly mayoral candidates fare at the recent Latino Mayoral Forum?
They tried speaking Spanish, made promises, spoke to some of the issues and didn’t answer for others. Whoever wins in November will have a full plate.
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On Monday, April 10, one day after the only Latino Philly mayoral candidate dropped out of the race, eight of the remaining nine Democrats and the lone Republican vying for the city’s top leadership post packed into the Esperanza Arts Center in North Philly to speak to the city’s Latino community.
The forum was organized by Esperanza, Impacto Media, Univision 65 and Ceiba’s Latino Equitable Development Collective and moderated by Impacto’s Perla Lara and Univision’s Ilia Garcia.
“I’d like to hear from all of them how they intend to provide this community, the Latino community, with services,” said District 7 Councilmember Quetcy Lozada before the forum.
To do so, she went on to say that whoever wins the race in the end must understand the growing Latino population in Philadelphia, which now sits close to 16% of the entire city population. And don’t be mistaken by past narratives of a lack of engagement.
“We have needs as well, we vote as well,” said Lozada. “The first candidate to say that this community doesn’t vote will probably lose all of their votes.”
When it comes to the candidates, it was an overall rocky night for those attending as they attempted to speak to the issues confronting Philly’s Latino community and other questions focused on Latinos posed by the moderators.
And while the forum — like every other one that’s been held throughout this jam-packed mayoral election campaign — was a place for candidates to pitch themselves, almost every one mentioned the recently dropped out María Quiñones Sánchez in some regard.
It started with the first opening statement from Warren Bloom, who said he’d appoint her to a position in his administration if elected. This would be repeated by Bloom later in the night and by other candidates at the forum. Quiñones Sánchez would later call the suggestions “insulting.”
In the first round, the candidates were asked a follow up question to one of the nine they were asked to answer by Impacto prior to the forum. The questions touched on everything from the opioid crisis and public safety to Latinos in charter schools, urban heat in places like North Philly and property taxes, to name a few.
When talking about protecting Latino small businesses from gentrification, Allan Domb cited a $250 million public-private racial equity effort in Charlotte that not only provides funding for Black and Brown small businesses, but education and arts institutions in the city to keep them funded growing. He said he would try to replicate that support system in Philly alongside banks and other community business incubators like the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia.
“The success of an entrepreneur is the success of a city,” Domb said.
Two questions on education in the first round were directed at Derek Green (who is now dropped out) and Helen Gym.
When asked about supporting charter schools, Green said he would remove charter school oversight from under the School District and create an independent authorizer in city government.
Gym was asked if she would support opening more charter schools for Latino students. She didn’t answer the direct question, but said she’d stand to represent all students no matter if they were in private, public, parochial or charter schools in Philly. The latter part of her answer went over her record of fighting for public schools to stay open and the importance of making public school a quality option for parents.
“I’m very clear that charter schools have a role to play in a broader public school landscape,” Gym said.
Cherelle Parker was asked to name two pillars of her public safety plan that would benefit Latino communities in the city. She called upon her goal to hire 300 more officers to engage in community policing and what she called “a comprehensive quality of life format of engaging communities.”
In other words, Parker promised that her administration would listen to communities about their problems and work with them to find solutions. Her example was the first shot fired of the night at competing candidates.
“Opioid crisis, the answer is not a safe injection site,” said Parker, who went on to label it “I-know-what’s-best-for-youse-policy-making,” or someone not from the community telling the community what the best solution for something is. The phrase is something Parker’s often repeated at forums, but every time it gets a big applause and the crowd at Esperanza was no different.
Rebecca Rhynhart was asked about language access considering the fiasco that was the recent water scare in the city, and became the third candidate behind Bloom and Domb to call out Quiñones Sánchez’s name. She cited María’s Agenda Latina, which points to language access as a major point of emphasis.
Brown on the defense
The first audience question of the night was directed at Jeff Brown and asked the grocer for his comments on the lawsuit he faces from Philly’s Board of Ethics regarding dark money contributions to his campaign from a super PAC that are alleged to have been organized before Brown even launched his bid.
“We believe we’re innocent of everything and the courts will find that out,” he responded before calling upon his 35 years in business, where he said there’s “not one thing I’ve ever done wrong.”
Lara followed up by asking for Brown to identify some of the people behind the contributions, but Brown said naming them was not up to him.
“That would be up to the super PAC,” he said.
Gym then jumped in to attack Brown over the potential campaign finance violations, which she said were “unheard of.”
“We have ethics rules in place for campaign finance violations for a very good reason,” said Gym.
Green also added, but took a step back to look at the overall picture of campaign finance to cite a past reform effort of his own.
“We have too much money in politics,” said Green. “The average person does not feel they’re being really heard from when you have multimillion-dollar candidates investing and getting dollars from all around the country to dictate the election.”
“The question is: ‘Who do you represent? Who do you answer to?’” he continued.
Parker used the rebuttal time to highlight her own campaign’s grassroots efforts to compete with millionaires like Brown and Domb in the race.
What came next was a yes/no question about whether or not the candidates supported safe injection sites. Judge James Deleon was the only candidate to definitively say yes. Gym said she supported “medical facilities that save lives, but I would not do anything like that in a community without buy-in.” Rhynhart also initially balked at giving a yes or no answer before saying she did not think safe injection sites were the answer.
The next question asked every candidate to address the illegal dumping problem that has plagued parts of the city, especially North Philly, in recent years.
Some candidates — like Deleon, Rhynhart, Brown, Domb, Bloom and David Oh — called for stiffer consequences for the culprits of illegal dumping, whether they be dates in court, higher fines, or towing vehicles.
Brown also called for more security cameras to be installed to catch people illegally dumping while Oh pointed to the lack of priority from the mayor in regards to allocating police staff to focus on illegal dumping. Instead, he said almost every available officer focuses on homicide and other violent crime.
Parker cited her PHL Taking Care of Business program, which passed City Council in 2019 and hires and pays community members in neighborhoods across the city to clean their blocks.
“We’re gonna put it on steroids,” she said of the program if she were to become mayor.
Parker also called for 24-hour street cleaning and doubling the sanitation workforce.
Gym said she would split the current Streets Department, which houses Philly’s sanitation and waste management processes. Under her administration, she said Philly’s Streets Department and Sanitation Department would be two separate entities to better organize work.
Latinos in the cabinet? Very few specifics
The next question from the moderators asked the candidates about the effort they would put towards making sure more Latinos appear in leadership posts in their administrations. They also asked to name a Latino leader they would appoint to a position.
Every candidate drove home the importance of having a diverse cabinet, but only Deleon, Brown and Bloom named specific people. Deleon was the only out of those three to not name Quiñones Sánchez, and said he would appoint Captain Javier Rodriguez to be Deputy Commissioner of the Police Department. The Police Commissioner has the power to appoint Deputy Commissioners, but mayors do hire the Police Commissioner.
Brown envisioned Quiñones Sánchez as a senior policy advisor in his administration and Bloom saw her in a deputy mayor role.
Deleon also pushed back at the other candidates that didn’t name a specific Latino appointee and Parker snapped back that she “didn’t need a binder of Hispanics” before not naming a specific Latino appointee.
A historic cultural center?
After the spat, the next question asked whether the candidates would designate Latino North Philadelphia a historic cultural district to better preserve the culture of the neighborhood.
All but Oh said they would do so. His reasoning was that historic designations limit development opportunities, which he said would help in some instances to improve conditions in some neighborhoods.
“Leave it up to the people,” said Oh. “Let’s see what they want and go from there.”
Learning about Latinos and investment
The second-to-last question of the night asked the candidates what they had learned on the campaign trail about Latinos in Philadelphia. The answers spanned everything from learning more about the arts (Rhynhart) and similar family values (Brown) to finding a love for tres leches cake (Parker) and calling the community a “sleeping giant” before vowing to become fluent in Spanish (Bloom), to name the more memorable and unique answers.
The final question came from a community member and asked what the candidates would do as mayor to get more investment into the city’s Latino community. The answers, which also acted as final statements from the candidates, touched on working more with the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, easing the processes small businesses have to go through to operate in the city, creating a deputy mayor position to oversee the city’s interactions with minority businesses, and more around equitable funding and education.
In reflecting on the forum, Esperanza’s Luis Cortes said he and the other organizers would “learn as we go” when it comes to putting together more discussions like the one held on April 10 in future election cycles.
“If this is first, then in the next four years, hopefully we’ll have three or four with different organizations with different focuses,” he said.
Like Lozada, Cortes also touched on the growing Latino population and its potential impact on the 2023 race.
“This particular election is going to be close,” he said. So the 12-15,000 Latino votes are going to be a significant part of the outcome.”
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