Philadelphia's Next Mayor: Candidates vied for spot as race frontrunner in televised debate
PHILADELPHIA - Seven Democratic candidates vying to be the next Mayor of Philadelphia faced off in a 90-minute live debate hosted by FOX 29 at Temple University.
Candidates Cherelle Parker, Rebecca Rhynhart, Derek Green, Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, Allan Domb and Helen Gym answered questions about their plans for Philadelphia in a debate the featured many contentious and heated moments.
Two other candidates, James Deleon and David Oh are not participating in the event but are slated to be on the ballot.
The candidates faced off in timed responses to questions from FOX 29 moderators, in addition to some questions from the live audience.
Highlights from the debate include:
Nearly 90% of Philadelphia voters say gun violence is the number one issue on their minds for the city of Philadelphia.
Rynhart says on day one, she is prepared to implement programs that will help reduce the number of homicides occurring in the city and activate an emergency operations center to coordinate responses to the needs of constituents.
Parker said her lived experiences mirror the stories Philadelphians are currently living, giving her the aptitude to make tough decisions about police and violence in the city. She says her focus is to implement a proactive law enforcement presence within the community.
In Philadelphia, 100 students were shot just this school year, with 20 of them ending in fatalities. Candidate Jeff Brown called out the former city councilmen standing beside him, alleging they voted to decrease the Philadelphia Police Department's budget in the middle of a crime crisis. On the same issue, Amen Brown spoke to his personal experience as a gunshot victim and said he would not reappoint Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to her leadership position in the police department.
Domb says he would not call in the National Guard to fight crime, noting he would instead work with Governor Josh Shapiro and work with State Police.
Green says he has a plan to present to the District Attorney's Office that will help implement a diverse police staff and new programs that help fight crime.
In a lightning round of quick questions, several candidates said they would not reappoint Outlaw as commissioner and several candidates ranked Kenney's eight years as mayor, with Amen Brown giving Kenney the lowest grade of F- and Parker giving him the highest grade of a C.
Gym, a former educator, faces criticism that her experience as a teacher would lead her to be influenced by teachers' unions. She says the previous mayors have turned their backs on the city's schools and she is looking to be a mayor that builds up schools instead of ignoring them.
Several city schools have been closed due to asbestos in old buildings. Green says the School District of Philadelphia has failed by focusing on lawsuits instead of creating better conditions for students.
Amen Brown says he does not support an elected board and prefers the positions be appointed, giving the current board the grade of a C. "It is impossible for our children to learn in these current conditions" Amen Brown said, noting as a child he relied on school for safety and support due to his living situation.
Domb advocated for schools to implement courses in financial literacy and technology, while advocating for a plan that lets high school students have the opportunity to take class four days a week and work on the fifth day to develop work job force skills. He gave the current school board the grade of a C.
Rynhart, who has a daughter who attends a public school in the city, says the current lottery system is not working and she plans to work with improving neighborhood schools so there is less competition at charter and specialty schools.
Parker, who is also a former teacher, says the city should leverage state, local and federal support to improve buildings and pay teachers better wages.
Violence Near Temple University
Two students from Temple University's student government asked candidates what they would do to keep the areas near Temple University safe after an uptick in crime impacting students and staff and to keep them attracted to the city of Philadelphia.
Jeff Brown, who has been endorsed by the Temple Police Union, says police wages need to increase.
Amen Brown referenced the fatal shooting of Temple Police Sgt. Chris Fitzgerald and says his plan will work to get and keep criminals off the streets.
Rynhart says gun violence is fixable by addressing long-term solutions and short-term issues.
Quality of Life
In questioning on the new Sixers' arena proposed for the Fashion District, Gym says she can not be bought, alleging candidate Jeff Brown was influenced financially. Jeff Brown responded by saying he has met with leaders pushing the project for several reasons.
Amen Brown also accused Gym of meeting with a leader from the Sixers arena before the debate, which she did not deny, citing she met with David Adelman met to discuss other things.
Parker made a case for a better response to the proposed Sixers arena, noting steps should be taken to make sure the decision is beneficial financially.
Domb, a prominent businessman, says his business ventures have never participated in gentrification in the city.
On the issue of the city's trash problem, Jeff Brown says the city's trash has to go somewhere and he does not care if it is shipped to Chester. In his response, he said he "does not care" about Chester and his concern is the residents of Philadelphia. This answer sparked a reaction from other candidates on the panel, including Parker, who accused Jeff Brown of using the same attitude in his treatment of the city's Black and Brown communities.
Rynhart says she will fix Kensington's open-air drug market, saying Kenney's administration has failed it. "It should not be acceptable and it won't be when I'm mayor," she said.
In an effort to dig deeper into the city's crime issues, Green was asked how he would increase police recruitment and retention. He also says he understands the challenges the police have with communities. "We have to rebuild trust," he says, advocating for a change that goes back to members of the community serving as law enforcement.
Amen Brown was asked to clarify his points on Stop and Frisk, saying his public safety plan would eliminate the need for the controversial policy. He also said he is the only candidate who has not "flip-flopped" on his attitudes towards policing.
Domb has vowed to take illegal guns off the street within his first 100 days. Citing the illegal weapons used in a deadly shooting near Roxborough High School, Domb says criminals need to be held accountable for their crimes.
Rynhart, the former City Controller, audited the Philadelphia Police Department, which she says identified issues within the department. When asked to respond to the Philadelphia Police FOP, she says her focus is on making police improvements and that her audit was supported by administrators within the department.
District Attorney's Office
The next line of questions shifted to the work conducted by embattled Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has faced criticism from state leaders working to impeach him.
Gym says the issue of Philadelphia's crime is not just about police but rather crime prevention while saying the DA's Office needs more funding.
Rynhart says changes are needed to some of Krasner policies, but some of his exoneration work has proven to be reform. Parker agreed, noting his policies on shoplifting can be harmful to business owners and the city's economy.
When asked how the candidates would work with public health experts in the city, Parker says she would not have implemented a safe injection site.
Amen Brown says his administration would "depend" on professionals to help with public health crises, while Gym says working with public health experts should be used to help solve several issues, including crime and mental health.
After a member of the audience asked a question about funding for underserved communities in the city, Domb said he was the only candidate who could bring experience that would help create more abilities for homeownership through financial literacy training.
Noting his businesses' work creating supermarkets in the city's food desserts, Jeff Brown says he has a plan to address public health issues that have been sparked by racism.
Proposed New Sixers Arena
The candidates were divided on whether or not they support the proposed Sixers Arena, with many pointing out concerns posed by the Chinatown community.
Domb says more information is needed to make an informed decision about the proposal. Rynhart echoed the same sentiment saying she would need to see more information on the proposal and it's impacts before deciding whether she supports it.
Gym clarified her previous comments about her meeting with Adelman, saying she told him Chinatown will thrive and "billionaires like him don't deserve public subsidies."
Jeff Brown, who said he thinks large-scale projects could be good for the city, says the issues with the proposed arena and Chinatown need to be addressed.
Amen Brown, who has had issues managing his personal finances in the past, says it is not a representation of his ability to manage the city's billion-dollar budget.
A super PAC affiliated with Jeff Brown was accused of financial violations prior to the debate. When asked by FOX 29's Jeff Cole about the violations, he says the issue will be handled in court while noting Domb also receives large campaign donations.
Rynhart says the city is not managing money well and has seen an increase in spending aligned with a decline in services.
Parker says voters should look at the record of the candidates, highlighting her efforts to improve business retention in the city.
Domb makes a case for more jobs in the city with increased wages in addition to changes to the city's tax system.
The Philadelphia Mayor's Race primary election will take place on May 16. The last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot is May 9. Additional details on the election can be found here.