Mayoral candidates Cherelle Parker and David Oh attended the “Our Vote, Our Future” Mayoral Forum, which welcomed nearly 200 community members and city service program representatives, at The Liacouras Center on Thursday night.
The candidates answered questions from the Urban Affairs Coalition, the host of the event and a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of life in Philadelphia, and audience members, who submitted questions before and during the event.
“We’re exercising our rights, lifting our voices, and together we’re working to ensure everyone, no matter their race, zip code or their past can enjoy equal rights and access to a thriving, joyful life,” said Arun Prabhakaran, UAC’s president, in his opening speech.
Each candidate spoke separately for 45 minutes, discussing crime, policing, the opioid crisis, affordable housing and developing jobs and opportunities for businesses. Andrea Lawful-Sanders, a host at WURD radio, moderated the forum.
UAC’s first question was based on the organization’s public sentiment survey distributed during the summer, which asked what issues are currently most important to Philadelphians. The survey revealed 80 percent of participants’ lives had been negatively impacted by gun violence, making safety a top priority.
Both Parker and Oh said they have and will support Philadelphia police officers, and will increase officer recruitment.
To Parker, increasing officer numbers involves raising morale and eliminating barriers to becoming an officer. For example, not everyone who wants to join the force succeeds in standardized tests, but that shouldn’t bar them from joining, she added.
Parker’s policing plan is based on “PIE,” or prevention, intervention and enforcement. While enforcement in the form of community policing is important, prevention efforts, like anti-violence funding, don’t get the attention they need, she said.
Oh said the city needs to start hiring from the National Guard, military and immigrant communities to address the city’s officer shortage. He would also remove debt as a barrier to becoming a police officer, he said.
The candidates were asked by a community member how they would address workforce development and encourage a better living wage as Philadelphians struggle to make ends meet.
Parker emphasized that every successful industry in Philadelphia should have a workforce development program for students and adults to break into that industry. She also cited her commitment to labor unions as an avenue for workers to advocate for their wages and benefits.
Oh believes every public school should have equal opportunities for vocational training, including technology and equipment for creative arts. He wants to create a vocational education and training program similar to schools in Europe, where any student can opt into a high school experience that focuses specifically on training for their chosen career.
One audience question directed at Oh asked what he thinks of the Business Income and Receipts Tax, the city’s dual tax on a business’s gross receipts and net profits, and its effect on bringing businesses to Philadelphia.
“Personally, I’ve never liked [the dual tax] to begin with,” Oh said. “You have to pay taxes, you didn’t even make any money, so you have to pay twice your taxes when you start. [The tax is] trying to make people unsuccessful. The number of Black-owned businesses is far less than when I was a kid. All that is gone, and now we have to rebuild that. We have great opportunities if our government would help people become successful.”
Ashley Jimenez, the executive director at Center for Hope, an organization associated with UAC that manages Philadelphia homeless shelters, asked Parker about her plans for affordable housing in the face of gentrification and displacement.
While serving in City Council in 2019, Parker created the Restore, Repair, Renew initiative, which gives Philadelphians loans of up to $50,000 to incentivize them to maintain their housing as the city incurs aging housing stock.
“I’m not interested in building ‘tiny houses,’” Parker said. “That’s not a part of my strategy. Nor am I interested in building any high rises, where you want to place all low to moderate-income people, because when I grew up, they were called projects. With that being said, the most affordable house you can have is the one you currently live in. We need to give people access to the revenue along with the skill set now to be able to improve their housing.”
The forum was recorded live and saved on WURD radio’s Facebook page, where each candidate’s section can be watched in full.
The election for Philadelphia’s 100th mayor will take place on Nov. 7 as a part of the 2023 municipal election.