The Brief: No Standouts at Green-Themed Mayoral Forum

None of the candidates wildly impressed or flopped.

Candidate Conversations

From L to R: Democratic mayoral candidates Nelson Diaz, Doug Oliver, Lynne Abraham, Anthony Williams and Jim Kenney.

Six Democrats vying to be mayor of Philadelphia pitched themselves Tuesday night at a forum where sustainability issues such as bike lanes, plastic bag fees and street cleaning dominated the conversation.

The Next Great City coalition, an association of more than 100 civic organizations, labor unions, businesses and other groups, hosted the event.

At the first mayoral forum of the season, Citified said the candidates were unimpressive. They didn’t exactly wow the crowd Tuesday, either. They were a little sluggish at times, and none of them successfully connected the focus of the event — environmental and small business issues — to a larger, coherent vision for the city.

They didn’t embarrass themselves either, though. And to be fair, part of the candidates’ dullness may have to do with the unavoidable flaw in these types of events: It’s hard to stand out when you only have a couple minutes to respond to each question. The crappy weather was also energy-sapping. WHYY’s Dave Davies, who moderated the forum, spiced things up with a few eccentric questions.

Lynne Abraham

Abraham held her own. She gave a particularly strong response to a question about whether the Philadelphia City Council should have the power to approve some mayoral appointees.

“I absolutely oppose the appreciation of power in the hands of the City Council President,” she said. “You cannot be an executive and a legislator at the same time.”

At the end of the forum, Abraham repeated her campaign motto, “I’m going to be nobody’s mayor but yours.” Her relative independence could be a strength in this race, but she failed Tuesday night, as she has throughout much of the campaign, to make a convincing argument about why she wouldn’t be beholden to anyone.

All of the candidates were asked to name a past Philadelphia mayor they admire. Abraham’s pick? Richardson Dilworth, she said, because he was plainspoken, fought hard for what he believed in, and didn’t care about polls.

Nelson Diaz

Diaz framed himself as a progressive and an accomplished public servant who has a track record of getting things done. He did the best while talking about schools. His line about wanting to abolish the School Reform Commission and put a moratorium on new charter schools drew applause. But he veered off topic and rambled sometimes.

Diaz’s favorite mayor? He had nice things to say about Dilworth.

[Editor’s Note: Meet Nelson Diaz today at 6 p.m. He’s featured next in Philadelphia magazine’s Candidate Conversations series. Citified editor Patrick Kerkstra will interview Diaz live, and the candidate will take questions from the audience. Hosted by Venturef0rth, this event will feature free snacks, drinks, good company and a little civic enlightenment. We really do feel this format is an excellent way to take the measure of the mayoral candidates. Register HERE.]

Keith Goodman

Goodman, a long-shot candidate who may or may not meet the city’s residency requirements for running for mayor, isn’t going away.

He was at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’  mayoral forum trying to win the union’s endorsement last month, and he was at the Next Great City coalition’s event Tuesday, where he made a decent showing. He has a handle on most city issues and offered up a couple interesting ideas, like bringing microlending to Philly. He’s pitching himself as the candidate for the city’s most vulnerable residents — sort of like a less wild Milton Street.

Goodman was the only candidate who said John Street is his favorite mayor.

Jim Kenney

Kenney, usually a colorful personality, was a little drab Tuesday night. His most interesting moments came while proposing quirky ideas, such as building homes out of shipping containers or working with food trucks to bring healthy meals to the city’s schools.

He also suggested partnering with universities to boost the city’s tax collection rates.

“The department of revenue is not a feared agency,” he said.

Kenney said he admires Wilson Goode for his work on the city’s skyline, but he went with Rendell as his favorite mayor. He said Rendell made the city feel good about itself.

Doug Oliver

Oliver broke away from the pack on a question about the city’s 10-year tax abatement. He said Philadelphia should consider ending the program in Center City and offering it only in neighborhoods that truly need it.

He was also funny when asked to say something surprising about himself. He said that, though he is the youngest candidate in the race by far, he has already had two hip replacements.

Oliver picked Goode as his favorite mayor, saying he was not only the city’s first African-American mayor, but also had to balance the needs of Center City and Philly’s neighborhoods.

Anthony Williams

Williams, a state senator, was among the most energetic candidates at Tuesday’s forum. Perhaps he was pumped up from Gov. Tom Wolf‘s budget address earlier in the day. He and Goodman were also the only candidates who said they opposed a plastic bag fee.

“The idea is a good one,” said Williams, “but it’s a regressive tax.”

Williams’ fave mayor? Rendell, he said, because “that guy can sell ice to an eskimo.”

Don’t Miss …
  • Wolf, as expected, tried to blow the House and Senate down during his first budget address Tuesday. He presented a financial plan that’s about as audacious as it gets. Republicans, who control the state legislature, say it ain’t gonna fly.
  • The Inquirer has a behind-the-scenes look at Diaz’s campaign operation. “We want you to get across that you were progressive before it was cool, outside of public office, without supportive legislators,” Ian Rivera, Diaz’s campaign manager, tells his boss. “You did it when it was difficult and when you took heat for it.”
  • South Philly realtor Barbara Capozzi is joining the City Council At-Large race. She ran for City Council in the 2nd District in the 2011 primary election, losing by only 40 — yes, 40 — votes to Kenyatta Johnson. Developer Ori Feibush is now challenging Johnson for his 2nd District seat in the May 19th primary.