Q&A: Independent Mayoral Candidate Wali “Diop” Rahman

We give him an "A" for effort but can a candidate with $300 in the bank really win?

You’ve got to give Wali Rahman credit. First, the 34-year-old community activist and rabble-rouser got himself arrested at City Hall after a clash with officials. Then he managed to collect enough signatures to run as an independent candidate for mayor in the upcoming mayoral election. And finally, thanks to that old notion of equal time, he announced that he’s got a half hour on NBC 10 next Tuesday to voice his platform. He can’t win, but he’s not going down without a fight.

You were born in Brooklyn and have been described as an “international organizer,” but what exactly is your connection to Philadelphia?
I live in Germantown, and I’ve been a community activist here for the last 10 years and an organizer as a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. I’ve led campaigns relating to police brutality, health care and education, the biggest being the campaign I led to expose Nutter’s billion dollars being spent on police, prisons and courts as a war budget and an attack on the African community’s right to fully funded and community controlled education.

You talk about the “African community.” Why say that? Don’t we all need good schools?
I think that if you look at the city, if you look at Philadelphia’s history, you find repression of the African community, and that was the basis for my involvement in the Uhuru movement. Of course, as mayor, I would need to serve all people. My experience gives me the ability to put forth a program of public policy that serves the needs of one community without coming at the expense of another. But we do have to recognize that the public policy of police containment has been put forth at the expense of the black and Latino community.

Tell us exactly what you mean by “police containment.”
It’s the general public policy informed by the idea that the solution to social and economic problems in our city can be solved through an investment in more police. “Stop and Frisk” is the best example of this. According to the ACLU, there were 250,000 people stopped and frisked in Philadelphia in 2009. Among those stopped, 72 percent were black and Latino men and 92 percent of the 250,000 weren’t arrested or charged with any crime at all. “Stop and Frisk” is the poster child for the public policy of police containment and the most glaring example of it being a failed public policy. But it’s important to note that Mayor Nutter actually ascended to first place in the mayoral race in 2007 because of his proposal for it. He became the mayor because he promised to implement “Stop and Frisk.”

In 2008, you got some national attention when you heckled President Obama at an event in Florida, asking, “What about the black community, Obama?” Do you still feel the same about him today?
The policy that Barack Obama carries out in the White House is the same policy that we have seen the White House, particularly the Democratic Party, carry out long before his election. I don’t think that Barack Obama acts independently of the will of the Democratic Party. And I don’t think that the Democratic Party cares about the black community at all.

I assume when I see someone running a campaign like yours that you’re in it to make a statement, not to actually win. Why don’t you run for an office that you have at least some chance of attaining?
My intention is to become the Mayor of Philadelphia. This is not play. This is not some sort of symbolic gesture. The outcome of the Democratic primary here—the low turnout—is evidence of broad disenfranchisement of the voters of the city. The citizens have all but abandoned the electoral process because they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. My candidacy gives the people hope.

Just a year ago, you were convicted on charges relating to an altercation inside of City Hall …
I was wrongly convicted. I was charged for criticizing Mayor Nutter’s Draconian policies, the war budget for which he spends $1 billion on police and courts but can’t keep the schools open. It was an attack on my right to free speech and political assembly. I was brutally attacked and arrested by civil affairs officers in March 2009 simply for holding up a sign calling for economic development as opposed to police containment.

Still, you were convicted and are on probation, isn’t that right?
Yes, I have to pay a court fine and see my probation officer. But it’s an unsupervised probation. I only have to check in on a limited basis. Every three months.

You mentioned paying court fines. According to court records, you are delinquent in the payment of those fines. Why is that?

I said that according to records from the Court of Common Pleas, you are …
That must … That’s probably a mistake.

Do you intend to pay the remainder of this balance on time?

Speaking of money, how much have you been able to raise?
Right now, up to date, we have about $300 in our campaign account.

How can you win an election with $300 in the bank?
Well, through discussions like the one you and I are having, through word of mouth, distributing campaign literature, winning support from the same grassroots and non-profit organizations that have had their budgets cut by my opponent, and by reaching out to the people that I have been working with for years here and letting them know that I am running for the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia.

Sounds like a lot of work. How many hours are you able to sleep at night?
The real question is how many hours am I not able to sleep at night. You called me during a rare time when I am not in the middle of campaigning. Our campaign slogan is: “Run hard. It’s our city, and we want it now.” And that’s what we’re doing. Running hard.

UPDATE 10/19 9:45 a.m.: After our conversation on Tuesday afternoon, Rahman made a $70 payment, bringing his outstanding balance to $477.50, according to court records. His payment was more than 45 days overdue.