GOP mayoral candidate has a lot of nerve

Melissa Murray Bailey: She’s got a lot of nerve, and also a lot of smarts. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

BECAUSE SHE'S the Republican candidate for mayor, Melissa Murray Bailey is given no chance of winning.

On May 20, however, she still will be a candidate and five of the six Democratic candidates will not.

It may be a Pyrrhic victory because she knows the Democratic enrollment edge is about 7-to-1. More like a wedge than an edge.

We're chatting in the living room of her four-bedroom rowhouse on a tiny Society Hill side street as daughter Cricket occasionally zips through and husband Sean rides herd on Cricket.

The 36-year-old Absecon, N.J., native has lived and worked in Australia and Singapore with Sean - both work (and do very well) in the netherworld of IT (information technology) that remains a mystery to Philadelphians who came of age when this was a manufacturing stronghold.

For the record, she is president of Americas for Universum, which advises companies on talent strategy. She is responsible for setting strategy and driving profits across the Western Hemisphere, says a company spokesman. Bailey tells me her speciality is marketing and branding to help businesses attract millennials. She has branded herself this evening in a green "Murray" T-shirt.

She seems guileless, but not clueless about the mountain she chose to climb. If we picked only the fights we know we would win, we'd all be treading water.

Bailey has lived in Philly for a mere three years, she doesn't know Swampoodle from the Pocket and she's running for mayor? Doesn't that take a lot of nerve?

Yes. Here's how it happened.

She and some other parents took their kids out for pizza and talked politics, specifically the Democratic candidates who weren't ringing their bells.

Bailey says knowing the lay of the land is important, but "I come with a completely different perspective. I'm not bogged down by the way it's always been done."

She thought what she was doing on her job "would translate really well to being mayor."

"Am I crazy?" she asked Montgomery County Controller Stewart Greenleaf Jr., a college classmate and son of the highly regarded GOP state senator.

"That's a great idea," he said.

Husband Sean chimed in: "If you don't do this, you're saying you think what's happening in Philly is OK."

She began contacting Philadelphia Republicans (who couldn't find a name-brand candidate, such as Ron Castille). She found most were unlike national Republicans. Greenleaf arranged a few introductions and tells me, "She's extremely intelligent and one of the most driven people I've ever met."

That may be why she likes yoga to relax.

She earned her degree at the University of Maryland (Go, Terrapins!) in biological resources engineering, wanting to work on growing plants in space. Instead, her career path zigged and kept her anchored to the ground.

In Philadelphia, Bailey admits she felt a "disconnection with Democratic ideas on the city" and - in her come-to-Jesus moment - she asked herself, "Could I actually be a Republican?"


Bailey's so new at this game she doesn't know to duck when I ask her which of her Democratic rivals she would vote for, if she weren't running.

"Doug Oliver also brings a unique perspective," she says, and part of that, I think, means he's not tied to the machine and has a business background, which includes defining goals and setting budgets.

Everyone says the No. 1 issue facing Philadelphia is the schools, but, "If it really was our No. 1 issue we would prioritize it above everything else," she says. We don't and since she plans to send Cricket to public school, she has a vested interest in improving outcomes.

How? Not by raising taxes. (OK. She is a Republican.) That would drive more people with money out of the city, she says.

So how?

If schools are our No. 1 priority, "we have to stop funding our No. 200 priority," she says. There are well-intended, feel-good, city-supported programs soaking up millions, she says.

She will have to prove that's true, and even if it is, every program has a constituency. Does she want to be the one to tell the East Falls Kazakhstan Bell Chorus its funds will be cut?

The city needs a strategic plan, she says, and "because we haven't set those goals, that's one of the reasons it's so hard for City Council and the mayor to get on the same page."

On one issue she stands in stark contrast to her opponents: illegal immigration.

"We have laws and they have to be abided by," she says when I ask about Mayor Nutter turning Philadelphia into a sanctuary city. "I don't think we should encourage breaking the law." (Now I have my come-to-Jesus moment.)

She has lived and worked in Singapore, which is known to be clean, efficient, prosperous - and authoritarian. Can we learn anything from Singapore?

"They have embraced technologies to drive efficiencies," she says. "The government is service-oriented and easy to navigate."

A service-oriented city government? Bailey's talking revolution.




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