From disasters to City Hall?
Renée Cardwell Hughes is a lot of things: former Common Pleas judge, ex-wife of state Sen. Vincent Hughes, current chief executive officer of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross. And if some observers of local politics get their way, the 59-year-old will add another title in three years: mayor of Philadelphia.
The 2015 race to replace term-limited Mayor Nutter might seem far away, but the parlor games that determine who will appear on the primary ballot are well under way. Daily News reporter Sean Collins Walsh sat down with Hughes this week in her Red Cross office, at 23rd and Chestnut streets, to see if the mayoral rumors are true.
Q There's a sign above your desk that says, "It is what it is." What does that mean?
We don't get to control what life throws at us, but we get to control our response.
Life's going to knock you down. Period. The issue is how do you get back up? And that's what we teach, how you get back up, how you are resilient.
So when I say, "It is what it is," it's like, "Look, let's just deal with the facts. And now let's craft our plan to deal with it."
Q Sounds like disaster relief in a nutshell.
Yeah, it really is. But it has been my philosophy my entire life.
Q Did that philosophy help you as a judge?
The issue about being a judge is that I could not guarantee a result. What I can guarantee the community, the defendant, the victim was a fair process. That's all.
I sat homicide for more than a dozen years, so I can't fix this, I can't bring back the loved one who died. And very likely the person in front of me was going away for life or longer, sometimes death. I had four men on death row.
I can give you a process where you were heard, you were respected and you were treated fairly. That's the promise a trial judge can give.
Q A lot of people are wondering whether there will be a female candidate in the 2015 mayor's race, and your name comes up a lot. Is that something you're thinking about?
I have been honored, humbled and flattered that people would mention my name for the Mayor's Office. Philadelphia is an incredible city.
I'm not from Philly, I'm from Lynchburg, Va. I moved here in 1985, and Philadelphia wrapped its arms around me and has been so good to me.
I love this city and I think we stand on the edge of being great. But we have to claim it, we have to claim our greatness. And so I'm very vested in the city and I'm very vested in the city's future.
Q Sure sounds like you are thinking about it.
I can tell you that I wake up every day thinking about what small part can I play in making us a better community.
Am I thinking about running? I think about this city, about the quality of our life, about why we're special and why people should be here. The rest of it? I don't know.
Q Do you mean the politics?
Q The campaign, the fundraising?
I haven't thought about that yet.
Q Meaning that's a drawback for you in deciding whether to run?
Q Do you think there are problems with our political system? Is the campaign process in Philly - courting ward leaders, labor unions and the like - flawed?
What would be most impactful is for the people to reclaim their power. I don't want to displace the unions. But the people need to reclaim their power and understanding that the citizenry holds the power when they choose to exercise it. Look at the percentage of people who vote. It's absolutely pathetic.
Q What do you think Philly needs from its leaders? What are the issues that need addressing?
They're real simple: education, employment and quality of life. Education and employment are inextricably tied. If you don't have a well-educated workforce, then you don't attract the best employers and we have to be about the business of attracting the best employers.
I've lived in this city since April 1, 1985, and I know this is a city in which people have lived here for generations and generations. But I chose Philly. I think it is a great place to live.
It's not that I turn a blind eye to our challenges. We have incredible challenges. Having said that, we have to have first-class schools because first-class schools attract first-class businesses.
Q Where do you live?
I live in Overbrook Farms. It is probably the prettiest neighborhood in the city. Oh, it absolutely is. It looks like Virginia. You have great big old houses with hundred-year-old trees and lots of land, so it feels like home.
Q What's your favorite Philadelphia restaurant?
Oh, gosh. I am a foodie. I can give you a series. I like Sbraga, I like Route 6, and this is an old one but I still like Pod, on the University of Penn's campus. Tonight, I'm going to Ocean Prime.
I love food. Which is why I run. Oh, I run. I try to run at least three times a week. It helps clear my head. I run on City Avenue, MLK, Kelly Drive, I use St. Joe's track. I know this is crazy, but if you go from McDonald's to McDonald's on City Avenue, it's five miles, that loop.