From cops to cabs, mayoral candidates have their say

Mayoral candidates at the In Conversation with Philadelphia event at Pipeline Philly. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )
Mayoral candidates at the In Conversation with Philadelphia event at Pipeline Philly. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )

It was billed as a conversation with the mayoral candidates - and the discussion wandered far and wide Monday night.

Mayoral candidates at the In Conversation with Philadelphia event at Pipeline Philly. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer ) Gallery: In conversation with Philadelphia

Doug Oliver, for instance, allowed that black men have reason to fear police. But police, he said, have as much reason to fear black men.

Lynne Abraham bemoaned "dark, crummy, cramped cabs" in arguing that start-ups like Uber and Lyft should have a chance to compete here, so long as they are fairly regulated.

Jim Kenney acknowledged that he frequently had blocked Twitter followers who annoyed him, calling the practice "liberating."

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, expressing his camaraderie with young voters, said he was "down with millennials."

And, of course, there was talk of more funding for schools, tax cuts to lure business to the city, and the need to find more common ground between minority neighborhoods and police.

Seated on two sofas, the six candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor gathered before more than 100 people packed into a room at Pipeline Philly offices in Center City, an event sponsored by Al DIA News Media in partnership with the Knight Foundation and 900-AM WURD.

With Sabrina Vourvoulias, Al DIA's managing editor, acting as moderator, the candidates took questions from several journalists and via Twitter from the audience.

As wide ranging as the conversation, its common thread seemed to be the question of fairness for the less powerful, be they immigrants struggling to build lives for themselves, longtime residents being driven from their neighborhoods by gentrification, or minorities who felt bullied by police.

Nelson Diaz, for instance, seemed to capture the frustration of many Latinos in the audience when he offered this assessment of their community:

"It is shameful that 16 percent of the population is totally unknown. You still think we are a molehill. We are going to show we are a mountaintop."

A hot-button issue was the police department, particularly in light of the recent federal report that found "significant strife between the community and the department," and recommended wholesale changes in procedures and training.

It was a discussion about the department that led to Oliver's observations that black men and police had reason to fear each other.

Williams challenged his competitors to do as he has done - embrace all 91 recommendations of the Justice Department's report.

No one else was quite that specific, although there was a consensus that better police training, more community interaction, and a more diverse police force were needed.

Abraham portrayed herself as ahead of the curve in seeking to end police misconduct by citing her unsuccessful attempt in 1996, when she was district attorney, to get the City Council to fund a specific unit to handle such cases. She noted that Kenney never spoke up on behalf of her efforts.

Kenney fired back, ticking off several high-profile cases under Abraham's watch where police officers had killed civilians under questionable circumstances yet were not prosecuted.

"We have a district attorney now who is willing to go after corrupt cops," he said.

The exchange was emblematic of the sniping that has gone on between the pair for weeks now. But for the most part, there was little direct sparring among candidates.

As usual, the outlier of the evening was T. Milton Street, who can be both outrageous and sagacious, sometimes simultaneously.

"I'm not one for task forces," he said at one point. "A leader has to lead. You have to be able to be decisive. One of the big problems we have in politics is the people we elect."

 


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