Chestnut Hill: Lynne Abraham Stresses Education as Campaign’s Top Issue

“I want to encourage people who live in and around Philadelphia to do something that I think we don’t do enough of, and that’s being proud of your city and being a cheerleader and a booster,” mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham said.

Abraham joined the race for mayor of Philadelphia in November after a long career as district attorney, from 1991 to 2010. She is accompanied in the mayoral race by Anthony Hardy Williams, minority whip of the Pennsylvania Senate, former state Sen. Milton Street and former City Solicitor Nelson Diaz, among others.

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On Feb. 12, Abraham addressed a mostly older crowd at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill about the issues she deems most important in the upcoming election – the most important issue being education.

“The single overarching, most important piece of my platform is an overhaul of the entire education system in Philadelphia … top to bottom,” Abraham said. “We have to focus all of our power and energy on one goal and one goal only: educating children.”

PHL_MayorLogo_WideThis was met with applause from the audience. Abraham went on to say that the next most important issues are jobs and security. With nearly 20 years of experience serving as the district attorney of Philadelphia, Abraham is no stranger to crime. Not only was Abraham the first female D.A. in Philadelphia, but she also held the office longer than anybody in Philadelphia history. She earned the nickname “Deadliest D.A.” after the way her office sought the death penalty in past years.

“I can tell you without fear of contradiction there isn’t anybody in this campaign who knows more about crime and justice than I do,” Abraham said. “I’ve spent 45 years of my life in it, it is something I’ve eaten and breathed. I know it all backwards and forwards, and that is a significant portion of what people think about when they think about where they want to live.”

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Hillary Mohaupt, communication coordinator of the church’s Center on the Hill program, reached out to Abraham and arranged to have her speak. The speaking engagement was a hit, with an audience of more than 100 people.

“It was an outstanding turnout, we usually get between 50 and 75 depending on the speaker,” said Leslie Lefer, director of Center on the Hill.

“She spoke very well and was very experienced and cares a lot,” attendee Jenny Godwin said. “I would have liked to hear more about gentrification of older communities and African-American communities, how they’re being pushed out.”

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– Text and images by Paulina Jayne Isaac and Maryrose Kelkis

Politics: Meet Philly’s Future Leaders

NextMayorLogo2015Millenials are driving Philadelphia’s growth. Events like the Forbes Under 30 Summit, returning to Philadelphia this fall, highlight the accomplishments of the city’s young residents. Despite the success of this group of Philadelphians, the average age of this year’s declared mayoral candidates is 59.

While this lack of representation might make young people feel excluded from the city’s power structure, these five men prove that it is possible to get involved.

Kyron Banks

Kyron Banks’ love for politics grew with the excitement of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Yet, despite his growing interest, Banks (pictured above) set out to study finance. Not long after, he decided to take a risk. He changed his major to political science at Penn State University.

The risk paid off.

At 23, Banks is now the youngest member of Mayor Nutter’s administration. He works side-by-side as an aide to Mayor Nutter, organizing panels and planning special events, such as the Forbes Under 30 Summit.

In the future, he plans to work toward his MBA while continuing to make the city a better place for millennials.

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Brian Caputo

Politics made an impact on Brian Caputo at a young age. Sam Katz’s bids for mayor and the 2008 general election were just two pieces of inspiration for him. Caputo was told growing up that giving back to his community was one of the most important things that he could do and that’s just what he has done.

Caputo ran La Salle University’s College Republican group. He now works for Philadelphia City Councilman Brian O’Neill, he serves as a Republican city committeeman and he dedicates himself to helping the candidates that he believes will make Philadelphia a better place.

Caputo admitted that being young and involved in Philadelphia is hard. Yet, he believes that the voice of Philadelphia’s young generation will never matter if they fail to engage with the city.

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Stephen St. Vincent

Stephen St. Vincent took an unusual route to a political career. After graduating from Swarthmore College, he moved to Iowa City, where he worked as a video game programmer.

The Iowa caucuses sparked his interest. He felt a desire to help others, and decided to apply to law school.

He moved to Philadelphia with a law degree from the University of Michigan and obtained a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. He ended up working for the city’s law department for two years in the Child Welfare Unit.

After leaving his job, he worked as the policy director for Ken Trujillo’s mayoral campaign for one week. Then Trujillo announced his departure from the race.

St. Vincent is unsure of his plans for the future but knows that he wants to continue to give back to the community.

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Nick Marzano

A Pittsburgh native, Marzano, 32, is the president of Young Involved Philadelphia, an organization that aims to get young Philadelphians engaged with the future of the city. Marzano first became interested in politics after a “Ward 101” event organized by YIP.

He is now a Democratic committeeperson in the 2nd ward, a position which he won with six write-in votes. He chose to run because he felt that an elected committeeperson was better than one appointed by the Democratic City Committee.

As president of YIP, he wants to encourage millenials to become invested in Philadelphia and sees opportunities for politics to facilitate that engagement.

“We need to find ways beyond voting – but short of political office – for people to take ownership and take action, so that they can see immediate results,” Marzano said.

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Seth Kaufer

Originally from the Allentown area, Seth Kaufer has rooted himself in the local political arena of his adopted city. Kaufer is a 35-year-old gastroenterologist who took an interest in politics during his high school years.

“It was kind of a natural fit for me,” Kaufer said.

His passion and love for politics followed him from his hometown of Kingston, Pa. to Philadelphia, where he was elected the Republican Ward Leader of the 2nd Ward. Since then, he has been committed to not only his job as a doctor but to making a difference in the city and the lives of his constituents.

As for the future, Kaufer plans on best serving the community with his medical skills. However, he will continue to be dedicated to politics, whether it be behind the scenes or any other opportunity that may come his way.

– Text and images by Jade Perry and Megan Whelan.

Doug Oliver: “I Know I’m an Underdog. I Just Don’t Care.”

NextMayorLogo2015It’s official. Doug Oliver, a former PGW executive and press secretary for Mayor Nutter, is running for mayor. He announced his candidacy over the weekend and is officially ready to begin his campaign.

The 40-year-old Germantown native sat down with Philadelphia Neighborhoods to discuss his vision for Philadelphia if he is elected as mayor.  

Why do you want to be mayor of Philadelphia?

I’m a lifelong Philadelphian, born and raised. I grew up in the Germantown section of the city and I love this city. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to live in other cities, travel around and I’ve seen a lot of things but this is home. When it comes to the challenges that face this city, I think we need a new approach. Rather then sit back and point fingers, as we often do, we decided to be apart of the solution.

What are the main focuses of your campaign?

We have three main focuses of our campaign – education, job creation and the third isn’t so much of an issue, as it is an approach to how we solve the challenges that face us, and that’s fairness. If I had to choose between education and job creation, I’d focus on education. That’s the number one thing that I think this city needs to focus on because the impacts of having failed in that area are being felt all across our city.

How would you aim to effect change in education in Philadelphia?

The mayor has very little ability to affect the school system with the stroke of his [or her] pen, and I knew this going in. For me, this means having a strong working relationship with two bodies in particular – City Council and the folks in Harrisburg. If we want Harrisburg to contribute more money, we have to show them that we are managing the money well.

How so?

I would like to see a top-to-bottom forensic audit of the school system to see how we are spending money, not because I think somebody is mismanaging the money, but we have the opportunity to demonstrate how that money is spent. If we run into road blocks in Harrisburg, we as a city need to be prepared to take the tough steps to make sure we’re not failing our kids, while we continue to fight as adults. At the same time, we can’t continue to raise taxes in a city with already high taxes and expect growth. It’s not an easy answer, because if it was we would have found it already, and I’d be weary of anyone who says they do right off the bat.

What’s your vision for Philadelphia?

My vision of Philadelphia is it’s young, vibrant, moving and exciting. We have over 100,000 college students just from the five colleges in the city and we need to capitalize on that potential. It was said to me once that Philadelphia is the city of perpetual potential. If we don’t have jobs for college students when they graduate, they are going to leave. If we don’t have schools for their kids by the time they have them, it’s the same answer. If we don’t actively take into account their concerns, then we lose them, and we miss out on their potential to take our city from good to great.

How do you think the fact that you have never held elected office affects you?

I would ask, why is that the standard by which we select our leaders? I’m not a career politician. I’m running as a citizen representative. We need leaders who are willing to make decisions not based on how it appears for their re-election. We need to do something different, and I know I’m not alone on this, look at the voter engagement. Only 18 percent of registered voters turned out in the last [2011] election, and 30 percent in the one [2007] before that. That’s 85 to 70 percent of voters that aren’t engaging. Not because they are lethargic, but I feel that it’s they are not being represented.

How do you plan to change that?

We would like to raise voter engagement by 15 percent, which would roughly bring 150,000 new voters to the table. If you’re a new voter, that means you’re being engaged and you’re asking questions and listening to the answers. In a city with 50,000 new members under the age of 35, we’re confident that they know who represents their interests best.

How would you respond to the question, who is Doug Oliver?

I’m a lifelong Philadelphian who cares about this city. I’m outside the box. I respect tradition but I’m not confined by it. I quit my job because I believe in this process. If we don’t have people at the wheel who are there for the right reasons, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting. I’m not a politician, so if you’re looking for my record you wont find it.

If you look in the eyes of kids in public school, if you look in the eyes of parents who are struggling to keep their kids safe, if you look in the super markets wondering whether you’re going to buy this-or-that making tough decisions, there you’ll find Doug Oliver. I’m going to put it all on the line for this city. I know I’m an underdog. I just don’t care. I think that spirit recognizes the very spirit of young Philadelphians and makes older Philadelphians proud.

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 – Text, Images and video by Zachary Rendin.

City Hall: Al Schmidt Says, “You Don’t Have an Excuse Not to Vote.”

Elections are the foundation of a democratic society. While it might seem as though elections just come together, in reality a tremendous amount of work is required to make them happen. City Commissioner Al Schmidt is one of the three elected officials who coordinate every aspect of elections, from voter registration to checking voting machines.

PHL_MayorLogo_WidePrior to moving to Philadelphia, Schmidt worked for the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that conducts performance audits for both houses of Congress to ensure that government runs efficiently and effectively. This experience is what inspired him to run for public office, which he first did in 2009 in a failed bid for City Controller. He then successfully ran for City Commissioner in 2011.

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What is the role of a City Commissioner?

We have one narrow but very important responsibility and that’s running elections in the city. We have roughly 100 full-time employees and approximately $10 million in our budget. With a city this size, there are nearly 1700 precincts or divisions where people are voting with nearly 7,000 people working the polls when we have elections. Philadelphia’s approach to voting has been to make polling places as accessible as possible to people, to keep it in your neighborhood so you’re able to walk down the street to vote and you won’t have to drive somewhere and find parking. You don’t have an excuse not to vote.

How does your office prepare for elections?

One thing that we put in place was making checklists for the department. If someone is out or incapacitated before the election, you know what needs to get done. Getting that all written out, what the responsibilities are of each unit of our department, what needs to be done in the lead-up to an election, I think was an important step.

Some of the things we do are very challenging and time-consuming. We have to decide what ballots to count. Other things we have to do, like checking lights on election machines, might seem more mundane but everybody is important to making sure each election runs smoothly.

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How does your office address voter irregularities or other problems during elections?

One thing that we did when I came in in 2012 was to put together a report on voting irregularities. Not in an attempt to quantify how many there are but to take a look at how they occur.

Our job is to implement election law. The District Attorney’s Office works with us, and their responsibility is to enforce the election law. The District Attorney just recently set up an election fraud task force. My office has been working very closely with them in referring cases to them for investigation and asking any request for information they have along the way as they investigate. Sometimes it’s voting fraud and other times it’s a matter of people not knowing what they’re doing. It’s not always a case of malicious intent.

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Philly is notorious for low voter turnout. Why do you think that happens?

When you look over time, you can see a really clear decrease in voter participation. But within that you really have wide swings of voter turnout. In a presidential year, you might have 60 percent turnout and in a municipal primary for DA and City Controller, you might have 9 percent turnout.

The frustrating part about that is that while national elections are important and deserve attention, these local elections have a much greater impact on people’s everyday lives, in my opinion, than who their U.S. Senator is or even who the president is.

The job their City Council person is doing or the mayor is doing really very immediately impacts the quality of their lives. It’s frustrating that we don’t have consistently high voter participation.

What do you think needs to improved in the department?

One thing that is almost never ending for us is improving the transparency in the department. Something that was frustrating for me when I started to get involved, after leaving GAO, was I called this department and I had a request. All I wanted to know was how many registered voters there were in the city by party. And the first question that I was asked is, “What party do you belong to?” The second question I was asked is, “Why do you need this information?”

I am a taxpayer. I am a citizen of Philadelphia. I don’t have to give a reason for wanting the information.

So the whole idea is to try and move as much information and as much data as possible to make it publicly available. We try and always identify opportunities to make information available to people and that is an ongoing thing for us. And to make that available, one of the bigger things we did in 2013 was to set up a new website, Philadelphiavotes.com. It gives us the vehicle to make that information available all the time and to put as much information as we can on that website.

– Text and images by Jade Nicole Perry and Megan Whelan.