Campaigns & Elections

5 takeaways from Monday’s Philadelphia mayoral town hall

Cherelle Parker and David Oh answered voters’ questions in a rare forum before the Nov. 7 election

David Oh and Cherelle Parker at City & State’s mayoral forum, held in partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra, at the Kimmel Center in early March.

David Oh and Cherelle Parker at City & State’s mayoral forum, held in partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra, at the Kimmel Center in early March. Pete Checchia

While many Philadelphians were tuned into the disappointing Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Monday night, another major event was taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. 

A few miles north of Citizens Bank Park, this year’s mayoral nominees – Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh – met at 6abc studios for a live town hall. 

In one of the few occasions Parker and Oh attended the same event, the two candidates answered voters’ questions and addressed issues ranging from the 76ers’ arena proposal to ongoing violent crime. 

Here are five takeaways from Monday night’s mayoral town hall. 

Parker’s ‘Village People’ approach

Parker took the stage first for a one-on-one conversation with 6abc anchor Sharrie Williams. As she has done throughout her campaign, Parker referenced the “village” of people who raised her and put her on the path she’s on today. 

Revisiting her childhood and family’s personal and financial struggles, Parker said she is the “textbook case study of how to turn pain into power.” She wants children in Philadelphia to access a similar path to prosperity, saying the city’s neighborhoods – and community engagement within neighborhoods – will play a critical role in improving public safety and development. 

“My real-life, lived experience is closest to the people who are feeling the most pain right now in our city,” Parker said during her closing remarks. “It’s because of that that I will not be afraid to make the tough decisions needed to bring order back to our city. Together, we will make our city the safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation, with access to economic opportunity for all.” 

Oh focuses on family and faith

Oh immediately followed Parker for his one-on-one interview with Williams. He also shared stories about his Philadelphia upbringing and how family – and his parents’ focus on faith – led him toward a career in public service. 

Living in the same Kingsessing neighborhood he grew up in, Oh said that despite the problems he witnesses close to home, it’s Philadelphia’s people and communities that make him want to be part of the solution. He added that Philadelphia is a “blue-collar town” with professionals, artists and innovators whom he wants to support. 

“Don’t be discouraged by ridicule or doubt. Set your mind to what you want to do – if it is for a good cause. And (to have) faith is to do what other people won’t do and to really believe that you can make that difference.”

Ringing the 76ers’ arena bell

The 76ers’ proposal to develop a Center City arena has become a hot-button issue during this election cycle. Oh, who didn’t address the arena specifically on Monday, has previously expressed opposition to the arena proposal, while Parker has said it’s an economic development opportunity that Philadelphia can’t ignore.

Parker didn’t fully commit to the arena Monday night but repeated the claim that it’s an idea worth thoroughly exploring, saying the city cannot have a “knee-jerk” reaction to the development. 

“I’m going to do what I’ve done all my life – get access to the facts and best information possible and make an informed decision,” Parker said. “I want to see (equity) from the top to the bottom and I want to see the long-term impacts … We have to make sure that the community’s included.”

Public safety priorities

Both Parker and Oh mentioned “lawlessness” affecting the city and how they would approach public safety priorities while hearing concerns among criminal justice advocates and police accountability advocates. 

On the topic of selecting a new police commissioner, Parker said for the first time publicly that she would consider “professionals who know public safety, who know Philadelphia, who have cultural competence and, quite frankly, emotional intelligence.” She reiterated her support for “constitutional Terry stops” and that as part of her “homegrown” mentality, she’d seek someone with a similar upbringing and community-based mindset to lead the city’s police.

Oh said the city’s police force is “demoralized” and that it has to reconnect with communities to “show them that we care.” He proposed utilizing technology, such as drones and cameras, to crack down on drug dealing and other “open-air” crimes. He added that public safety also starts with adequate public transportation. 

“We start with public safety – clean public transportation,” Oh said Monday. “As mayor, I’m going to fight with SEPTA … I will not tolerate the conditions we have in our public transportation (systems). They’re dirty, they’re filthy, they’re unsafe and there aren’t (any) police officers there.” 

Reservation recs

A town hall wouldn’t be complete without some personal questions for the candidates. Parker said her favorite restaurant in the city is South Restaurant and Jazz Club – a venue frequented by politicos – and that she most recently binge-watched the Showtime series “Billions.” 

Oh, arguing the favorite restaurant question is “unfair” given the city’s widespread offerings, decided to give a shoutout to a business that offers authenticity and affordability, recommending the Chinese restaurant Shing Kee in South Philadelphia. 

Monday night’s forum was part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. 

Although the candidates didn’t share the stage in a formal debate setting, Monday’s town hall was one of the few events during which voters heard from both Parker and Oh on similar topics. The two will again go up against each other on the ballot on Nov. 7 as each seeks to replace Mayor Jim Kenney and become the city’s 100th mayor in the process. 

The two candidates will meet for their -only formal debate of the campaign cycle on Thursday, October 26, at 8 a.m. during drive-time on KYW Newsradio