Open more McDonald’s locations and pizza shops, pick up trash and stop making fun of people – these are just a few of the hundreds of responses Philadelphia elementary school students offered up in response to the question: “What would you do if you were the mayor of Philadelphia?”
The city’s mayoral nominees – Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh – answered this key question and more during a student-led mayoral conversation at the Please Touch Museum on Tuesday. The forum not only presented the students with a unique opportunity to engage with the mayoral nominees but was also a rare instance of both candidates attending the same event.
With 6abc’s Tamala Edwards leading the conversation with more than 100 students from Parkside community schools, Parker began by sharing her upbringing and how her “village” supported her after her biological mother died when she was just 11 years old.
“I didn’t have anything perfect during my childhood. My life was a little different, but no matter what, I was able to keep pushing because there were people like the teachers who are in here,” Parker said. “I was a cheerleader and I ran track. I had coaches and uncles and cousins – a village of people who really believed in me. When I look at you, I know what I need to do. I need to make sure each and every one of you is connected to the Philadelphia village somehow.”
Oh, noting times he overcame academic struggles as a child, mentioned his love of Philadelphians’ spirit and their drive to succeed.
“You have all kinds of people in this city, every size and every shape. But one thing with all people that is kind of the same is they all want to be somebody, and I think everybody – including yourself – is a somebody developing,” Oh said. “Right now, you’re kind of discovering who you are, what you’re good at and what you do well … if you stick with it, you will be that person you’re supposed to be.”
The student audience, which included second-graders at Inquiry Charter School, third-graders at McMichael Elementary School and fourth-graders at St. Rose of Lima School, asked each candidate where they went to school and what their favorite subject was before getting into more specific questions about how the city’s libraries, sanitation and parks and recreation departments should operate.
One of the few specific policy points brought up by either candidate occurred toward the end when Oh was asked how he would keep parks and playgrounds safer.
Oh said he would separate the Department of Parks and Recreation into two entities to create a separate funding stream for parks and to ensure more community involvement in the decision-making surrounding smaller community parks.
Parker, when asked about addressing homelessness, reiterated a phrase often used in her campaign, saying she wants to create a cleaner, greener city that gives people a path to self-sufficiency.
Patricia D. Wellenbach, president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum, said the conversation gave children a chance to share what they hoped the next mayor would do for them and their communities.
“The 100 students coming to the Please Touch Museum are the future of our city, and we hope this conversation not only provides the chance to share what matters to them most, but also furthers the children’s understanding of the role of a mayor, what a mayor can do for their community, and the importance of their civic engagement in the future,” Wellenbach said in a statement.
The Children’s Mayoral Conversation is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. The initiative allowed students to learn civic lessons in the classroom prior to the event. And in exchange for their time, students were given lunch and access to the museum’s carousel following the one-hour event.