Forum Shopping

Philadelphians are about to get tired of hearing the phrase “Mayoral Candidates Forum” between now and the May Primary. And they’re really going to be tired of not getting a lot of clear answers.

Back in 2003, when I was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, I helped plan a Mayoral candidates forum.

There was a lot that went into that. You had to get the candidates together. You had to make sure everyone agreed on format. You had to find a venue to do this that would supply everything from space for candidates to hang out until it’s time for them to go on to a place for their Mom to sit during the forum.

And even though there were only two candidates participating in the forum, it took a lot of time and effort to put together. Everything had to be negotiated from podium size to who gets the first question.

So, imagine having to do that with anywhere from nine to 11 candidates?

On Thursday night, I went to St. Joseph University’s Mandeville Hall for the Mayoral Candidates Forum on Gun Violence. It was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Curtis Jones and Kenyatta Johnson, the chairs of City Council’s Public Safety and Special Gun Violence committees.

The forum was moderated by Thera Martin, a legend in Philadelphia broadcasting and questions came from a panel of journalists including Loraine Ballard-Morrill of I Heart Radio, Cherri Gregg of WHYY, Christine Ileto of 6 ABC, and Solomon Jones of WURD and Radio One.

(That, as usual, print journalists were left off the panel is something I’m sure I’ll be able to address at another time regarding another forum. We don’t bite.)

Out of the 10 or so candidates that are currently running for the Democratic nomination for Mayor — no Republicans have officially announced yet — nine of them came. So, the audience was able to hear answers about everything from the fate of Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to how they’d help both the drug addicted and the residents of Kensington get the help they need.

Nine of the 10 candidates — the Rev. Warren Bloom, entrepreneur Jeff Brown, former Judge James DeLeon, former Councilmembers Allan Domb, Derrick Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker, and Maria Quinones Sanchez and former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart — participated in the forum. State Rep. Amen Brown was absent.

Each candidate was given anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds to answer some pretty complicated questions. And while the format didn’t allow for such things as Cherelle Parker taking the mic and talking about Jeff Brown’s hiring practices like she did in a previous forum, it wasn’t boring. Any forum that allows the audience to do a little heckling is never boring.

That said, I’m not sure what anyone got from this.

We’re going to have a bunch of these forums between now and the May 16th Mayoral primary. Community groups from around the city are going to ask the candidates about everything from gun violence to whether or not the city has enough bike lanes.

But I can’t help but think that we need to hold off on having them until the number of candidates has been pared down enough to allow for a more thorough discussion. The city has some really big issues requiring the kind of solutions that need more than a minute and 30 seconds to articulate.

I know that I won’t get my wish here, but I’d just as soon not see another one of these forums until we have a lot fewer candidates to work with.

Until then, I’ll just have to be smart enough to bring snacks next time.

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