The 2023 Mayor’s race is shaping up to be closer to a national contest than a local one…complete with sharp elbows.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but in the early 1980s, I was a bit of a punk.
No, let me correct that. I was a full-on punk. Mohawk. Doc Maartens (which I still wear, by the way.) A better than working knowledge of the musical catalogues of The Clash, The Ramones and Elvis Costello. A “Rude Girl” button. The whole nine.
I was a student at The Ohio State University at the time and there was a club off of High Street in Columbus called Crazy Mama’s. They played the best music and turned me on to a lot of stuff I still listen to this day.
It was also a place where you could participate in slam dancing. Now if that sounds like it hurts, it’s because it does. Think football without the helmets. Or pads. And with the occasional nut who sews sharp objects into their clothes to heighten the pain giving experience.
It didn’t take long for me to stop doing that. Feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus after a night of dancing isn’t a good look.
But in a way, it’s prepared me for covering politics. When I covered the 2016 Republican National Convention, I was able to bob and weave as a whole variety of things came at me all at once…and that was just the guys with the “God Hates Fags!” signs.
Now, I’m used to contentious political races here in Philly. I’ve covered Democratic mayoral primaries here in Philadelphia that have made me wonder if the folks who participated in them could ever co-exist in the same room without a fight breaking out. But if the early days of the 2023 Mayor’s race are any indication, the City may look like I did when I climbed out of the mosh pit on Saturday night.
It’s gonna need an ice pick and a heating pad…kinda like I did.
The week started off with four new City Council members being sworn in to replace the four members — Allan Domb, Derek Green, Cherelle Parker, and Maria Quinones Sanchez — that have left the body to run for Mayor. By Tuesday, the group photo that was taken at the swearing-in was rendered irrelevant by the resignation of Councilmember Helen Gym and her announcement of her intent to run for the office.
Those of us who observe this stuff for a living have already seen that the elbows are being sharpened. Everyone who’s announced so far has had a snide remark or three about their opponents. Entrepreneur Jeff Brown slammed the elected officials in the field for not doing enough to improve Philadelphia’s quality of life. Parker called some of her opponents “trust fund babies”. Quinones Sanchez is probably going to get dinged about Kensington as she moves along the campaign trail and Domb is going to have to somehow explain how the “Condo King” is going to solve the City’s affordable housing crisis.
But in a statement issued shortly before Gym made her campaign announcement at the William Way Community Center in Center City, Green ran right at his former colleague with intention.
“Former Councilwoman Helen Gym and I give have very different approaches and visions for the City. I wrote and passed the Green plan that cut taxes, provided more funding for vital city services, and increased funding for police. Hellen opposed me on it. Helen pushes a socialist agenda to raise taxes and opposes more funding for the police. Voters are going to have to decide which approach will make Philadelphians safer and more prosperous.”
Now I put this statement in this column as is for a few reasons.
One, if you’re a communications person and you don’t proofread your releases before you send them out, I can’t help you. Your client is paying you far too much for you to have him out here sounding illiterate. Just saying.
Secondly, despite Council President Darrell Clarke’s best efforts to make Council appear to be a harmonious body working in concert to settle the city’s issues with a modicum of hostility, this tells you what the caucus meetings on this particular bill must have looked like. I wonder how much time it took to get the blood off the walls.
But thirdly, I put this statement in exactly as is because if this is how we’re going to do things in this mayoral race, the people who will lose, no matter who wins, are Philadelphia’s citizens. Between the gun violence rate, the poverty rate, and the condition of our schools, we don’t have time as a city for this crap.
(I had a stronger word in mind, but this is a family newsletter.)
Without getting into the fact that Medicaid and Medicare are the closest that we come as a country to having anything resembling socialism or socialist policies, stuff like this isn’t helpful. Criticizing your opponent by using their record is fair game. In fact, it’s more than fair and should be done.
But using the kinds of buzzwords that have been associated with some pretty nasty assaults on our democracy is not the move here. It’s going to be enough of a challenge to get the electorate engaged without making reporters like me have to define what socialism is — and isn’t — to voters who want to know what you’re going to do about crime, affordable housing, the city’s economy and the other things that all eight of the candidates that have already announced that they’re running to be the city’s Top Dog need to focus on.
I interviewed Gym on Thursday and asked her about her colleague’s comments. She didn’t really address them, and I can’t really blame her on that.
Now, you can run any kind of political campaign you want. Free speech is your friend. Like I said, attacking your opponents’ records makes all kinds of sense.
But the time for the Philadelphia’s Mayor’s race to be conducted like a popularity contest is over. Everyone needs to come correct and that means you bring ideas, you bring a plan to implement them, and you tell us how it’s going to work.
The residents of Philadelphia have been bruised enough as they try and navigate the mosh pit that the city has become. It’s not the job of the next Mayor to dive in and start slamming people too.
You’re supposed to be the ice, and heating pads the city needs to heal.