By Jon Dowding
Photo via The Temple News.
Laughter from the audience and a relaxed atmosphere do not appear in a typical debate. Yet the October 19 Philadelphia mayoral debate between Republican Melissa Murray Bailey and Democrat Jim Kenney was characterized by what the current presidential candidates lacked, a focus on the issues and scarcity of butting heads.
Held at the Temple University Performing Arts Center, the debate showcased the two candidates to a somewhat small audience. Inquirer staff writers Diane Mastrull and Chris Hepp served as moderators for the debate co-sponsored by Temple University’s School of Media and Communication.
Democratic nominee Jim Kenney, a South Philadelphia native, won the primaries by a landslide this past spring. Kenney graduated from La Salle University and later served on the City Council from 1991-2015. While serving on the City Council, Kenney, according to his campaign website, advocated for the environment, equality and worker’s rights by fighting for a real living wage, providing broader protections for the LGBTQ community, helping to decriminalize marijuana, and increasing funds for public schools.
Melissa Murray Bailey, the Republican nominee and South Jersey native, takes pride in her inexperience in government and sees her non-political background as an advantage. She believes her business perspective and years of living in other cities abroad showed her “what works” when running a city. The University of Maryland graduate, prior to the election, served as the President of the Americas team for Universum, a corporation serving as a global job training and recruitment program.
The candidates’ plans to bring more jobs into the city was a popular topic during the debate since “the city’s economy lacks diversity” said moderator Chris Hepp. Both of the candidates primarily discussed the importance of bringing corporate headquarters to Philadelphia and its positive impact for the improvement of the economy.
Kenney endorses the revitalization of the Port of Philadelphia to create jobs for underprivileged citizens. His plan includes the development of a training facility for new workers and freeing up the land for more container space. Kenney assured the audience the $100 million in estimated costs needed to modernize the port would come from the private sector. The city and the state would only pay for new access roads to the port.
Bailey’s job plan focuses on measures to bring corporate headquarters to Philadelphia. She believes the city must be recognized as a place of talent that allows for entry-level jobs out of college. Bailey also sees the city’s expired contract with Comcast as an opportunity to bargain with them to move their call centers to Philly, creating an estimated 2,500 jobs Bailey said.
The candidates were also questioned on what neighborhood in Philadelphia they see as up-and-coming and in need of repairs. Kenney sees Germantown and Cheltenham, especially around North Fifth Street, in need of fixing due to limited parking and complaints from businesses in the area. Bailey sees the city as a partner and advocate of new businesses being established in the Reading Aqueduct area by providing incentives for the businesses. Bailey’s response of the Reading Aqueduct received a multitude of puzzled looks from the audience and even a few laughs seeing the area is not a real neighborhood. The area she referred to is an abandoned raised rail line, spanning from N. Broad and Noble Street and actually called the Reading Viaduct, currently in the process of being converted into a giant, public and green space.
When the candidates were questioned on whom they are supporting for president, Kenney expressed his support for all the democratic candidates and says he is not in a position to favor anyone. He did not stray from making negative comments about the lineup of Republicans running however. His comments received approval from the crowd through claps, laughter and some cheers.
Bailey expressed her support for Carly Fiorina after saying she believes the Republican Party has a diverse array of candidates. Some audience members began to cry from laughter after the later comment from Bailey.
The hour-long debate came a few weeks before the mayoral elections taking place on November 3.