Mayoral candidates Jim Kenney and Melissa Murray Bailey debated for the last time at Temple’s Performing Arts Center last night, addressing the economy, education, job preparation and growth and the role of Philadelphia’s iconic sandwich in the city’s business arena.
Moderators Philadelphia Inquirer City Desk Editor Chris Hepp and business reporter Diane Mastrull prompted the candidates in front of a crowd of students and city residents to talk about the successes and failures of the current administration of Mayor Michael Nutter. Each candidate discussed plans for improving and expanding his current programs.
Growth of the city’s economy and Nutter’s ethical standards are praiseworthy, Kenney, the Democratic candidate, said. He would work to improve the relationship with City Council. Republican candidate Bailey said she is committed to improving the graduation rate, a Nutter initiative she said she can improve from the current rate of 65 to 80 percent.
Mastrull posed the idea of economic diversity to the candidates, citing the recent Pope weekend as a win for tourism and asking candidates how they would brand the city to outsiders—“and don’t say ‘cheesesteaks,’” she said.
Bailey, president of Universum, a branding and communications firm, said her goal is to convince West Coast and international companies to bring their east-coast headquarters to Philadelphia. She later told The Temple News she wants those companies to come in to the city’s college campuses, scouting people for entry-level positions.
“We have some of the best people right here,” she said.
Former City Councilman Kenney disagreed. About 30 percent of Philadelphians commute out of the city to the suburbs for work, he said. To bring business to Center City, Philadelphia doesn’t need to look nationally or globally, but just a few miles outside of city limits.
“If we can get less people commuting out and more people enjoying their lives here, we don’t need to look further,” Kenney said.
Both candidates spoke to aspects of other cities they would bring to the table in Philadelphia. Kenney noted sustainable practices and making any new jobs green—reducing the city’s carbon footprint—would be implemented in his new programs. Chicago, New York and Boston have set good examples for this so far, he said. Bailey said she admires Los Angeles’ overhaul of its public school system, making parental involvement “paramount” in children’s success.
There are up-and-coming neighborhoods, Kenney and Bailey agreed—Kenney claimed Germantown and Cheltenham are promising for small businesses. Bailey said the development of the Reading Viaduct and its surrounding neighborhood will be an asset in connecting North Philadelphia to Center City.
Kenney, who has spoken in support of open streets in the past, commented on the “liberating” feeling of walking around a car-less Center City during the papal visit, adding he would be willing to look into closing certain streets in the future. Bailey said she would consider the act if it could be good for people and businesses, if it was done “with a purpose.”
Hepp and Mastrull prompted Bailey and Kenney on their favorite party candidates in the presidential election. Bailey said she favors Carly Fiorina’s business sense, while Kenney said he is a proud supporter of all the Democratic candidates, but, “Joe Biden goes to Flyers games.”
“Once you’re mayor, it’s not a matter of being a Republican or a Democrat,” Bailey said.
In his closing statement, Kenney said, “I am a lifelong Philadelphian. I have the drive, intelligence and experience for this.”
Bailey emphasized her two main priorities are family and service: “There are Philadelphians that need to break the status quo. We need to clean up Philadelphia.”
Polls open for voting Nov. 3.
Paige Gross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @By_paigegross.
Video edited by Sean Brown.