Democratic mayoral candidates face off at Temple

The candidates talked about issues like gun violence, quality of life and the Philadelphia 76ers arena plan at the Temple Performing Arts Center Tuesday.

The Philadelphia Democratic Mayoral Debate was held in Temple's Performing Arts Center. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Seven Democratic mayoral candidates took the stage in front of a live audience for their first and only televised debate at Temple Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, just more than a month away from the primary election in May.

The candidates spoke in front of hundreds of students and community members about issues like gun violence, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s performance and the Philadelphia 76ers’ new arena plan. They also took questions from the audience, including Temple Student Government President Gianni Quatrocchi, who asked about public safety, and Jamie Mansell, a professor and director of the Athletic Training Program, who asked about how candidates would work with health professionals.

The family of Devin Weedon, the 15-year-old who was killed on his way to school on March 28, also attended the debate.

FOX29 aired the debate, moderated by anchor Jason Martinez, and candidates fielded questions from a panel including FOX29’s Shiba Russell, Thomas Drayton and Jeff Cole.

Here are some of the issues that were discussed.

Addressing gun violence

The debate began with candidates taking questions about how they would address gun violence if elected mayor.

When asked about specific anti-violence programs, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said that on day one, she would implement proven programs, like group violence intervention and cognitive behavior therapy, that have been used in cities, like Oakland and New Orleans.

“I would activate the Emergency Operations Center on day one, to coordinate not just the police response, but streets departments and fix lighting, behavioral health to provide trauma treatment for the neighborhood’s most impacted by violence,” Rhynhart said. “And I will pull the DA and the police commissioner together to get them on the same page to tackle illegal guns.”

Helen Gym, a former Philadelphia City Council member, would also enact a state of emergency on her first day to bring all relevant city agencies together to address gun violence. Gym wants more detectives to solve crimes, better 911 response times and non-police mental health crisis units.

Other candidates, like former City Council majority leader Cherelle Parker, Jeff Brown, an owner of ShopRite and Fresh Grocer stores, and former City Council Member Allan Domb stressed the importance of addressing citywide police officer shortages.

Candidates also participated in a “lightning round,” where they were asked to respond yes or no as to whether they’d replace Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. Pennsylvania State Rep. Amen Brown said he would, in an effort to boost morale and prosecute violent criminals. Multiple candidates declined to answer.

Later during the debate, candidates were asked whether Larry Krasner’s policies are keeping the city safe. Four said no, while Gym, Rhynhart and Parker declined to answer. 

Derek Green, a former City Council member, expressed his support for issues, like bail reform and the conviction integrity unit, but said Krasner is not prosecuting guns as he should. Rhynhart said that there needs to be a crackdown on illegal guns, but some of Krasner’s policies, like exonerating people found innocent, are real reform.

Quality of life and public safety

Candidates moved on to the second round of questions, beginning with inquiries from Quatrocchi and TSG Vice President Akshitha Ag about public safety and quality of life for students and young people.

As the debate went on, gasps and cheers could be heard from the crowd as moderators reminded them to hold their applause. When asked about the city’s trash problem, Jeff Brown did not commit to changing city contracts with Covanta, a trash company that has incinerators in Chester, whose residents have complained about environmental racism and pollution.

“I would bid it out, but I’m not sure if that changes it or not,” Brown said. “But Chester is Chester. I’m worried about Philadelphians and how their lives are and so what will come first from me is what will be best for my Philadelphians.”

Green said that while young people can help educate adults about trash and littering, the city also needs to hold people accountable. Green supports hiring bonuses to increase police, as well as cameras and fines for dumping and littering.

Domb, a real estate broker, was also asked about potential gentrification under his administration. He responded by emphasizing the need for the city to leverage affordable housing with city-controlled properties.

Chinatown arena proposal

The debate took a turn when Gym brought up the news of a potential 76ers arena in Chinatown. 

“That’s why I fought so hard for pre-K, for free community college, to make sure that this city actually vibrantly supports people,” Gym said. “The Sixers arena has nothing to do with that and also it is kind of trash that they tried to buy one of the candidates on this stage.”

Gym appeared to allude to a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer about a large donation from a “professional sports team” to a political action committee that supports Jeff Brown.

Amen Brown later asked Gym about a recent meeting she had with the owner of the 76ers. Gym said she met for a “general meeting” with David Adelman, a developer for the potential project, but the team was not discussed.

Philadelphia’s municipal primary will be held on May 16 and voters have until May 9 to apply for mail-in or civilian absentee ballots. The election will be held on Nov. 7.

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