The packed race to claim Philadelphia’s seven at-large council seats includes multiple candidates with ties to Temple University.
Of the 29 Democrats and seven Republicans running in the primary elections, at least five are Temple alumni. The top five candidates with the most primary votes in each party on May 21 will proceed to the general election on Nov. 5.
Derek Green, who has held an at-large seat since 2016 and is running for reelection in May’s Democratic primary, backs reforming the 10-year tax abatement, which waives property taxes for new residential and commercial construction and improvements. Green is also calling to remove tax exemptions for local universities, like Temple, which do not have to pay property taxes under Pennsylvania law because of their nonprofit statuses.
“Where large institutions exist, they need to pay their fair share,” said Green, a 1998 Beasley School of Law alumnus. “We definitely need to change [the tax abatement], but it’s brought a lot of money into the community.”
Ogbonna “Paul” Hagins, another Democratic at-large candidate who brands himself as “Philly Green Man” because of his environmental focus, said his education experience in the School District of Philadelphia and at Temple highlights the longtime inadequacies of the city’s public education system.
Hagins attended Temple as a College of Liberal Arts student from 1984-86, but did not graduate, he said. Though he was considered a high-performing student at his public high school, he claims, this was still equivalent to a middle school education when compared to student performance at other schools.
Hagins ended up working as a teacher at the Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School on Lehigh Avenue near 22nd Street and is now retired. If elected to City Council, he wants to improve the school system’s training for students to go into green technology and STEM careers.
Hagins sees himself at odds with the city’s Democratic establishment.
“We need to be understanding of the citizens of the city,” Hagins added. “For me, it’s about taking care of the least of us, not the government version of the ‘Verizon Friends and Family plan,’ the idea [that] if you’re not part of the club, you don’t get anything.”
These left-leaning ideas will be challenged by Irina Goldstein, a 2007 journalism and advertising alumna. Goldstein, a Jewish immigrant who left Soviet Ukraine as a child, is running in the Republican primary for an at-large City Council seat.
Goldstein, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry and heads two businesses, is a staunch opponent of big government, which includes council’s spending, which she considers wasteful.
Goldstein said the tax abatement as one piece of legislation she likes from the city’s leaders, and said it’s been a contributor to Philadelphia’s wealth in the past 20 years. She also supports local universities’ and institutions’ growth, which she sees as a result of city tax breaks.
“I’ve been on [Temple’s] campus recently, and thanks to development, it’s become super beautiful,” Goldstein said.
While many community members in the area near Main Campus see Temple’s expansion as a contributor to gentrification, which pushes longtime residents out of the neighborhood, Goldstein thinks it could be positive for the area.
“We need to stop vilifying the building industry,” she said.
Goldstein’s plan to improve schools involves auditing the current system and dramatically revisioning K-12 curricula.
“In Pennsylvania, the level of education is complete nonsense,” she said. “Children are not taught for careers. …By sixth or seventh grade, I want kids to learn to code.”
Another candidate with Temple ties is Drew Murray, a 2002 MBA alumnus, who’s also running in the Republican primary. Murray is pushing for universal pre-K education and more funding for schools. He is “absolutely in favor” of the tax abatement, arguing it has brought more jobs into the city.
Since graduating, Murray has headed up local community and residents’ organizations, like the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. He has criticized District Attorney Larry Krasner’s progressive policies, which attempt to reduce the use of the death penalty, plea bargains and back non-cash bail for some crimes.
Gentrification “done correctly, can be helpful,” Murray said.
“It can fill empty lots overflowing with trash,” he added. “Oftentimes, people are pushed out of their homes, though, and that’s an issue that should be addressed.”
Murray believes he can be one of the top two vote-getters, not just in the Republican primary, but in the City Council race overall, he said.
“I bring with me the perspective of a neighborhood organization leader,” he added. “I will take the success I had to the council.”