Education takes center stage in Philadelphia mayoral debate
More than 200 people packed a Center City auditorium Monday night for a tame, wide-ranging mayoral debate between Democrat Jim Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey.
As it has throughout this election season, education dominated the hourlong event at WHYY.
Over and over, Kenney stressed the need to improve access to pre-kindergarten education. For him, better access means better educated children and, in turn, a greater chance of them making a good life for themselves.
"That will start to change the narrative of poverty in this city," said Kenney, a city councilman for 23 years before running for mayor.
He said 18,000 city children currently lack access to pre-K.
Bailey, the daughter of two teachers, pushed for the city to spend more on making sure all of its students can read by the time they reach third grade. At some schools, she said, only eight percent of students are meeting that mark.
"We're going to get them to 100 percent by the end of my first term," said Bailey, a first-time candidate.
The debate, moderated by WHYY reporters Kevin McCorry and Katie Colaneri, also touched on crime and, specifically, police-community relations.
Kenney said he wants to rein in the city's "stop-and-frisk" policy, which he called "obnoxious" and something that "creates a wall between police and citizens."
"We have to reduce the number of bad interactions with police officers," said Kenney.
If elected, Kenney said, he'd also spend considerable energy on creating second chances for ex-offenders, particularly when it comes to jobs. And that includes asking companies who want to do business in Philadelphia about how they address re-entry from prison.
Murray Bailey said the city needs more cops. Specifically, beat cops who are engaged with communities and with whom communities want to engage. Routine conversations between residents and police, she said, can "prevent a lot of what's happening in our neighborhoods."
Murray Bailey said, initially, she'd want to see a "surge" of 500 additional officers.
Three independent candidates – newspaperman Jim Foster, activist Osborne Hart and property manager Boris Kindij – are also running for mayor.
David Thornburgh, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, has said that time constraints made Monday's debate a two-party event. In short, cramming five candidates into an hour "doesn't serve" voters.
"If, in fact, we want to respect all voices and all voters, perhaps it's time we think about how to do that from the outset by making primaries more open and inclusive," said Thornburgh.
The general election is Nov. 3. The city's Democrat-dominant voter registration is expected to hand Kenney an easy victory.
Monday's debate was hosted by WHYY, Committee of Seventy, Young Involved Philadelphia, NAACP Millennials, Influencing Action Movement and the Urban Philly Professional Network.
Support provided by