Lynne Abraham talks Latino outreach, diversity and priorities in her agenda
Do you speak Spanish?
I don't speak Spanish but I am bad at it. When I go to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain I can sort of hobble along, but I don’t want to insult the language for anybody who is a real Spanish-speaker by saying I speak Spanish. However my accent is pretty good and I try ... but it is not great, I will be the first to tell you that.
Do you believe you are known within the Latino community of Philadelphia?
I want to say that yes, there are some people who know me. Through partnership with Congreso that has aspects of community leadership, I have worked with several people who I don’t want to name because I don’t know if they want to be named. We will keep going forward with many more meetings with the Latino community; (we’re meeting) with a group that is totally invested in the Latino family and how our policies can advance family structure and being able to access to all programs and other benefits of the city of Philadelphia. In the past several years, our Latino population from a variety of countries has changed. Actually, it will soon change dramatically even more, coming from all over Central and South America to the United States. I believe as President Obama softens his position on immigration, that will enhance our population dramatically, all of which is good.
What are you bringing to the table as a candidate that is new?
A total investment in all neighborhoods across the city of Philadelphia. There isn’t a neighborhood or a community organization or a group that I don’t have long-standing knowledge of and affiliation with, and that includes the Latino community. I put on a charity, with several of my colleagues, for Latino women call “Día de la Mujer Latina,” a health fair with free breast mammograms, screening, dental, medical, all the services that women in the Latino community were not being provided. In addition I worked extensively with organizations like Congreso, because we have an education program that I helped start called I-LEAD Charter School, an academic program for men and women in the Latino community who seek to get a college degree, and we put them on the path to achieve that. Our ACE program, Achieving College Education, is affiliated with Harcum College and our community outreach at Congreso invites men and women in the community not only to attain a high school diploma but then get a two-year, fully accredited associate’s degree which is transferable to any college or university. We have also been working extensively with many Latino pastors and religious leaders to provide food and clothing for people who don’t have these resources. Our engagement in the Latino community started when I was District Attorney and is not a recent venture.
If elected, how do you plan to keep Philadelphia a welcoming and diverse city?
Our policy, if I am elected mayor, will be at least be in sync with the president’s policy. Latinos’ energy drives enterprise, we want to encourage more business to open here. We want to find out if there are ways that we can make Latino entrepreneurs have access to capital, which I think in the past has been very difficult to get. We also want to encourage what will make our city work — as nearly as possible — as one, instead of being fragmented. My agenda about moving Philadelphia ahead is for the benefit of families and individuals who contribute in a major way to our society, to our heritage, our culture and our economy. And it seems to me that the Latino population fits along with others quite nicely.
What would be the first thing you would do once in office?
My priorities are several. Obviously, the mayor must find out everything we can about our education system and our poverty rate, those two things are really intertwined. We have a huge number of impoverished Philadelphians, probably 27 percent of our population, living at or below the poverty line. Impoverished people have less access to educational services, health care and job creation. And in addition to that, they frequently come into the school system aspiring greatly, but the school system is not able to meet their individual needs. We cannot afford to fail in that regard.
What is your proposal for education?
The school system has been foundering and failing for a very long time. There is going to be a very difficult long, hard road to turning our educational system behind. But obviously, meeting with all the individuals stakeholders: parents, educators, administrators, unions, all across the board …. We are going to meet with as many stakeholders as possible to find out what is right, which we should keep, and what’s not right, which we should attempt to ameliorate, get it right or get rid of it. And what is promising. So we have to approach it almost like a triage. We have to be resolute and very strong and dogged in our determination to change the culture of how we have educated our children across the board, and that may mean ruffling a few feathers along the way but if we are going to change for the better for our children with our children being the primary focus of our agenda — and they are — we must be able to do this with every ounce of energy in our body.
Union workers are a big percentage of registered voters and are still deciding on a candidate frontrunner, how are you planning to become that candidate?
I don’t believe that a person should be anything other than who they are. So what they are going to get is authenticity. They know that I have a record of public service of very long standing, they know I have courage, I have determination, I have perseverance, I have vision and I have passion, and I also have the character that goes with the job. I am not going to be different for the Latino community than I am in any other community in the city, I am not going to be different for one labor union than I am for the other, they are going to have to accept the fact of who I am and my vision. And that I believe that there is a proper place at the table for everybody to listen to everybody’s issue and after collaboration and talking and thinking, we can come up with the right decision for the right reasons. The mayor’s office should never be for sale to any one interest group no matter who it is.
Although we are in the 21st century, do you think your gender as a candidate will matter?
I am hoping that my gender will not make a difference, but obviously one can’t escape the fact that in Philadelphia, of our 334 year history, there has never been a woman mayor and that is significant. As far as I am concerned, I never think of how to solve a problem from a woman’s point of view. I only think how to solve a problem, and in doing so, I collaborate and consult with people across the board no matter their age or background or sexual orientation to find out what is the best possible way to address this issue or this problem. And then come to a decision base on facts on the ground, aspirations, budgetary considerations and everything else but gender. I am not a woman mayor or a female mayor, I am a mayor who happens to be a woman. Unfortunately I am the only female now in this race but I am hoping that by my example other people in the entire community of Philadelphia will look at me and say, “well if she can do it, I can do that.” So my candidacy is real, but it also can have a powerful symbolic influence on young women and girls who want to be able to achieve their fondest dreams and aspirations.
What is your campaign strategy as the election day gets closer?
My campaign focus is in addressing the problems that you and I have been discussing. Almost anybody in this city is asking all mayoral candidates to put down in writing: “what is your idea on this? what is your idea on that? what is your idea on the other?” obviously several large issues, but each constituent group has different set of issues, and that is expecting, so there is going to be a pivoting between all of the interest groups who want to know the position of the Mayor so that each individual group can see and judge whether this is the kind of person who is not perfect — and no one is perfect — but is this the person I have faith and trust and can be the kind of leader who will invite people to the table. Who will respect and admire diversity; who will welcome ideas that come from outside and who will be willing to sit down in any neighborhood in this city and talk to any group, to listen to their concerns and to do everything within their power to address them.
I think that is what people want, they don’t want a mayor living in some ivory tower some place inaccessible, who doesn't return phone calls, who refuses to meet and speak, and who goes around and only shakes hands. That is all fine, but one must also be open to going out into the various communities, sitting at union halls, churches, somebody’s kitchen, some organization’s meeting room, and talking community, and listening to what they have to say to the mayor.