The Republican in the mayor's race: "I represent the future of the city"
Little is known about the lone Republican in the mayor’s race.
Melissa Murray Bailey, 36, is an outsider by all accounts. She’s the youngest candidate in the mayoral pool, and a newcomer to both local politics and the city itself, having moved just three years ago with her husband and her four-year old daughter.
Sitting in Pagano’s Market in Center City, an older woman approached us with the distraught look of someone on a doomed mission.
“I’ve lost my purse” she said, peeking around the table.
Bailey reached over and produced a beige handbag that had been on the empty seat at our table since we arrived. Relief lit up the stranger’s face. She gushed thank-yous, and Bailey smiled and said “It's all safe.”
“That was your chance to pitch to people,” I joked. “Let them know you’re running for mayor.”
“That’s the hard thing about me before and me now,” she said. “I’ve never been much of a self-promoter.”
Bailey before: She grew up in Absecon, N.J., just outside of Atlantic City, but has lived all over the globe. She attended the University of Maryland for bioengineering and lived in Washington D.C. for eight years. After that it was Australia for four years with a research firm, and then Singapore for another three years. That’s where her daughter was born. She and her husband decided to settle into Philadelphia. Her parents and grandparents have roots in Philly, she added.
Bailey now: She works full-time from her home in Society Hill for a Swedish branding company. November 24 last year is when she decided to run for mayor. Bailey said she’s managed about 70 people at one time, and helped create businesses through the last recession. Her campaign intends to leverage her experience as an asset to the city.
“I didn’t say I wanted to get into politics,” she said. “I said I want to be the mayor of Philadelphia. It was a very specific reason that got me into politics, and it goes into what I’ve been doing my whole career which is addressing problems and leading organizations.”
She doesn’t like to make decisions along the party lines. Since she’s been in Philly, she’s come to feel that the local Democratic party didn’t representative the her values. So she started talking to the Republicans. About her mayoral bid, she said it was her decision; she came to the party, not the other way around.
“It’s interesting if you look at history,” she said. “The Republicans used to run the city, and then they started coming over and becoming democrats to the point where we are right now. I think we’re at a similar situation at this point. People are disenfranchised with the government. I think unfortunately we have to get to a breaking point before people.”
Last week, the city’s Republican representation doubled overnight. Martina White, a 26-year old Republican, won a special election for a vacant House seat. To Bailey, this is a sign.
“It just shows that in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, that if you represent the people and the beliefs of the people and the direction they want to their neighborhood going, then they’re going to listen and cross party lines.”
Women, people of color, LGBT communities — these are the groups stereotypically maligned by the American right. But Bailey isn’t alone in thinking this isn't the the case, especially in a city like Philadelphia.
“I think the Republican party of Philadelphia is a big tent and they’re welcoming lots of different people there to represent the changing demographics of the city,” she said.
It’s a fairly diverse group. Kevin Strickland and James Williams, young Black men, are running as Republicans for two different City Council seats. There’s more age diversity as well. Terry Tracy, Dan Tinney, Christopher Sawyer — all Republicans under 40 running for office.
“Not enough people my age are getting involved. I think it’s because Philly has gotten to a place where it is just assumed the election is in May. Well the election is actually in November. Millenials want to get involved and feel like they can have an impact. But if they don’t feel like they can have an impact, they’re much more reluctant to get involved.”
But some would say a Republican mayor is a whole different ballgame. So why take a chance, especially if you don’t care for a career in politics?
“I represent the future of the city,” Bailey said. “There is a whole generation of people like me who want to stay in this city.”
The reference here is to newcomers who, as the narrative goes, live in the city until they have kids, and then flee to the suburbs for better schools and safer communities.
Bailey says she’s fighting for those things so she and others can stay.
She is firm in her decision to send her daughter to a public school, and counts herself lucky to be in a good neighborhood. She wants people in other neighborhoods of the city should have that opportunity, too. When her daughter goes into kindergarten, she’ll be able to read, Bailey says. But she recognizes that for most of her daughter’s peers, it will be their first time in school.
Her campaign strategy will include reaching out to the city's polarized demographics.
“A lot of things that people think are disadvantages in my campaign are actually advantages,” Bailey said. “The fact that I haven’t lived in Philadelphia all my life, for example. Everyone starts their campaign speeches with the fact they were born and raised here. I understand that. But I think the fact that I’ve lived in other cities, I’ve seen how other cities have overcome their challenges. I still have this ray of hope and optimism around what we can be doing.”
Optimism aside, Bailey understands the likelihood of loss, and wants to use her campaign to send a message about alternative political futures.
“There is another viewpoint out there. I don’t want people to think any more that the elections are in May. I want to drive accountability in the government. It’s not always going to be a guarantee that you’ll win in an election. I hope a lot of the issues that I bring up will further the conversation.”
Looking at some issues
On the School Reform Commission:
“We’re trying to look for quick-win fixes. Oh, if we just got rid of the SRC, it would be better. If we just figured out the charter-public school issue, it would be better. If we just gave them all the money they want, it would be better. I think we’re oversimplifying it. I think we have to look at universal pre-K, where we get that started and how, and at the same time looking at programs for kindergarten and first grade so that even in the places where we don’t get universal pre-K we’re still giving the children to resources to learn on an equal playing field.”
Looking at the city’s gentrifying areas, how do we protect our long-term residents and still create integrated neighborhoods?
“No winners and losers. Everyone is integrated in my campaign. We need better tax structures.”
How can we change the tax structure in the city and encourage more businesses to come here?
“If you build it, they will come. The millennial generation really wants to reduce the amount of time they’re spending in a car, and they also want more time for the things they love. I think if we continue to do things to attract talent into the city, that will help with businesses. We also need to look at Philadelphia in terms of the surrounding suburbs. There are too many companies who want to be in the Philly metro area, but they’re not choosing Philadelphia. So we need to make sure we’re offering a better product in the city than in the surrounding suburbs.”
How will you help encourage between relations between the police and the communities?
“We need to look at the root cause. Crime happens because of desperation. A lot of crime is because people don’t have jobs, or they don’t have jobs that pay enough.”