Rhynhart, Parker, and Quiñones-Sánchez flexed their political records while Gym drew from her activism in WHYY gun safety forum
WHYY, NPR’s affiliate in Philly, hosted the mayoral candidates in a gun safety forum.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this article said that candidate Helen Gym was aiming to target "57 most affected neighborhoods" and a reduction in 911 calls. That is incorrect. Helen Gym's preliminary proposal calls for a targeted approach to 57 blocks and a reduction of 911 response times. The article has been updated to reflect those changes.
Eight of the 10 Democratic mayoral candidates sat in a WHYY studio on Thursday, March 2, on a forum touching on restoring gun safety in Philadelphia as the city searches for a candidate equipped to address ongoing gun violence while balancing current, lackluster programs.
The forum, done in partnership with CeaseFirePA — a statewide advocacy organization that lobbies lawmakers in Harrisburg — saw candidates lay out their political resumes, and those with less government work under their belt banked on their activism work.
WHYY made it so that candidates had less opportunity to debate and dunk on their opponents’ talking points and had groups answer questions in rounds posed by the panelists hosted at the station that evening.
Still, candidates seized moments within their two-minute allotted time to campaign, deliver political slogans, and, as was often the case, struggle to answer the whole of questions as timers closed in, resulting in participants going over their allotted time.
Helen Gym, slated to answer the first question along with the group that followed, began by citing her activism work as a teacher.
“I did not have a title. I did not have power. That’s who I am fundamentally, and that’s who I will be as mayor,” responding to what she would do as mayor and could not achieve as a city councilmember.
Gym, whose primary appeal throughout the campaign has been her deep involvement with community activism, with results to show for much of that leg work, added that the mayor has the convening power of the city, something that members of city council do not.
She focused the second half of her response on her proposed gun violence agenda, which, on day one, aims to summon all city agencies for an all-hand-on-deck approach to the city’s ongoing gun violence issue, which claimed the lives of 516 Philadelphians in 2022.
In general, Gym posited her ideas as forward-thinking and transformative while characterizing contrasting approaches from other candidates as “cookie-cutter,” quoted directly from one of her responses.
Although Gym is yet to release her full agenda — which is not uncommon at this stage — she has laid out a preliminary proposal that includes a cabinet meeting with all departments on day one in office, a targeted approach to 57 “of the most affected blocks,” and aiming for a reduction of 911 response times.
Rebecca Rhynhart and Cherelle Parker leveraged previous work both in the controller’s office, where Rhynhart served and as a district councilmember, Parker’s territory. Much of Rhynhart’s more general proposals stem directly from a report she conducted as controller, where the findings informed her agenda.
But Rhynhart, at moments, chimed in with insight into how she views the budget usage. She noted the disconnect between the cash on hand and who sees parts of that budget.
Rhynhart, in a first, set a benchmark for homicide reductions if she were to be elected mayor.
“I hear over and over from community leaders that they are working so hard, that it is so difficult, and they’re not supported by the city,” said Rhynhart, who also touted her ability to determine where budget allocation would be most effective.
Parker, on the other hand, took several hits at Gym over her community-based platform.
“It is very interesting seeing people tout their expertise in community programming, but people look at what they see in our neighborhoods,” said Parker, who added she’d be “unapologetic” about “making public safety the number one priority.”
Parker’s thought process seen at WHYY was consistent with remarks shared from previous AL DÍA reporting. The Parker campaign has maintained confidence in Philly’s law enforcement, and she has gone as far as swatting progressive criticism for her stance on policing.
Sitting left of Gym, former District 7 councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez delivered an even-keeled succession of responses drawing from her experience as chair of the appropriations committee, in addition to her 14-year term on City Council.
She said the city had been a bad partner to community organizations and would “revamp” programs by allowing “volunteers to do the work.” Quiñones Sánchez also dedicated her time allotments to pitch her gun safety platform, released a few weeks ago, which includes intervention in multiple sectors of government, including License and Inspections, the Public Defender’s Office, PPD Human Services, among others.
Quiñones Sánchez, who, in an interview with AL DÍA following the event, said she appreciated the forum’s format, said that what she heard felt “tactical” and lacked the elements that make “neighborhoods feel safe.”
“If you look at people’s 10-point plans or their public safety and community plans, their tactics (...) It’s about feeling safe,” said Quiñones Sánchez, who shared her belief that many of the candidates weren’t fully prepared to offer solutions to the panel questions.
“It’s not police that’s going to make us safe. What's going to make us safe is when our neighborhoods feel safe and when we invest in human capital,” she said.
“Folks are still stuck on one or two tactics as opposed to how do you build out an ecosystem that makes the city feel safe,” Quiñones Sánchez continued.
The case for other candidates wasn’t immediately clear. Judge James DeLeon, who sold his Local Incident Management System multiple times and through many questions, struggled to address the panel’s questions to the extent that one host requested that the candidates address questions more clearly.
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