About two weeks ago, I got a call from an anguished candidate for City Council. “I feel like I’m spitting into the ocean,” said Republican Terry Tracy. As we reported last January in our “New Blood” series looking at the newcomers who were trying to remake City Council, Tracy had given up a lucrative private sector career to improbably try and make a difference on our dysfunctional legislative body. A policy nerd, he was bursting with innovative ideas.
Now it is nearly 10 months later, and Tracy has found out that general election campaigns in Philly are where ideas go to die. Yes, it’s a foregone conclusion that Jim Kenney will be mayor, and it’s true that six Council members are running unopposed. But the race for the two Council seats reserved for minority parties—currently held by Republicans David Oh and Dennis O’Brien—is actually competitive. Yet no one is paying attention. Tracy has been calling reporters, lobbying them to little avail to write about the race. He was told the Inquirer editorial board wouldn’t be re-interviewing general election candidates it spoke to during the primary. At civic association meetings, he’s been given three minutes to make his pitch.
“You try and have a smart discussion about solving our problems in three minutes,” he says.
So Tracy himself was calling around to local institutions pitching the idea of a candidates debate between those vying for the minority seats. Many of those he called politely passed. But his plea to David Thornburgh, president and CEO of reform group Committee of 70, and to me here at The Citizen, hit home. Imagine: A candidate shaming local organizations into hosting a debate. Tracy was right: To not convene a forum is to be part of the problem.
So far, Republican Tracy; Green Party Kristin Combs; and Independents Sheila Armstrong and Andrew Stober have agreed to participate. Still waiting to hear from Republican challengers Al Taubenberger and Dan Tinney, and incumbents Oh and O’Brien, as well as Socialist Workers Party candidate John Staggs. Yo, guys, step up.
Thornburgh and I share an antipathy for political debates as commonly practiced. They tend to feature soundbite scripts instead of real exchanges. The moderator and the myriad rules of modern-day political debates tend to obfuscate rather than enlighten.
So we came up with an innovative model: No moderator. No rules. It’s politics meets the WWE. You want to be on Council? Go to it. Make your case. Challenge one another. You have an hour. The audience will have the last 15 minutes to tweet or ask questions. Otherwise, time’s theirs to really debate. Our hope is the format will reveal not only who our candidates are, but whose ideas are fully fleshed out. It’s one thing to offer an idea; it’s another to defend it in real time.
When I told Tracy he was right and that we’d come up with this steel cage match format, he laughed. “Now watch,” he said. “I’ll probably say something inappropriate and torpedo my campaign. It’ll serve me right.”
So join us on the 27th, as part of Voter Education Week, brought to you by Influencing Action Movement, Urban Philly Professionals Network, Unity in the Community, Rising Sons, and Young Involved Philadelphia.
Space is limited & reservations are encouraged.
October 27th, 2015
530 PM to 7 PM
The Citizen office at Industrious
230 South Broad Street, 17th Floor
Header photo by Anton via Creative Commons.