Philadelphia has a huge heart. Professional athletes like Bryce Harper and Jalen Hurts feel it when they play. Mega-stars like the Boss and Jay-Z feel it when they perform here. This very human heart in the city’s character is pounding when we accomplish big wins together. A pure energy comes from an “all together now” vibe. “Go Birds” is now an acceptable way to engage with strangers.
What if this palpable force of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection spilled into the civic and political realm more than it does now?
In a recent How to Really Run a City podcast episode, former Mayor Michael Nutter said that politics attracts the best and the worst people. This listener, his co-hosts and guest all agreed: How can this be true?
In my experience, the worst types of politicians have motivations rooted in ego and external reward. This person is a manager of ego, career, ambition and brand. The best types of politicians have motivations rooted in a higher purpose and service to the common good. This person is a leader who chooses the common good even when a tough decision threatens their career.
Any political race is a competition for power, but governing well is anchored in collaboration.
For most voters, it is difficult to know what a candidate is really like. Every candidate says they love people, service and the common good. “I am an egomaniac,” said no candidate ever. And, to be honest, every candidate requires a healthy ego to even run for office.
Furthermore, the Philadelphia Mayor’s race attracts the ambitious. There will be light and heat from around the country because national political players pay more attention to swing states. Purple Pennsylvania is in the thick of national power maps. Independent expenditures, aka “dark money”and national entities, will endorse, engage, fund and impact this race. Who has the ability to influence the direction of Democrats nationally and dominate the voter-rich Southeast PA media market for the next eight years? The next mayor of Philadelphia.
Technology is shifting the world from an era of competition to the age of collaboration. Yet, political norms seem stuck in hyper-competitive gear. Any political race is a competition for power but governing well is anchored in collaboration. The skills needed to get elected are somewhat at odds with the skills necessary now for high-impact governing.
True hearts work well with others
Candidates compete fiercely to identify themselves, build their base and expand their appeal. The current mayoral field is quite a cast of characters competing for the hearts of donors, volunteers and media. Each type of candidate has an emotional appeal for certain voters.
Can one candidate more fully distinguish themselves, compete to win and be the Chief Collaborator we need? Who can be the team captain as humble as Jalen Hurts and as driven as Bryce Harper?
Bear in mind though, when elected leaders “collaborate” it is often a show. First, there is an announcement of collaboration. Then, a few meetings happen where the “important” people (aka political allies) are declared present. Perhaps an article and a few Tweets about key people in important rooms making important discussions. Too often, this is fake news shoveled to hopeful voters who want genuine, ongoing collaboration to make an actual difference. But, really working well with others takes years and is also not necessarily news when results finally arrive.
If a candidate publicly and viciously blasts critics as “opponents,” he or she will struggle to collaborate or negotiate successfully with all fellow leaders because everyone can see how they roll.
How can a voter know who really works well with others? Here are three ideas:
- Consider how the candidate built or eroded relationships with fellow leaders. Leaders who do not answer to the Mayor are important to his or her success. They are in charge of public safety, schools, transportation and utilities, for example. The next Mayor must work with adjacent leaders at the School District, in Harrisburg, in Washington D.C., all businesses large and small, in the surrounding counties, in local civic associations, at SEPTA, universities, the District Attorney and in City Council. It takes the village.
- Examine how the candidate typically treats those with whom they disagree. If a candidate publicly and viciously blasts critics as “opponents,” he or she will struggle to collaborate or negotiate successfully with all fellow leaders because everyone can see how they roll.
- Try to collaborate with the candidates now. Host a house party or volunteer to see how well the candidate and staff collaborate with regular voters.
Genuine collaboration is essential. We can have a cast of characters conducting political theater — or leaders actually solving real problems and making people’s lives better.
Take for example, the gun violence crisis, which is at its record worst, and the (often-related) illicit trade in Kensington, which is a major East Coast distribution hub for the lucrative business of addictive drugs. The District Attorney, Police Commissioner, Mayor, City Council, and Fraternal Order of Police all need to work together and with state and federal agencies. Currently, this is not the case. Violent death and trauma continue mercilessly.
Overall, in Philadelphia, there is too much finger pointing and not enough humility.
Race obviously matters too. Black and White Philadelphians experience gun violence very differently. Many Black residents are living under siege. Most White neighborhoods are not directly terrorized daily. And so, every candidate says “safe, safer, safest” in plans and speeches. But the words will be received differently by different people. The rational mind checks track records but the heart does a gut check and wonders, “Does this candidate make me feel safer?”
No single person has the complete ability or power to solve all complex problems. Overall, in Philadelphia, there is too much finger pointing and not enough humility. All big problems are hard and require years of genuine, rational collaboration. Yet, people are emotional, and voting is emotional. Look no further than Philly sports fans for evidence of our emotions.
For this reason, a candidate’s history of authentic relationship-building with fellow leaders is the source of political capital necessary for important and visionary solutions.
A call for real collaboration now
In this 2023 race for Mayor, petition signatures will be collected from February 14 to March 7, and voters will have a better sense of each candidate’s viability. Imagine leaders who can be honest with themselves and show enough humility to form a viable partnership or slate.
There is so much work to do in a mayoral administration. Rather than two similar candidates splitting votes, they could set aside ego and partner to close a gap in their skillset or experience.
One candidate could sacrifice the title of Mayor to be the Managing Director or David Cohen-esque advisor. For example, what male candidate could help make “herstory” by joining a winning slate with a woman at the top? Why is this so unimaginable? Why would we relegate committed talent to the sidelines after May 16, 2023?
Who is willing to sacrifice the status of being Mayor and simply dedicate talent to the work, sans fancy title?
Imagine, for example, Allan Domb backing Rebecca Rhynhart or Maria Quiñones Sánchez. A partnership like this unifies diverse voters, combines finances and utilizes deep expertise. In this crowded field, the possibilities are endless. But who is willing to sacrifice the status of being Mayor and simply dedicate talent to the work, sans fancy title?
Who is able to negotiate with a fellow candidate and work together for a win?
With the amount of technological change happening every day, no single person can successfully lead without a team of deeply talented and dedicated people. Philadelphia cannot afford eight years of an ego-driven Mayor surrounded by sycophants. We need the type of leader cut from the Hurts-Harper cloth, who embraces humility and builds a dream team delivering excellence.
Note: Anne Gemmell Directs Policy and Advocacy for the The 10K Independents Project, an organization of independent businesses collaborating together now to ask all candidates to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate now and when in office so Philadelphia can be a great place for more independent businesses to start and thrive. We are transparently sharing our insights with all interested voters and advocates on February 8, 2023.
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