Towards the end of our Mayoral MillenniaLab, a policy mashup last Friday night between invited Millennials and mayoral candidates, I talked about the genesis of this different type of mayoral event. As I’d written after the first debate, we’ve been frustrated by the types of questions candidates have faced so far this political season.
“You’ve been frustrated!” guffawed candidate Jim Kenney. “Try answering ‘em!”
To our way of thinking, too much of the mayoral narrative has been either about the electoral competition, commonly referred to as the “horserace”—who’s up, who’s down, who’s fading—or has involved the rote recitation of policy clichés: Instead of doing the hard thing and talking real solutions for our schools, for example, each candidate checks the education policy box by trotting out the “full funding formula” mantra.
Along with Committee of 70, Young Involved Philly and the Pattison-Leader Group, we wanted to change the narrative. We convened four candidates—Lynne Abraham, Tony Williams, Doug Oliver and Jim Kenney—with more than 80 super-engaged Millennials and let them brainstorm economic growth ideas together, and then present their ideas to the room. (Nelson Diaz was unable to attend; Milton Street, well, who knows?) The ideas were good: Abraham’s group floated a mayoral executive order creating a youth advisory commission; Team Williams argued that companies that hold city contracts ought to be required to provide the city’s youth with paid, post-grad internships; the Oliver table talked about reforming school curriculum to highlight entrepreneurialism; and Kenney’s team —which, at 41 percent, won the vote for best idea—put forth ideas to combat the student debt problem in an effort to help young people stay in the city.
But more important than the ideas themselves was the process. For two hours last Friday night, a group of voters sat at the same problem-solving table with their mayoral candidates, and were able to judge them up close and personal on their listening and leadership skills. Here’s hoping the rest of the campaign sheds a similar amount of light.