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<strong>Mayoral candidates talk technology with WURD Radio ahead of primary election</strong> | The Triangle

Mayoral candidates talk technology with WURD Radio ahead of primary election

Photos by Sean Ross | The Triangle

In the final mayoral forum before Philadelphia voters choose a Democratic candidate for Philadelphia’s one-hundredth mayor in the city’s primary election on Tuesday, May 16, nine candidates joined Philadelphia’s only Black-owned talk radio station WURD at University City’s Science Center for a conversation sponsored as part of Comcast’s Philly Tech Week on the theme of “Inclusion, Innovation, and Philadelphia’s Future.” 

In the debate-style discussion, WURD hosts Solomon Jones, Andrea Lawful-Sanders and Joann Bell questioned candidates around strategies to integrate technology into plans for sectors like public safety, public education reform and economic growth in Black communities.

The forum featured Democratic candidates Rebecca Rhynhart, Jeff Brown (who was disclosed as a minority investor in WURD), Cherelle Parker, Amen Brown, James “Jimmy” DeLeon, Helen Gym, Allan Domb and Warren Bloom, along with de facto Republican nominee David Oh. 

The contrast in candidates’ approaches to crime were stark. Some saw increased surveillance as the answer, such as Amen Brown, whose “Fitzgerald Law” allocates municipal grants for drones with gunshot detection and heat-sensing technology. Jeff Brown similarly supported funding identification technologies like facial recognition, while Parker proposed implementing a camera surveillance network in her Neighborhood Safety and Community Policing Program. Gym, however, advocated instead funding immediate preventative crisis response in the form of emergency responders and “non-police mobile mental health crisis units.”

Notably, candidates also took strong stances on regulating social media’s potential as a catalyst for violence. One proposed solution came from DeLeon, who suggested allowing local courts to administer case-by-case social media bans, coupled with a citywide curfew. Bloom, who branded himself “the only candidate who’s willing to admit I don’t know everything,” pledged to appoint youth to promote positive social media narratives. Domb and Rhynhart both argued for conflict resolution programs in schools, with Domb planning to bring law enforcement into these programs while Rhynhart would use social media to promote public youth activities. 

Youth support remained a major focus, with Lawful-Sanders highlighting that only 34% of third to eighth-grade students in the School District of Philadelphia met reading standards during the 2021-2022 school year. Oh attributed this to flaws in the Philadelphia School Board, saying that he would replace all current board members and rebuild its governance structure because “you can’t build success around failure.” A number of candidates, including Jeff Brown, Domb and Amen Brown, also suggested reforming school curriculum by incorporating technical and financial education.

Senzwa Ntshepe, guest speaker and founder of local BIPOC-business accelerator The Connect, delved deeper into the economic impact of young technology-focused Philadelphians by asking the candidates how they would retain and attract Black business owners. Jeff Brown addressed the issue with ideas for a social equity and social venture fund with city investments and shared living arrangements for Black entrepreneurs. Bloom also encouraged housing and grant incentives, while Gym expressed a need to “dramatically expand Philadelphia’s commerce department.” Parker, on the other hand, sought to expand public resources by appointing a deputy mayor for minority business growth who would help local business ventures get funded. 

Despite their different methods of using technology, all candidates affirmed during the forum that it would factor heavily into Philadelphia’s future and be a vital tool for its next mayor to access. How technology will affect Philadelphians’ everyday lives is something they can help decide for themselves by voting in Pennsylvania’s 2023 primary election on May 16.