Former City Councilmember and real estate developer Allan Domb is one of eight Democratic candidates in Philadelphia’s upcoming mayoral primary on May 16. He is hoping to secure a chance to run against the de facto Republican candidate David Oh in November. Domb spoke with The Triangle in a phone interview where he outlined his top priorities as a prospective mayor and what differentiates him from his many opponents.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TP: If you were to speak directly to the voters now, what would you say sets you apart from your peers as the best candidate for the city right now?
AD: I have a different experience, so I have a different vision. I’ve spent several years in the private sector building a business from scratch, hiring people, creating good paying jobs, creating opportunity for many people, partnering with small businesses and small entrepreneurs. Then serving almost two terms, almost seven years, in government, in city council. No one else has the experience of doing both. So I come to the table as the next mayor with the leadership skills and understanding government and the private sector and the unique ability to bring them both together to really solve the biggest issues of this city.
TP: If you were to become mayor, what would would be your top three priorities for your term?
AD: I think number one is public safety. We have to make sure that the city is safe and we have to make sure college campuses are safer. I say number two is education, and number three is creating opportunity and more jobs. We need more jobs to take people out of poverty. We need good paying jobs. So I’d say simply public safety, education, and creation of opportunity and good paying jobs. Underneath each of those categories, there’s subcategories, but those are the overview.
TP: What do you have in mind for the creation of more jobs in Philadelphia?
AD: The issue is we need more entrepreneurs. There’s 2% to 3% entrepreneurs in this city in the black and brown community. We need entrepreneurship not just in the core of the city, but in every section of the city, number one. Number two, we need to attract more employers into the city. Employers employ people and we need to stop double taxing businesses. We need to make sure that every student at Drexel graduates with a great job, and Drexel has a great program that I’ve been a supporter of for 20 years. I actually have co-op students in my office. But we need to become easier to do business with. The city needs to be supportive of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and employers. Their success is the city’s success.
We have to do a couple things. One, create the environment that attracts and gives the ability of small businesses to expand, which means a cleaner and safer city. I did publish a public safety, a public services plan on my website, votedomb.com: that talks about street cleaning, that talks about picking up trash on time, filling the potholes, towing the abandoned cars, replacing street lights that are out within 72 hours. Just providing the basic services to the neighborhood businesses where we want inclusive growth. The second is create a better business environment, from the city’s standpoint. Right now we are the only city in the country that double taxes businesses. We need to remove that. We also have the highest wage taxes in the country. So the two major job growth initiatives we need to accomplish are lowering the wage taxes and the removal of what is called the net income or the bird tax, which is killing our businesses.
TP: Would you say your plans for increasing street lights, picking up trash, filling potholes, are also part of your plan for public safety? Would you say that you’re a proponent of broken windows theory?
AD: Yes. We can talk about all these things, they all connect. Public services helps with public safety. Education helps with public safety. Everything connects together. Crime is the symptom of low-paying jobs, lack of affordable housing and poverty. Education is the cure. When you educate people and we make sure we provide them with a quality education so they can achieve a good paying job, they can afford the housing and climb out of poverty.
TP: It was reported earlier in the campaign that you had plans to go out and hear perspectives from all of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. What have you learned from interacting with West Philly residents in particular?
AD: The issues of Center City are different, in some respects, than the issues of all the other neighborhoods. But every corner of the city has an issue with public safety. The neighborhoods need more attention, including where you are at Drexel. They need more street cleaning, they need us to clean out the abandoned lots and get rid of trash. They need us to board up the abandoned buildings. They need us to focus on the ten or twelve zip codes that have the highest levels of violent crime and be impactful there. What I learned is that all these neighborhoods have similar issues. Every neighborhood wants the same thing: opportunity. They want a better opportunity and a better life for their children than they had, which means the creation of good paying jobs.
TP: Would you say that in your experience learning about West Philly and dealing with residents that you’ve noticed a fear of the current gentrification happening in that area? Do you have any plans for protecting housing for existing West Philly residents if you become mayor?
AD: One of the bigger issues with gentrification is that we have to make sure that people can keep the home they’re living in. We have to increase homeownership because that is the backbone of generational wealth. 95% of the wealth in this country is in people’s homes. The average wealth of a tenant is $4,000 to $6,000. The average wealth of a homeowner is $200,000. We’re not doing a good job of making sure people are aware of all the different programs for people that are going through gentrification, whether it’s the senior citizen program or the long term owner occupant called LOOP program or, if you owe some money, the OOPA program, Owner Occupied Payment Agreement. We have so many programs it’s confusing. And then we have a program called the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal program that supports lower-income learners. Last year, in Philadelphia, we left 100 million dollars of Earned Income Tax Credit money on the table that could’ve gone to 35,000 residents who didn’t apply for it. The average refunds could be two to six thousand dollars.
We should automatically be trying to enroll them in these programs. I passed a bill called the Wage Tax Bill that puts money into the hands of people to pay their bills so they can stay in their neighborhood. We found that of the top 50 cities in the country, we tax lower income people the highest. The bill reimburses 60,000 Philadelphia families wage taxes between 800-1,000 dollars a year. Unfortunately, very few people applied. We need to do a better job of getting the word out.
Companies like Benefits Data Trust actually put your information into a computer and tell you exactly which programs you qualify for. People should be going through this process because for every dollar we invest in Benefits Data Trust, they produce ten to twelve dollars back in state and local benefits. It’s a great return, and for people at the lower income level, these dollars are valuable. So when you talk about gentrification and all these other things, the first step is to make sure all this money that’s out there is received by people in that situation.
TP: Beyond increasing the awareness of already existing programs for residents, do you have any ideas about when gentrification would be unable to be stopped that way? For example, when landlords change the designation of housing from being affordable housing. Would you have any plans that would combat that sort of change from larger developers or larger landlords displacing families?
AD: What we should do is utilize the land the city owns and the buildings the city owns and we should leverage those for affordable housing. We own them. We’re sitting on this inventory. It costs us 15 million a year to maintain this inventory. It’s kinda crazy. We should utilize our assets to create affordable lower income housing for the residents of the city. It’s really the government’s responsibility, not a landlord’s responsibility. We have to step up to the plate and provide that affordable housing.
TP: Do you have any plans that you think would affect the lives and learning experiences of students here at Drexel and at other universities throughout the city?
AD: Yes. So I can share with you an idea that I brought to Drexel. I met with 13 life sciences companies and asked them what they needed and the way to expand. What came out of it was they needed talent. So I approached Drexel and the Community College of Philadelphia and discussed the idea of creating the country’s first life sciences college on Drexel’s campus that would focus on gene and cell therapy and other programs like life sciences so we could teach and train people for the life science world and do it in cooperation with our community college so we’re doing it together. And so, to me, that would be a game changer. When you have the talent, you will attract the businesses and you’ll attract the jobs. Our goal has to be ‘how do we keep every Drexel student in the city of Philadelphia?’ We want you all to stay. But we have to create the opportunity and the jobs for you.