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Penn Dems host Doug Oliver Credit: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles , Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

While Penn students might see Spring Fling as the biggest upcoming event, for those interested in Philadelphia politics, the Democratic mayoral primary race might be more exciting.

On Monday night, Democratic candidate for mayor Doug Oliver spoke to a room of over 20 students as part of Penn Democrats’ lecture series titled “Philly’s Future: The Race for Mayor.” Oliver discussed his experience and plan to tackle the city’s most pressing issues.

“If you look at all the problems that the city has, let’s not be distracted by the symptoms,” Oliver said. “Let’s figure out what the core problems are and solve for that. From our perspective, those problems are education, jobs and fairness. My argument is that if you name 10 problems that this city has, eight of them occur because of a failure to educate or to employ.”

With Mayor Michael Nutter ending his second term, Philadelphians will decide their next mayor with the Democratic primary on May 19. Oliver is one of six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.

Oliver’s experience and youth sets him apart from the other candidates. At 40 years old, he is the youngest Democratic candidate running by over 15 years. He is also the only Democratic candidate with no experience as an elected representative.

While he has never run for public office, Oliver has a long history in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia politics. Before leaving Philadelphia Gas Works to run for mayor, Oliver worked in former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration as press secretary for the Department of Public Welfare and served as Mayor Michael Nutter’s press secretary for three years.

“[The other candidates] have extensive resumes of accomplishments, but I would say that through all of their experience, they haven’t solved the issues that affect our city most,” Oliver said. “After a century of experience from the people who are running against me, we haven’t solved for these problems. I seek to bring a fresh perspective to this conversation. I seek to bring a new way of thinking.”

Entering the final month of the race, former City Councilman Jim Kenney, State Sen. Anthony Williams and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham are seen as the leading Democratic candidates. As a result of fundraising and endorsements, Oliver and former City Solicitor Nelson Diaz are seen as long shots. By the end of 2014, Oliver’s exploratory committee raised $1,085 — Williams and Kenney raised $554,106 and $236,355, respectively.

Even though Oliver’s candidacy remains a long shot, students responded positively to Oliver’s message about trying to engage a younger generation of Philadelphians in local government.

“I think out of all of the candidates we’ve seen, he has offered the most honest perspective on the mayors race so far,” College sophomore Matt Kelemen said of Oliver. “He presented the most unique and appealing policy to millennials.”

Throughout Penn Dems’ speaker series, the group has also brought in three other Democratic candidates for mayor: Abraham, Diaz, and Kenney.

“We’ve wanted them to have the opportunity to lay out their vision for the city, what policies will affect us as college students, what will affect this neighborhood and the city as a whole,” College sophomore and Penn Democrats Political Director Sam Iacobellis said. “We really want to hear what they have to say and have the opportunity for our members and people to come hear them talk and ask questions, and see where their heads are at.”

Iacobellis also acknowledged that Penn Dems will soon pick which Democratic candidate that they plan to endorse.

While Oliver has very few mayor endorsements, a Penn Dems endorsement has an enticing history.

“Mayor Nutter found himself in this exact situation in 2007 — he had no support whatsoever from any elected official, no business unions, no organizations,” Oliver said. “Originally, nobody supported him except Penn Dems. I’m just saying, from that point on, he began to catapult.”

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