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Penn Dems held a roundtable event with Philadelphia City Council candidates on Oct. 25. Credit: Jean Park

Penn Democrats hosted this year's Philadelphia City Council candidates at a roundtable event on Oct. 25.

The event, which was held in Huntsman Hall, provided students the opportunity to listen and ask questions of the candidates. Nicolas O’Rourke, Kendra Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, and Nina Ahmad spoke at the event about their platforms ahead of the Nov. 7 election. Due to delays with prior events, candidates Rue Landau and Councilmember At-Large Katherine Gilmore Richardson were unable to attend.

Seventeen members will serve on the legislative body of Philadelphia’s municipal government. There is one representative from each of Philadelphia’s 10 districts, plus seven “at-large” members, who are elected by the entire city. 

O’Rourke — a Working Families Party candidate who endorsed 1993 College graduate and 1996 graduate of Penn’s Graduate School of Education Helen Gym for mayor during the Democratic primary — opened by emphasizing the importance of recognizing climate change as a priority issue for young voters, developing affordable housing for poor families, and creating safe environments.

“We must be serious, not just about responding to crime on the back end of it having been perpetrated, but preventing it on the front end," O’Rourke said. "That looks like an investment in our communities, our parks and recreation, our libraries, and in our schools.”

As the first Working Families Party member to be elected to city council in Philadelphia, Kendra Brooks said her campaign is focused on finishing what she has started as an incumbent. Brooks spoke on the recent lottery system introduced last year to provide underrepresented students in Philadelphia with the opportunity to attend more selective schools.

“We need to make sure that we have quality schools in every neighborhood, we need to make equitable investments, not equal ones,” Brooks said.

When asked why individuals who typically vote for Democrats should vote for two members of the Working Families Party, O’Rourke and Brooks both stressed the importance of them in office rather than Republicans. Of the seven at-large seats on the council, two seats go to the non-majority party. Since Democrats are the dominant party, O’Rourke and Brooks encouraged the audience to consider whether they wanted Republicans in office or them. 

"It's either us, or Republicans," O'Rourke said. "I can give you more about who I am and why my values, regardless of people's partisan views, are still better than [Republicans]."

Following a brief question and answer session, Councilmember At-Large and Democrat Isaiah Thomas joined the roundtable discussion. On the topic of safety, Thomas said that the only demographic where the crime rate hasn’t decreased was adolescents of ages 13-18.

“When you don't provide opportunities to participate in positive activities, what would you expect to be the outcome?” Thomas asked.

Democrat Nina Ahmad, who received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn, joined the discussion, providing her views on focusing on mental health to address issues such as gun violence, housing, and food security.

When addressing the issue of the newly implemented high school lottery system, Ahmad said she believes increased state funding for schools is the answer.

“You have to help us change the state legislators, increase the size of our house and take back the Senate," Ahmad said. "If we could do those things and had a governor who was a Democrat, we can do a lot more things with a lot less barriers."

Students said that they appreciated the opportunity to hear from the candidates themselves.

College sophomore Lily Davis said she found value learning more about Philadelphia local politics. 

“I think it was inspiring to see a variety of candidates who all seemed very passionate about working on short-term and long-term solutions," she said "It was just refreshing to see so many people involved with local politics, which I think are often not given the value they deserve."