Sparks flew when candidates running for the state’s 186th seat clashed during a candidate’s forum in Southwest Philadelphia on Friday, April 13.
The forum, hosted by the Southwest District Services, was filled to capacity as residents gathered to hear office seekers address key issues facing South, Southwest and West Philadelphia.
The event was divided into two segments.
The first consisted of candidates for the 186th Legislative district, which covers parts of South and Southwest portions of the city. Those candidates included Timothy Hannah, Jordan Harris and Damon Roberts.
The second segment consisted of candidates vying for the 188th district position of state representative where Fatimah Muhammad and incumbent state Rep. James Roebuck made their pitches to the public.
It was Harris and Roberts who went head to head in a no-holds-barred debate during the forum.
Discussing crime and violence in the city, Roberts told the crowd about a shooting, which occurred outside his home that left his son devastated and traumatized.
“It was as if nothing happened,” said Roberts about the community’s reaction to the shooting.
He argued the community has become desensitized to violence and has begun to tolerate its existence.
“I think it’s very disingenuous for anybody to stand up and say that the community is getting used to violence,” countered Harris who pointed to the work of the Southwest District Services as evidence of community groups trying to stop crime. “The community has been standing up time, after time, against violence.
“I’m not going to politicize the violence in our community, because the shooting victim he [Roberts] is referring to was my aunt’s godson, so this is personal to us,” he added.
Both Harris and Roberts challenged one another’s experience and connection to the community they hope to serve if elected.
“Long before some of my competitors were even adults, I have been working on it [community issues]” Roberts said.
Harris lashed back.
“About my age, my opponent might not know this, but ten years ago, before he was even in this community, I was out in 70th and Buist fighting to keep Bartram Motivation open.”
The issue of gentrification became a key topic among the campaigners. Hannah pointed to the community.
“We have to look at ourselves as a group of people and ask what we are doing to let this happen,” he said. “Are we handing down real estate? Are we letting drugs flourish in our communities? Are we letting guns and violence come in our communities?”
Hannah also said leaders should ensure developers have the best interest of the community in mind when they introduce projects for consideration.
Roberts, a land use attorney, reminded those gathered about the rights of all citizens to live freely, wherever they desired, and the limitations on hindering others from moving into the community.
“With respect to gentrification, we can talk a lot of rhetoric but you can’t legislate who buys houses in a community,” he said. “You can’t legislate it, but what you can do is educate the people.”
Roberts said people were selling their houses because they could no longer afford utilities and mortgages.
For this reason, Roberts said, the issue of gentrification could only be resolved when the problem of employment is solved first.
The candidates’ debate among the West Philadelphia office seekers for the 188th district was no less competitive.
Muhammad and Roebuck challenged one another’s experience — time spent in the community and qualifications.
While Roebuck pointed to his 25 years in service and life-long residency in West Philadelphia, Muhammad told of her time spent homeless as a young child and her success as a college graduate and efforts to organize the community.