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How would Republican mayoral candidate David Oh support startup growth, digital equity and workforce development?

Ahead of Philadelphia's 2023 general election, Technical.ly sent both candidates constituent-submitted questions asking about their policies related to five technology and business topics. Here's what Oh told us.

David Oh. (Courtesy David Oh)

This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.

In just a few weeks, Philadelphians will vote for their 100th mayor.

Voters will choose between Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh on Nov. 7. Oh ran for the Republican nomination unopposed in the spring’s primary election.

Oh most recently served as an at-large Philadelphia City Council member for 12 years. Before that, the Philly native was an assistant district attorney in the city’s DA office. He is also a veteran, previously serving as a second lieutenant in the US Army.

As part of Technical.ly’s involvement in the Every Voice, Every Vote project, a coalition of Philadelphia community and media organizations focused on spreading information about the election, we reached out to both candidates to share constituent-submitted questions about their policies related to entrepreneurship, technology and innovation. Technical.ly published a similar survey with the primary candidates in April, in which Oh also participated.

We reached out to members of the Philly tech community and asked them to submit questions for the mayoral candidates. The five selected questions address diversity and inclusion, workforce development, the tax code, digital equity and support for entrepreneurs. We sent the questionnaires to each candidate. See Oh’s responses below; read Parker’s here.

1. As mayor, would you direct that the characteristics of sexual orientation and gender identity be included in the City’s disparity study? As you may know, the legal requirements for diversity contracting programs require specific documentation of both social and economic disadvantage. If the results of the study support inclusion of LGBTQ people in the city’s diverse contracting programs, will you move to include us?

Yes. As a Councilmember, I introduced legislation* and held a hearing to ensure that the City Administration, in general, and the Office of Equal Opportunity, specifically, comply with the City’s definition of historically disadvantaged persons, including those from the LGBTQ community. My legislation was defeated. As Mayor, I will ensure that the laws are complied with. I will direct that the characteristics of sexual orientation and gender identity be included in the City’s disparity study and if the study supports inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the City’s OEO contracting programs, I will ensure that LGBTQ individuals and companies are provided the opportunities required by law.

2. What does a comprehensive strategy look like to ensure that more Philadelphians are prepared for and entering this industry? What does comprehensive, coordinated funding for workforce development mean?

  • Asked by Nicole Pumphrey, Philadelphia senior managing director, Per Scholas

This [is] a big question and difficult to answer completely but I will share some thoughts about how I would address this need.

The most immediate problem that must be resolved in order to implement a successful, comprehensive strategy for workforce development, is public safety. The impact and fear of violent crime in many of our neighborhoods is debilitating and an obstacle to education, career and vocational training, travel and quality of life. Violent crime is having an adverse effect on our city’s economy and the number of jobs and businesses that exist and are anticipated. As Mayor, I will restore respect for the law and enforce of all criminal, public safety, traffic and quality of life laws. I will hire 1,300 new police officers to have a full roster of officers to patrol our city and engage with people through community policing. They will be supported by new technology. I will coordinate city police with School safety officers, Transit Police, university Police and other law enforcement agencies in our City. At the same time, we clean and green the neighborhoods that have the most violent crime, end open air drug dealing, enforce anti-dumping laws and remove illegally parked tractor trailers from residential neighborhoods. I will confront SEPTA about its lack of safety, cleanliness and its failure to improve its service for our riders.

With that in effect, I seek to reform public education so that it complies with state and federal law in providing a good quality education in every neighborhood by making the School District and each school, transparent, accountable and responsive to students, parents and the community. I will appoint nine School Board members who agree to reform and oversee the School District. The District will be divided into five zones and one School Board member will be responsible for one of the zones. They will know all the schools in their zone and hold meetings in that zone. The four other Board members will be citywide. I will return career and vocational training to every school. I will seek to add a VET (vocational education and training) certification program, similar to that offered in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, available to any student who applies and qualifies whereby students gain valuable real-world experience with an approved employer while getting paid as part of their certification. I will coordinate after-school time, libraries and recreation centers around best practices and most convenient hours of access for students. I will reimagine libraries so that the library card serves a basis for building credit history while lending valuable and desirable items in addition to books, such as violins, guitars, computers, devices, science kits and gaming consoles. I will ensure Community College of Philadelphia is properly funded and do my best to add funds to make up for past decades of underfunding in violation of state law. Community College will provide workforce development training at a much more robust and relevant level. I will work with two year colleges, high schools, career technical schools, our state and local prison system and employers in and around our city to develop workforce training programs. I will explore funding through grants and tax credits to support these programs.

It’s critical that city government retain, help grow and attract employers and investors to Philadelphia. In order to do that successfully, we must understand the needs of the existing and potential employers and investors and seek to accommodate them. I will put in place a plan to make our city more globally competitive for attracting business and non-profit jobs and vending opportunities. Tax reform and simplification of bureaucratic processes are a couple ways we can create a more business friendly city. I will increase the function of the Commerce Department to include attracting overseas investments and companies coming to our city. I will also focus on economic opportunities in the creative arts economy, innovation and advanced technology.

Increasing stability in communities through accurate property assessments and building new or rehabilitating existing housing stock to increase the amount of affordable housing or rental units is another way to help create a successful and comprehensive workforce development plan.

3. The tax code in Philadelphia creates an incentive for businesses and their employees to leave the city. What would you do to make the tax code more competitive regionally and in the northeast?

  • Asked by Nyron Burke, CEO of Lithero

The main problem with Philadelphia taxes is that they are less stable, higher and more difficult to comply with compared to competing cities. The BIRT (business income and receipts tax, formerly the Business Privilege Tax) and Wage Tax are most often cited as the key incentives for businesses and employers to leave Philadelphia. As Mayor, I would empanel a task force of experts to carefully study the best way to reduce the BIRT and Wage Tax for maximum positive result. Then, I would quickly implement the action items that a Mayor can do by Executive Order and work with Council and the State legislature to obtain the legislative changes that our city needs. I would also look at reducing business taxes by lowering and broadening the tax base to businesses making money in our city but paying little or no tax. I plan to implement zero based budgeting by my second year in office. I believe that will reduce government waste and inefficiency. I will also seek the return of local control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority through the reinstatement of a Cooperation Agreement. I estimate that would bring $40 to $50 million to our Schools on an annual basis.

4. With a historic federal investment in digital equity on the horizon, what are some specific ways that your administration would advance digital equity in Philadelphia, including ensuring long-term sustainable funding for effective initiatives?

As Mayor, closing the digital divide so that all individuals and communities will be able to fully participate in all aspects of our society, will be a priority for my Administration. I will convene a think tank of experts to lay out an agenda to provide the highspeed, public internet access infrastructure we need throughout our city, make devices available through schools, libraries, community centers, colleges, prisons and government programs, and ensure digital literacy begins at the earliest stages possible with a comprehensive plan for all ages, including our most senior residents.

In addition to the efforts of my Administration, I will also seek to fund nongovernmental entities in providing innovative and effective initiatives to close the digital divide. I intend to create a specific City fund for this work and I will seek additional funding from the federal government through the Infrastructure and Jobs Act of 2021 and its programs.

5. What would your administration do to retain early-stage tech entrepreneurs and make sure we have the resources we need to grow our businesses in this city?

For diverse early-stage entrepreneurs who aren’t in the med-tech, bio-tech or fin-tech fields, my Administration will offer development support, opportunities, and funding through a newly created Office of Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy within the Commerce Department. The Office will provide information, programs, mentoring, business contacts and support for early-stage entrepreneurs. It will connect qualified businesses with the Office of Equal Opportunity for possible City contracts and contracts with City vendors and partners. It will also support three new grant funds that will be independently managed by commissions of industry experts: Creative Arts Economy Fund, Innovation Fund and Global Trade and Investment Fund.

6. Are there any related comments, perspectives or issues related to Philadelphia’s tech, entrepreneurship and innovation communities that you would like to discuss here?

  • Asked by Technical.ly

I have long advocated for a section of the city to be dedicated to late night gathering and collaboration for residents, workers and visitors who are not 9-5 workforce. I believe this section will be ideal for those in the creative arts community, innovative economy, sciences and other out-of-the-box thinkers to meet, come up with new ideas and create partnerships. As Mayor, I will continue to explore how we can create such a section in our city.

*Editor’s note: Technical.ly was not able to immediately verify this detail.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: City of Philadelphia
Series: Every Voice, Every Vote

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