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Elections / Municipal government / Philadelphia / Philly Tech Week / Politics

Open data, StartUp PHL and 5 other things Philly’s mayoral candidates all agree on

Ahead of our Philly Tech Week Mayoral Forum on April 20, we sent out a questionnaire to the candidates. It featured 14 questions — based on feedback from the Philly tech community — on issues shaping the city's innovation ecosystem. Here are their responses.

A rendering of Baltimore's future trash wheel at the Gwynns Falls. (Rendering courtesy Ziger/Snead Architects)
Among the Democratic mayoral candidates in Philadelphia, there appears to be broad consensus: one of the city’s newer constituent groups has something to say worth hearing. The candidates appear to be listening to the Philadelphia tech community.

After Philly curated feedback from a dozen tech community leaders about issues they care about, we submitted a questionnaire to the five primary Democratic mayoral candidates who are competing to win on Tuesday, May 19. (A city GOP field hasn’t emerged and no independent has officially announced a candidacy, so, with voter registration heavily favoring the Democrats 6-1, the May primary, as is often the case here, is regarded as the decisive campaign, not the November general election.)
Of the 14 questions we posed to these five candidates, the surprise lies in the consensus.
We asked each candidate to respond either “Yes,” “No” or “Not yet determined” to explain their support for those issues. Here’s this: There wasn’t a single “No.”
Below, we get into their answers, but this is just the start. On Thursday, Philly Startup Leaders is hosting a community town hall that will lead to the Philly Tech Week Mayoral Forum on Monday, April 20, when all of these candidates will more fully discuss issues of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.
For now, here’s what we learned from the questionnaire:

  • Jim Kenney, the former City Councilman, said yes to all 14 issues.
  • Nelson Diaz, the lawyer and sole remaining Hispanic candidate, said yes to all 14 issues.
  • Anthony Hardy Williams, the recent state Senator and purported front-runner, said yes to 13 issues, only saying he has not yet determined his support for a “dig once” policy, in which conduit for high-speed internet infrastructure is laid whenever city streets are opened for other utilities.
  • Doug Oliver, the former Nutter administration spokesman and PGW executive, said yes to 13 issues, only saying he has not yet determined his support for maintaining the PhillyStat program, an existing city initiative for overseeing agencies through data-driven peer review.
  • Lynne Abraham, the longtime retired former city District Attorney and only remaining female candidate, said yes to 12 issues, coming up short of explicit support on the two specific city tax reform questions.
Where the candidates agree

The candidates agreed on bedrock issues of inclusivity — like programs on bringing more entrepreneurs and technologists of color into the conversation and youth training — and other popular topics. But here are the seven issues we did not expect complete agreement on, though it came anyway:

  1. Initiatives supporting early-stage startups — I support programs that aim to attract, retain and grow early stage businesses, like StartUp PHL, Jump Start Philly and the Commerce Department’s strategy for establishing Center City “gateway offices” for suburban knowledge-economy firms.
  2. Open data executive order — I support upholding the spirit of the 2012 Open Data Executive Order (1-12), including developing processes for the release of high-value city data and the use of an open data advisory council for outside guidance on modern standards for ethics and efficiency.
  3. Chief Data Officer position — I support retaining the Chief Data Officer position as an internal advocate for open data, transparency and efficiency and facilitating the position’s collaboration with pre-existing government agencies to do the same. (This role is currently held by Tim Wisniewski, after Mark Headd, the city’s first CDO, left.)
  4. — I support using, the country’s only big-city, community-operated, open data portal, to make releases of city data.
  5. Machine-readable data — I support the development, maintenance and use of APIs to distribute and leverage city data whenever possible, rather than static snapshot data sets. When necessary to provide static snapshot data sets, I support the delivery of city data and information in machine readable formats, like .XLS, .XML and .JSON.
  6. City procurement reform — I support city procurement reform to enable the City of Philadelphia to more efficiently, transparently and modernly acquire the best goods and services, including the use of open source software when appropriate and preferring locally-based firms.
  7. Broadband access — All candidates made some mention of supporting increasing access and speed. Kenney described something similar to a municipal broadband program, while Abraham reference the Google Gigabyte service (Philly did make a proposal). Diaz went the furthest. “I believe that universal, free public Wi-Fi should be offered throughout the city. High-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury. It is essential for our schools, for employers, and for any and every resident to stay connected,” he wrote.
Where the candidates differ

The two tax questions were (A) a general call to change the mix of city revenue from business versus property taxes and (B) a specific call for reducing the city’s wage tax to below 3 percent by 2020, figures suggested in relation to recent legislation by Councilman David Oh, the 2003 Tax Reform Commission and our own reporting.
“I am open to reducing the city’s wage tax but would want to be sure that important programs are not negatively impacted as a result,” wrote Abraham in her campaign’s response. The other candidates supported both.
“Changing our tax code to provide more revenue more efficiently and fairly will be one of my top priorities,” wrote Diaz. “I want to aggressively move away from basing our budget so heavily on a growth-inhibiting wage tax.”
Williams did not yet offer support for the “dig once policy,” a still relatively rare municipal commitment. Oliver did not yet offer support for maintaining PhillyStat, an internal city program that could mean something different for someone who had worked inside the Nutter administration than for the rest of the candidates. The other broad issues were all supported by all.
The result is that these issues appear familiar and non-controversial to these candidates.
Come April 20, you’ll get to better see how seriously and deeply these issues and others are held by these candidates. The next step is holding candidates to these pledges.

Companies: City of Philadelphia /

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