Last week, the Philadelphia Republican Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting of it new “In a Red State of Mind” Speaker Series. The series has eight sponsors including FRED ANTON, the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, and ROB GLEASON, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. The keynote speaker was REV. JOSEPH WATKINS, the Receiver of the Chester Upland School District. 5TH WARD LEADER MIKE CIBIK, who is the Chairman of the Speaker Series, opened the event. 27TH WARD LEADER MATT WOLFE introduced Watkins, his friend of many years. The event had roughly 50 attendees, including many new faces from Center City and the suburbs.
Watkins was appointed Receiver of the CUSD by the Delaware Co. Court of Common Pleas recently. The CUSD will remain in receivership until December 2015 unless the school district can be turned around earlier. CUSD is a chronically underperforming district that serves a city with residents that are economically challenged. The district has 2,900 students. Most of the students in the city, however, go to charter or private schools – 3,900 of them. Watkins noted that engaged parents have made the decisions to move their children to charter schools. He understands why they did so, but also noted a large portion of the tax money allocated to those students moved with them to charter schools and out of the district. Watkins is an advocate for school choice but believes parents should have the option of decent public schools, which is his new mission In Chester.
The next segment of the speaker series will be held at the Racquet Club on Feb. 21 and former Republican mayoral candidate and current Chairman of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority SAM KATZ will speak.
The sponsors of this series are hoping to reach out to Republicans who were previously unengaged. In order to move forward, Republicans need to change their image in the Philadelphia area. It is easy to blame our image problems on the national party with its poor messaging on social and other controversial issues. However, we need to change locally.
The party has been perceived by many as a bunch of white guys from the Northeast. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in that story, but it is not the whole story. We have more diverse faces than people think, but we need to reach out to more. We also need to be a party of ideas.
This elephant heard a ward leader from the Northeast criticize Republicans in Center City who have “wine and cheese” parties but do not go out and knock on doors as he does. The reference to “wine and cheese parties” was aimed at the speaker series which the “Red State of Mind” plans to resurrect.
In all fairness, grassroots canvassing is very effective. The personal touch of knocking on someone’s door may be more effective in getting that person’s vote than having him listen to a speech. There are many, especially in the Northeast, who are lifelong Republicans and are themselves city employees or have family members who are. They may not be interested in hearing a speech on “fiscal responsibility.”
That being said, you cannot really knock on doors in Center City where people live in apartments. Canvassers cannot get past lobby doors. You need to draw out those Republicans and perhaps convert some independently minded Democrats and Independents with forums where policy issues are discussed.
We need a viable second party which can help bring about badly needed reform in Philadelphia. We can do this by either winning seats beyond those designated for the minority party in the City Charter or being strong enough to keep the Democrats on their toes. We have seen some movement in this directions with the rise of new faces in the Party such as City Commissioner Al Schmidt. To become a more vibrant party we do need are doorknockers “or” venues to debate policy – - we need both.