By Alesia Bani
On May 9, nine candidates vying to hold the title of Philadelphia’s 100th mayor joined WURD Radio at the University City Science Center to discuss how Black Philadelphians will be included in the city’s growing technology and innovation ecosystem.
To set the tone, candidates were asked about their usage of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that took the world by storm to assist people with tasks from composing emails to code. Across the board, no candidate has yet to utilize the platform, but despite not being self-described techies, they were all nonetheless prepared to share their tech and innovation platforms.
Candidates like Rebecca Rhynhart and Amen Brown spoke about their intentions to use technology to optimize city services. The former has plans to improve Philadelphia’s trash collection system while the latter plans to “bring the police department into the 21st century.”
In the last few years, the city has made tangible strides towards its goal of becoming a diverse tech hub and candidates had the opportunity to tell voters how they plan to drive this mission forward ranging from tech education in K-12 to minority business funding.
A question that garnered a variety of responses from candidates was how they will support Black businesses in accessing venture capital and funding. Allen Domb said he would look at the City’s pension fund to support Black businesses, Cherrelle Parker said she would support the Enterprise Center’s private equity fund, Jimmy DeLeon spoke of his plans to make Philadelphia the “center of Black initial public offering” and Jeff Brown pointed to creating grants focused on technical assistance and business advice.
“Patient capital is what Black and brown small businesses and those who are seeking to scale up and grow don’t have access to,” Parker said.
In the same vein, when asked how public/private partnerships can be used to employ Black tech workers, Helen Gym said she plans to embed tech fellowships in city service roles and break up large city contracting to hire Black businesses.
With looming concerns as to how Philadelphia’s next mayor will address gun violence, candidates were prompted to share their public safety plans and what role technology will play within them. And more specifically, if they were in support of current surveillance practices.
David Oh said he would increase the use of CCTV with high-definition cameras and drone technology and believes Philadelphia needs a unit separate from police, fire and EMS monitoring the feeds that will also be accessible to journalists.
“People aren’t concerned about being caught on camera if there are no consequences to being caught on camera,” Oh said.
Amen Brown said he also supports increasing camera surveillance with community input but said the city needs to consider if the use of CCTV is deterring people from committing crimes in broad daylight. Brown wants to use drones and implement AI technology that can detect gunshots.
Helen Gym likewise spoke to the need for preventative measures and comprehensive data privacy review but believes in having crisis responders in the streets not drones.
“Surveillance is a very surface level of addressing crime and safety in our communities,” Gym said.
When it came to preparing students for tech jobs, both Rynhart and Oh said Philadelphia is in need of a new Board of Education to make strides in improving K-12 STEM education.
To close off the last forum of the mayoral season candidates were asked one final lightning-round question: Mac or PC? Voters will have to wait until May 16 to find out if Philadelphia will in fact be led by a Mac or PC lover.
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Written by: Associated Contributor
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