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A Year In Preview

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© US National Archives; aerial view of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Delaware River

interviews

Election Day in Philadelphia

by Councilmember Derek Green
November 3, 2020

This interview with Derek GreenCouncilmember in Philadelphia, was conducted and condensed by franknews.

Derek | I am Councilmember Derek Green. I am in my second term on City Council. I'm an At-Large member of City Council, so I represent the entire city.

frank | Can you tell us a bit about the demographics of Philadelphia? 

Philadelphia is a majority-minority city. The African-American population makes up about 44% of the city, while the Caucasian population makes up about 42%.

We have experienced a number of new people moving into the city recently. There are some historically African American communities that are changing. Some neighborhoods like where I live in Mount Airy, are very diverse and have been a very mixed community for a long time. But, other parts of the city don’t have that level of diversity. 

As a city, we have had Democratic leadership since the early fifties. Registered Democratic voters outnumber registered Republican voters, 7 to 1. However, there are pockets of the city that swing Republican — primarily the northeast portion of the city and South Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is a city that, in many ways, mirrors the challenges of our nation. We have a high level of poverty. Philadelphia has 1.5 million residents and a 26% poverty rate. 

The pandemic has significantly impacted us both from a health perspective and an economic perspective. It presented real challenges for our businesses, particularly our businesses that are owned and operated by African Americans.

Often during campaigns, especially in swing states, people presuppose their understanding of the electorate based on stereotypes of an undecided voter. For example, much of the Pennsylvania conversation is centered around fracking. Can you give us a more expansive view of who your electorate is?

There are different interest groups in the City of Philadelphia on the issue of fracking, specifically. There are very organized environmental groups that strongly oppose fracking. Others see fracking as a concern, though it might not be a top issue. Fracking brings in a significant stream of revenue to the western part of the state, especially over the last 10 to 15 years. However, in Philadelphia, I would say that fracking, or other detrimental environmental projects, are things that my constituents largely would not support.

Many people are just concerned with surviving from day to day.

Especially with the tragic killing of another African-American man, Walter Wallace, Jr., the increasingly high level of poverty, and concerns about being able to put food on the table and pay for utility bills, survival becomes the primary issue. 

I want to talk about how it feels there right now. Obviously, there is tension between citizens and the police with the killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. Additionally, the Trump campaign has been talking about assembling a team of volunteers to ‘observe’ satellite voting places. How do these things play into the general disposition of your constituents?

There's a lot of pain and hurt in the city right now, based on the death of Mr. Wallace. And this death follows the protests that we had in the city this summer. This follows the tragic killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. There is a tension and a pain in the interaction between police and citizens, especially African American citizens who do not feel safe.

At the same time, we have another issue. We have had over 400 homicides in the city. There is a strong constituency that is crying out for help to deal with the homicides and they need the police to help them address that issue, but they don't want to see their nephew, niece, cousin, or husband killed at the hands of the police. People are dealing with both the pain of homicides and violence in the city, and the tragic death of Walter Wallace, Jr. That has been the biggest tension in the city. 

In reference to poll watchers, I have been a committee person for a long time, and I know that under state law, you have to have a certificate to be a poll watcher. You can get a certificate to go to a specific location in order to report issues back to your party, but you can’t go in without that. Someone can be 10 feet outside of the polling location with paraphernalia supporting any candidate that they would like, but, again, to be in the polling place you need a certificate issued prior to Election Day. 

So I don't get the sense that people are fearful of people from outside the city coming into Philadelphia to poll watch because Philadelphia has grit, and there are regulations around it. That is not the concern I have been hearing. The bigger concern I've had and heard is around the changes happening to the postal system. People are fearful about putting a ballot in the mail and so instead, they are taking it directly to satellite voting offices to ensure their vote is counted.

How are the numbers for early voting?

The numbers have been very strong. We have done press conferences, throughout the early part of this week to make people aware of the options that they have when they are voting.  

There are a number of people going to City Hall and there are a number of people going to the Liacouras Center, part of Temple University, and a satellite voting office. But, we have 17 other satellite voting offices around the city. We have been encouraging people to go to a location that might not be your immediate location because you might not have to wait as long to get in and vote.

Tuesday was the deadline for mail-in applications, but if you have not yet received your mail-in ballot, you can go to a satellite building office.

If you tell them you have not received your mail-in ballot, you can be issued a new ballot in person, and you can vote on location up until Election Day.

Is there any other information that you think is important to know as we move into Election Day? 

Well, I think what's most important is for people to vote, and to exercise their right to vote. It is very personal for me, not only as an elected official but as a member of the community.

I had a grandfather who was able to purchase our family farm outside of Greenville, North Carolina. Though I never got a chance to meet him, a lot of his words, sayings, and actions influenced my father, my uncles, and my aunts.

My grandfather wore a suit on only two occasions: to go to church and to vote.

When I see those lines of people going out to vote in this pandemic, it really encourages me and solidifies for me why voting is so important. I hope everyone exercises their right to vote up until and including on Election Day.