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When Electing a Mayor This Year, Think Globally

March 12, 2015

John F. Smith, Nancy Gilboy, Craig Snyder, and Steve Wray, Philadelphia Inquirer


What does globalization have to do with an election for mayor of Philadelphia?


Answer: Everything.


If there was ever a time when Philadelphia could hunker down in its own mini-universe, that time is long past. Each new day brings a reminder that a virtual tsunami of internationally related challenges and opportunities is washing over us.


Whether the issue is securing our city from the specter of overseas terrorism, foreign competition for our manufacturers, increasing foreign tourism, seeking the investments needed to create new jobs, or becoming a World Heritage City, Philadelphia is inexorably caught up in forces that are global in their scope.


As this worldwide tide rises, our next mayor will succeed or fail depending on how well he or she steers the municipal ship in a globalizing world.


But what does all of that have to do with the staple issues of municipal campaigns - jobs, revenue, education, community relations, and public safety?


Answer: Everything, everything, and everything.


Jobs and economy. In a world where virtually all sectors of our local economy operate in a global environment, our next mayor will need a global perspective to facilitate success.


This is true when talking about the small manufacturer looking to export goods, the large university with international students, the Convention Center that needs a constant flow of new customers, or the world-famous medical centers with growing numbers of foreign patients. It is true if one is to imagine the influx of overseas capital investment that will be needed to expand new businesses and employ our citizens. It is true if we are to continue to attract immigrants with the skills and the work ethic to take advantage of the job openings now going unfilled and the ones soon to be created.


We are in a worldwide competition for these needed capital and human resources, and our next mayor will have to be both a leader and a cheerleader in the effort to attract them.


Education. It goes without saying that one of the most important issues in the present campaign is the state of elementary and secondary education in the city.


Educational improvement is at the heart of Philadelphia's ability to be competitive. Today the debate revolves around the relative merits of district schools and charters, but we must not lose sight of the truly fundamental questions:


How well will our children do in an economy that is being roiled by the overwhelming forces of globalization?


Will they get the education they need not simply to survive, but to thrive in that new world?


Today we struggle just to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. How can we meet that basic challenge while at the same time adding to their curricula the international awareness and language skills they will need?


Community issues. One of Philadelphia's principal strengths is its diversity. From South Philadelphia to Mantua to the Great Northeast, our city boasts a wide variety of nationalities and cultural traditions.


These communities are important in and of themselves, of course, but they are something more, too: bridges to the places the people have come from and to the wider world in general. What plans do the candidates have for working with them to enhance their respective chances for success, to partner with them in the attraction of new investment and new citizens from their homelands, and to bring them closer together with sister communities across the city?


Will our next mayor be adept at building the kinds of relationships that promote community confidence and effective relationships with law enforcement? Will he or she lead the charge for the kinds of tolerance and mutual respect that should characterize the City of Brotherly Love?


More than ever, Philadelphia needs a "globally fluent" mayor. Let's see if the candidates are up to the test.