Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Lynne Abraham’s Vision For Philadelphia

Lynne AbrahamPhiladelphia is a city on the rise. Steeped in history and bristling with possibilities, the City of Brotherly Love is poised to become a world-class city. This is why the next mayoral election is so important. With the right person in office, Philadelphia will ascend into the stratosphere. With the wrong person in office, Philadelphia’s potential will barely hover above the ground. After hearing all of the candidates speak on myriad issues, I can confidently say that Lynne Abraham is the right person for the job.

I’ve known Lynne Abraham for many years. We live in the same neighborhood, and I used to ring her up at the food store when I worked there part-time as a cashier. What impressed me about her was that despite her great success, she was always grounded. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many famous and successful people, and I admire those that don’t let it go to their head. Lynne is one of those people. She’s nice to everyone she meets and isn’t ostentatious in any way, shape or form.

Tonight I saw Lynne take part in the Mayoral Candidates Forum on Equitable Development, and she was easily the most intelligent, genuine and compelling person on the panel. While the other candidates have certain qualities that would be good in a Mayor, they aren’t the total package. Lynne is.

Earlier this week I interviewed Lynne Abraham so I could learn more about her vision for Philadelphia. Going into the interview I thought she was a great person. After it was done, I liked her even more. I hope you enjoy it, and make sure to vote on May 19.

IMG_3142What is it that makes you so passionately devoted to Philadelphia?

It’s almost a disease. It’s in your blood. I’ve lived here all of my life, and I’ve always loved the gritty, muscular nature of Philadelphia. It has a tough outer-shell but a very tender underbelly, and I like the combination of the two things. 

I grew up and lived through all of the factory times in Philadelphia. My Grandfather was a factory worker. My Uncle was a factory worker. My other Uncle was a carpenter. My Father worked on Dock Street. This was America, which offered opportunity to so many of us and Philadelphia was a good part of that. 

The other part of it was we always had culture and the arts in Philadelphia. Beautiful parks and open spaces, and free things that kids who didn’t have any money, like me, could do. I used to play in Cobbs Creek when I was a kid. They had a horse barn there in Cobbs Creek, and the police would allow me to pet their horses. It was the Fairmount Park Police then. They let me pet the noses of the horses. I liked that. I liked the whole way Philadelphia ticked. 

If you could name just one thing, what is it that you love about Philadelphia more than anything?

The thing I like most about the city are the people. The people here are just fabulous. We come from all over. We have different cultures and languages and customs; things that we wear and food that we eat. You can connect with people just by sitting with them at their kitchen table and listening to what they have to offer. And they have a lot to offer. I like to get ideas and take the temperature of the city through its people. You can really learn an awful lot about what’s right and wrong about a city by talking to its inhabitants. 

What’s the first problem you will tackle on day one if you’re elected Mayor?

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the single most important issue in Philadelphia is education. How we’re going to rethink and re-imagine our education system. How we’re going to get the funding on a continuous basis to make sure our children get the best education possible. How to deal with the issue of competition between charter schools and public schools, which must be resolved because both of them are going to be here for a significant period of time. Trying to make sure that our children are well served and come to school with an early-childhood education that fully prepares them to take on the very difficult task of trying to learn all the things one needs. Ultimately, when the educational part of their young life is finished, they’re ready to take their place as the next leaders, movers and shakers, dreamers, thinkers and doers of Philadelphia.

059How do you balance the needs and demands of new residents with those who’ve lived here for years?

This is part of an ongoing dialogue about what’s been labeled as gentrification. When I was in the redevelopment business, working for the citizens, it was removing blight. It was called urban revitalization. Somehow it acquired the name gentrification, which sounds to many people as if there’s something bad about it. Actually, much of it is good. You have to provide quality homes to everybody. From the impoverished, the homeless, the disabled, to market rate and everything in between. And have an open door to everyone that wants to come here, because every person – no matter what background they come from – wants to come to a city that is welcoming, that is business friendly, that has housing. All the amenities, like transportation, arts and culture venues, parks, recreation, green systems. Philadelphia has it all, so gentrification, for me, for the most part, is good.

For the people who have been here for a long time and are, perhaps, overwhelmed by all of this revitalization that’s been going on in their neighborhoods – which, for a long time had been left undone – these people, obviously, want to remain in their homes, wherever they are. Whether it’s Fishtown, North Philly, Point Breeze or Grays Ferry, or wherever they are. And the city and I, as their Mayor, want to make sure that they do stay here. They’re the people who stuck it out the most and for the longest, when everybody deserted them. So, we want to encourage them to stay and give them the tools to allow them to stay here. 

For those young people that are moving into Philadelphia, the Millennials, what advice would you give to this new generation that many say are charting the city’s future?

I would tell Millennials that, they may invent new things or come up with new ways to do things but except for technology and math, people are the same. They are nothing new or unique. They’re just the latest generation. Every generation before them had ideas, energy and desires.

However, they should consult with the people in their communities who have already been here. They should speak to their neighbors. Talk to them about what has gone on before they got there. Get the ethos of the community. Find out who their neighbors are. Get deeply involved in all the good issues: social entrepreneurship and charitable ideas. Build their businesses and explore ways they can hire people who have lived in Philadelphia. And, obviously, get into voting and public service. I think that way they can do a tremendous amount of good for the city. 

In all of your years of public service, what’s been the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced?

The toughest challenge you have to face as a public servant is to make sure every day of your life you wake up renewed to do even more than you did the day before. There’s no such thing as the end of a good day and the beginning of a mediocre day. Every day has to be better than the last one. You have to figure out new ways, different ways you can help people and serve the public the way they want to be served. This is done through honest, faithful work. Being interested more in others than you are in yourself, and true service every step of the way.

In my judgement, you should never get so full of yourself that you think you’re something special or that this job came from the gods on high. The people elected you to office. You are their public servant. Don’t get too big for your station and think that this is something you’re entitled to. 

We have seen the arrogance of power, as long as I’ve been around, where people think they are here forever. Where they think they are the most important person on Earth. They’re going to be there as long as you are, so you’ve got to pay attention to them. It’s a lack of humility and an overwhelming sense of hubris and entitlement that is so breathtaking that it’s disgraceful.

That’s the biggest thing. To let people know that I’m a servant. That may be something that you saw when I was in your line. I didn’t make demands or throw my weight around. I’m just a customer. I’m a servant. We’re working to serve the public, you and I. You in one way. I in another. But we’re all in the same boat. We’re trying to make sure that the experience for those we serve is beneficial and helpful.

Like me, you’re a Temple grad. How did it feel to be one of only a few women at Temple law school when you attended? And what was it like going out into the legal marketplace in a male-dominated atmosphere?

It was impossible to get a job, quite frankly. But as with other people who’ve been turned away from employment opportunities, you get tougher and more determined. That’s what I did. It may not work for everybody, and everybody has to plot their own route but it worked for me. 

When I was discouraged I would stand outside in line at the Academy of Music on Saturday night, when they had cheap seats for students. You could get a seat all the way up at the Academy for two bucks, if you got in line early enough. That was a great reward for a very frustrating week. I was listening to some good sounds. 

056Over the years, who’s been your single greatest inspiration?

Actually, over the years, there have been three people that have had the most influence on my life. My husband, Dick Sprague, the first Assistant District Attorney under Arlen Specter, and Frank Rizzo, who taught me that truth can speak to power. Because I spoke to him and he wasn’t used to being spoken to. He was power and I was just an employee. But it was a great lesson about how you can get courage by speaking truth to power. Not many people did that. 

Many times I think animals are better than humans (laughs). Tell me about your love for pets. 

I think how we treat our pets is a mirror into how we treat each other. If you love the animals who are helpless and dependent on you, then you tend to treat people the same way: a loving, nurturing, warm, gentle feeling that you’re helping a creature that really depends on you every moment. I’m invested in it not only because we need and depend on each of them. Remember, back in our history, what was then the wolf eventually became the dog, and we domesticated them and they protected us in a variety of ways. So, we have to protect all animals. We have to be mindful that habitat loss, the killing off or poaching of animals, or endangering them or thinking they are not worthy, is wrong. They are a part of our planet and we have to be respectful of every creature’s right to exist. We lessen our planet and we lessen ourselves when we hunt for animals for sport, or ruin our environment. 

If you’re elected Mayor, what would you want your hallmark to be? How would you want to be remembered?

I would want to be remembered as a trusted and fearless leader who changed the culture of habit. And by the “culture of habit” I mean people saying: “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” I want to be known as someone who is unafraid to make the changes Philadelphia needs to become America’s next great city, and to have the experience and the guts and the tenacity to do the job from day one and do it right. And to be independent and listen to the people and work solely for them, all of them, every day.

That’s what I want to be remembered for. I don’t want a portrait. I don’t want a memorial. I don’t want anything. I don’t want to be remembered for anything other than that the people know I was truly invested in them and the city itself. 

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