Ten candidates are running to be Philadelphia’s next mayor. But David Oh, Republican councilman-at-large, said he believes there is room for an 11th.
Oh, who serves as the minority whip and chair of the Committee on Global Opportunities & the Creative/Innovative Economy, wants to be the change Philadelphia needs.
“I want to challenge the status quo of this city.” Oh said.
Growing up in southwest Philadelphia in an African American community, Oh has fought for justice on behalf of all Philadelphians. Running from Ukrainian events to visits with the Haitian community and functions with Chinese organizations, he is a ubiquitous presence in the community.
“He’s everywhere. He tries to help the citizens no matter how small the ask,” Yolanda Bryant, 47, an independent working for the advocacy group Faith said. Oh helped her family find justice after a criminal raped her granddaughter. “He will always make time to hear you out. He’s a man of honor,” she said.
During his tenure on city council, Oh has fought for many issues, with reforming the public education system at the top of his list.
“Frankly, what is going on in public schools is unconstitutional,” Oh said.
He acknowledges the need to emphasize the record-high crime that plagues the city.
“Crime is the number one issue,” Oh said. But there is a stark disconnect in this city between some neighborhoods and the criminal justice system.
“It is not the kid getting shot who is calling the shots,” Oh said. City officials must intervene to instill more faith in the criminal justice system.
“Who do politicians serve? Those who vote.”
He said he would seek to bridge the gap between different populations in Philadelphia.
Oh also pointed to job creation opportunities, highlighting other cities’ innovations. He sees no reason why that cannot be the case in Philadelphia. In Oh’s view, no area is more important than the arts and culture. It’s a $4 billion industry that brings in $224.3 million in state and local taxes. And it’s a segment of the economy that is overlooked.
“People want to be somebody and a city that doesn’t provide an opportunity is a city full of unhappy people,” Oh said.
Oh created PHL LIVE Center Stage as a city council member, a free platform for musicians who may not have enough means to earn a living.
“Sometimes you have to tell them they are not good enough, but that’s ok,” Oh said. He sees great value in this economic engine and this love of music which can provide a prosperous career.
Oh has shown resilience throughout his career. Losing his first two bids at city council in 2003 and 2007 did not deter Oh.
“Trying is running three times,” Oh explained. In 2011, the former U.S. army member narrowly defeated former mayoral candidate Al Taubenberger for the final seat, a historic win, becoming the first Asian American to be elected to the city council.
The United States has a complex history with Asian Americans, which Oh attributes to the beginning of the California Gold Rush and certain individuals scapegoating Asian Americans for the downturn of the U.S. economy. Although the COVID–19 virus has not helped alleviate the tension, Oh says it is nothing new.
“It is just new experiences. People have been vilifying Asian Americans for a long time,” Oh said.
Oh is not new to Philadelphia politics. He served on former Mayor Ed Rendell’s transition team, as an assistant district attorney, as well as on Gov. Tom Ridge’s trade mission to South Korea.
During his time as a city council member, Oh has fought the Department of Human Services (DHS) over what he deemed “inhumane removal of children,” trying to engage with the attorney general. As a veteran himself, Oh has also created legislation that would provide a tax credit for employers who hire returning veterans with $15,000 off their business taxes over three years.
Oh is a firm believer in the Republican Lincolnian philosophy of equal rights and having a government that does not dictate our lives. He acknowledges the party’s weaknesses in Philadelphia, classifying himself as an independent Republican.
“I’m not interested in political parties. Neither party is perfect,” Oh said.
Oh’s campaign may have to contend with a 2011 brouhaha in which he overstated his credentials by claiming he was a Green Beret, infuriating many military veterans. He apologized at the time and said he should have used the term “Special Forces” for the unit in which he served in the Army National Guard.
Though he has not formally announced a run for mayor, it appears he is ready to dive into the crowded race. Oh is aware it will take the support of people from all demographics if he is to win, as he vowed to support all Philadelphians.
Although Oh knows that people will oppose him, he shrugs it off.
“That’s politics,” he said.