An email exchange with Tom Knox

Last week, I submitted a few questions for Tom Knox, in the interest of hearing him speak a little bit more about why he is running for Mayor. I am going to send some follow ups, and I will give a few thoughts in the comments section as well, especially in response to the main concerns that I have: payday lending, and big money in the political process.

Either way, one of the nice things about having a site like this, is that we can have an interview with answers that are too long to fit in the the Daily News or Inquirer. I will let you know what comes of the follow up. And, it is always nice to see potential candidates wanting to explain to us why they think we should support them.

Click read more to see the exchange, with my questions in bold. And, check out more about his campaign at www.knoxforphilly.com.

1) Why are you running?

I have not yet officially declared my candidacy for office. Right now, I am focused on bringing new attention to the problems and promise of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. I want to help turn Philadelphia around by initiating a new dialogue on the issues that plague our communities in the hope that we may find new solutions or rediscover the old ones that have fallen on deaf ears.

Growing up, I had three younger brothers. My parents really struggled to feed and clothe the four of us. I remember looking forward to macaroni and cheese as my Friday night dinner and trying to make my shoes last longer by putting cardboard slips in them to cover up the holes – that’s how poor we were.

I know what it is like to struggle. No one should have to know what that is like, but far too many people do. I am working to turn Philadelphia around because I know that if we come together, that if we do this right, we can work to ensure that no child and no family ever will again.

2) Related to that: Do you think Philadelphia is moving in the right direction? Why or why not? How do we change it if broken, or keep it moving if not?

Philadelphia is moving in the wrong direction. Drugs are flooding our neighborhoods and crime is on our doorsteps. As you know, the city’s number of murders in 2005 has already surpassed the total number for 2004 (330). In 2004, Philadelphia's murder rate of 22.4 per 100,000 residents was the highest of the nation’s 10 largest cities. Our libraries and recreation centers are closing or cutting back hours and eliminating after school programs, leaving our kids with no place to go after school. Abandoned homes remain abandoned and empty lots remain empty, which breeds vandalism and encourages drug use.

The problem is that Philadelphia’s budget has fallen into total disarray. If we want to tackle problems like crime, the unavailability of adequate and affordable housing, the poor condition of many roads, parks, and recreation centers, and the overall deterioration of city services, we have to be able to allocate our resources where they are needed most. We need to get rid of the sweetheart contracts that drain budget, so that we have the money to fund necessary services such as providing support to our police officers. We need to stop filling the pockets of special interests, take that money back, and reinvest it into our libraries, our parks, and our recreation centers. We need to turn Philadelphia around and we need to do it by taking the ‘For Sale’ sign off of City Hall, so that our city government can get back to doing its job: keeping our kids safe, keeping our neighborhoods clean, and keeping our communities strong and vibrant.

3) A lot has been talked about the money you plan to put into the race. One article quoted a member of your staff as saying your financial position is important, because Philly would appreciate a candidate who they did not think could be bought out. As someone who grimaces at the role of money in Philly politics, I understand that point. I wonder though, if the "I cannot be bought" pitch is not accompanied by some sort of commitment to getting money out of the system (like with public funding of elections, etc), are you setting up a test for future candidates that to show themselves as unfettered, they have to be independently wealthy.

Let me start by saying that I can’t set up ‘tests’ for any candidates – only Philadelphia voters can. They decide which qualities they want in their elected officials and vote accordingly. I am just one Philadelphia voter out of hundreds of thousands.

I agree with you. I find the role of money in present day Philadelphia politics personally distasteful. What is worse, however, than the way elections are currently financed, is the way in which our public officials blatantly sell their offices for their own personal financial gain. This city has produced more than 23 federal corruption convictions in the past two years and countless more before that. Philadelphians need to know that the people that they put in office won’t sell those offices in order to have their credit card bills paid or have their friends cared for financially.

When Philadelphia’s public officials sell their offices, not only do they betray the public trust, but they also take valuable budgetary dollars away from the Police and Fire departments, away from our parks and our recreation centers, and away from the other city services that our communities need most. We must take the ‘For Sale’ sign off of City Hall. The only way to do that is for Philadelphia voters to rally around the candidate that is least likely to sell his or her office to the highest bidder. I’ll leave it to them to decide who that is.

4) A personal concern that I have voiced on my site is that a big part of your personal fortune was made from the payday lending industry. A bill fully banning it in PA is supported by the AFL-CIO, the PA Council of Churches, the Center for Responsible Lending, the AARP, and others. How do you respond to charges that much of the 17 million dollars coming from the sale was from a practice that many people, and virtually all consumer advocates, have derided as extremely harmful toward poor Philadelphians?

Let me answer by telling you what it was like for me being in a situation where I needed a short-term loan and one was not available. I left high school midway through the 10th grade in order to join the Navy. I joined so that I could send some of my pay back home to my parents and, this way, they could take better care of my younger brothers.

My ship would come into port in Norfolk, VA. If we were given shore leave, I would try to hop on a bus back to Philadelphia so that I could see my mother. The trouble was that I had already sent so much of my pay back home that I couldn’t afford the ticket. The only way I could get enough money together for the ticket was by borrowing from individuals who would wait for us as we got off of the ship. They charged 2 dollars for every dollars borrowed. If I needed $1, I had to pay back $2. If I needed $100, I had to pay back $200. And so on.

Crusader offered Payday loans to help people who otherwise were unable to get access to regulated funding and we did so at just 13 cents on the dollar, not the 100 cents on the dollar that the unregulated lenders that I had to deal with charged.

I understand better than most that if you can't get a loan at 13 cents on the dollar from a credible bank, you will still need the money and you are going to do something to get that money. You may borrow it from a loan shark or go to a pawnshop - some people do a lot worse to get the money they need. I am interested in finding a solution for people - a better one than a Payday loan program. But if we were to abolish payday loans we would have to understand that there are consequences for a lot of people living on the edge and we need to have an alternative that works.

5) You grew up in the Abbotsford Homes. How has growing up as a low-income kid from Germantown impacted you?

The Abbotsford Homes are actually in East Falls. Growing up there – knowing what it is like to see so many of my friends and family claimed by drugs and the poverty trap – is my primary motivation in starting Knox for Philly. I am going to get as many as people a possible to join with me in taking the ‘For Sale’ sign down off of City Hall because too many people struggle today as I did as I was growing up. Now, I am in a position to help people who are caught in that same struggle. Each and every one of us deserves a base – a foundation from which we can seek a better life. Growing up in Abbotsford taught me that and I would be doing this city a disservice if I didn’t work to improve the city and its ability to help improve the quality of life for its residents.

One question

Does he want to take the "For Sale" sign down off City Hall?

Sorry

An unconstructive comment - but I couldn't resist.

question on your question

DE- doesn;t he say that he wants to do that in his post? I don't understand your question...

He says it 3 times in 4 answe

He says it 3 times in 4 answers... I think DE was being sarcastic... and beat me to it.

Tom Knox

Before reading this interview, I didn't really like Tom Knox. Here is why:

He is a rich guy. I don't really trust rich people, because I'm not rich. Therefore, I don't want him to mayor of a city that I do not live or vote in.

Re-reading my reasoning, I can see that it is totally irrational. Tom Knox can do a good job, but I was unable to think that he would do a good job for me. Instead, he'll only worry about rich people. Even though he is saying in that interview that he'll worry about everyone. Even people like me. Here is the money quote:

Growing up, I had three younger brothers. My parents really struggled to feed and clothe the four of us. I remember looking forward to macaroni and cheese as my Friday night dinner and trying to make my shoes last longer by putting cardboard slips in them to cover up the holes – that’s how poor we were.

I'm starting to see where Knox is coming from, and that is a very good thing.

I believe that was sarcasm.

I believe that was sarcasm.

Ray

Ray, you're non-Jewishness is showing. Jews love sarcasm. It's what we do to show affection.

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