Following a short stint in the NFL, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director Rich Negrin has come quite a long way. He’s been entrenched in Philadelphia government for some time now, having worked as an Assistant D.A. and serving as executive director of the beleagured BRT. Now, he’s one of Mayor Nutter’s right-hand people. PW sat down with Negrin to discuss the ubiquitous Occupy Philly movement, Nutter’s second term in office and more.
What do you think is going to be one of the mayor’s top priorities in his second term?
One of the things we want to do is something about illegal guns in Philadelphia. Overall homicides and the number of violent crimes are down. We’re doing a fantastic job there but it’s not good enough. One is too many and this mayor gets that. I lost my father to a MAC-10 submachine gun that you can still buy on the Internet today. I was there and watched my father die and held him in my arms as he passed away. There’s kids just like me out there in the streets of Philadelphia watching their loved ones die. We all need to work together to make it so that it’s really uncool to have a gun.
The mayor has used the bully pulpit of the Mayor’s Office to make a very strong statement. In the vein of personal responsibility. Of appealing to parents in terms of tone and what we we’re going to tolerate as a city. The youth curfew has worked hand-in-hand with that. The increased police presence is another part that goes beyond the curfew. We need to engage the nonprofit community and neighborhood watches to do their part as well.
A few weeks ago, you posted a picture from your office window of some of the members of the Occupy Philly movement. Does being so close to the protesters inspire you to work harder for change on the municipal side of things?
I don’t think a whole lot of folks understand how I feel generally about them. Some folks have a tendency to see it as an us-against-them mentality. And that’s not how we feel at all. One of the things I like about them is that they are Philadelphians. So whether or not you like or agree with what they stand for; it’s almost irrelevant. Because they are citizens of Philadelphia and they deserve my best every single day just like everyone else. The concerns I have had with them are issues that directly impact their safety. I’m concerned about the possibility of things like a fire. There are people down there with medical conditions. So I think being close to them and being able to see them keeps that in my head all the time. That’s the big concern ... if something was to go wrong.
What do you think that the city hopes to accomplish between city officials and members of the Occupy Philly movement?
Just an open communication. You know, the conditions change there on almost a daily basis. We have a mechanism in place when both sides sit down where they can address issues on their side; and we can on ours. And then things can be taken to the General Assembly to be voted on in due course in a manner that is fairly efficient.
How do you think other cities that are dealing with Occupy movements of their own could learn from what was done here in Philadelphia?
I think our approach has been interesting. The day before they started setting up, we met with some of their leaders and the Mayor’s Office. To my knowledge, no other city had done that. So we started to set up a line of communication early on. As the movement developed, we’ve worked very hard not to create unnecessary conflict with the police. So when they do marches or sit-ins, we only use the amount of force required to fulfill what’s absolutely legally necessary. So when they blocked the street in front of the police administration building, we waited as long as we could possibly wait. There are a lot of different ways to make a statement; some feel like they have to get arrested. And I think the arrests at the Comcast building were an example of that. They were peaceful. I heard from the police that some of the protesters were thanking them for their professional and courteous manner while they were being arrested. Which is pretty interesting. Because all you need is one person acting irrationally on either side and you could have a very different situation. I don’t like having arrests, but if it is going to happen I’m proud of the way they are occurring.
Do you think that the Occupy Philly movement is going to benefit the city in the long run?
I think that depends on what comes out of all this. A year from now and we’ll see the Occupy movement having a more defined role. I think they are still figuring out who they are. It’s about issues that Mayor Nutter has been beating the drum on for some time. It’s about jobs, it’s about poverty. It’s about what’s happening in the inner city and education. If that lines up with whatever ends up being the Occupy movement’s main platform, then I think that’ll be a positive thing.
What lessons from your time in the NFL do you think benefited you the most in your current position?
We used to videotape everything we did. The concept of unvarnished self-reflection around how you are doing and sort of that thought of continuous improvement is something I try to summon every single day. We look at how we’re doing things in the city when we look at our PhillyStat program, which is our performance management program here in the city. I became comfortable evaluating every single thing I did on a regular basis.