Up came the election results from the 2007 and 2011 Democratic primaries, broken down by ward, showing significant drops in total votes Nutter received in numerous pockets of the city this year compared with four years ago. O’Neal says the numbers suggest voters refused to back Nutter out of dissatisfaction with the way he’s handled his job.
“If there was a better candidate [than Milton Street] they would have won,” O’Neal asserts, urging Olugbala to focus campaign efforts in Philly’s disaffected minority neighborhoods.
“Nutter’s strategy is to make this a nonelection,” says Chimurenga Waller, the 60-year-old Olugbala campaign manager (and younger brother of Omali Yeshitela), who’s up from St. Petersburg. “What he’s trying to do is keep a 15 percent turnout. If he does that, he wins the election ... But if you energize voters, you can create a different outcome as long as you have an incumbent who’s coasting.”
“I’m hearing quite a lot of anti-Nutter sentiment out on the street,” he adds, “but I don’t know whether or not that’s gonna translate into votes.”
Out on the campaign trail, reaction to Olugbala’s appearances, speeches and fliers has ranged from agreement to amusement to bewilderment to outrage.
In August, when he led some 60 supporters on a spirited nighttime march down South Street to protest the curfew instituted to combat youth mob violence—sandwiched between speeches where he called Nutter, Ramsey and Williams the “Uncle Tom trio” and characterized youth engaging in violence as “freedom fighters”—he garnered both smiles and scowls, cheers and middle fingers.
Midday one afternoon at Dilworth Plaza next to City Hall—where Olugbala was a regular presence until Occupy Philly took over the space—a few curious people stopped as he railed against the PPD while his supporters held signs reading “Phila Police Are The Flash Mob” and the campaign mantra, “Economic Development Not Police Containment.” A nearby bike messenger nodded his head, but one older white man in a suit, handed a flier by one of Olugbala’s supporters, listened for a few minutes with his mouth agape, crumpled up the flier, threw it on the ground and stormed off, muttering, “This guy’s a fucking nut.”
And outside a church in Grays Ferry one recent warm night, where he was hosting a youth conference—attended by about 40 people—designed for kids to express their concerns about the curfew and the education system, Olugbala presented his stump speech focusing on Nutter’s “racist and Draconian” curfew (a perspective recently adopted by Philadelphia’s Green Party, which calls the curfew “the new Jim Crow”) and stop-and-frisk policy. Many applauded loudly, but an older black man named Wally stood up, announced that he was a Nutter supporter, and said that he had no problem being stopped at random by police if that meant a safer city. “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” the man insisted.
“I seriously doubt he’s ever been stopped by the police in South Philly,” Olugbala says afterward. “Not only is there a problem with being stopped illegally by the police for stop-and-frisk, any interaction with the police can result in death. That’s real for black people in this city.”
“Stop-and-frisk doesn’t even work,” Olugbala continues, citing the federal class-action lawsuit filed against the city last year by the ACLU on behalf of eight black and Latino Philadelphia men who claimed they were stopped and frisked based solely on their race. The suit, which was settled out of court in June, revealed PPD data showing that “of all of the 2009 [stop-and-frisk] stops, only 8.4 percent led to an arrest, and the majority of these arrests were for alleged criminal conduct that was entirely independent from the supposed reason for the stop and/or frisk in the first place.”
“They know it doesn’t work, and yet they continue to spend hundreds of millions on all these cops just to harrass us ... when they should be pouring that money into economic development for our community instead,” says Olugbala. “If that’s not racist, I don’t know what is.”
Nutter bristles at that accusation. “We go after criminals regardless of color,” he tells PW. “We deploy our police based on where crime is, not based upon the race of people in a neighborhood.”
Sheila Simmons, director of communications for the Nutter for Mayor campaign, flatly rejects Olugbala’s assertion that Nutter doesn’t care about the city’s minorities. “The mayor believes that almost everything he works on and pushes forward seeks to positively impact the lives of people of color and those who are poor,” she says.
Simmons brings up the mayor’s 2010 “Inclusion Works” program, which, among other things, has allocated funds for a 25 percent increase in the number of minority-, women- and disabled-owned businesses in Philly by the end of 2011, and mandated that participation for the same group in city contracts must increase from last year’s rate of 18 percent to a goal of at least 25 percent (those groups were awarded $214 million, or 22.4 percent, of the total $956 million in city contracts in 2010).
She also touts Nutter’s “Way To Work Philadelphia!” youth job-creation program; his reconstituted Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males; the $1 million put into the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy; and several new low-income housing developments, markets and business sites planned or currently under construction in disadvantaged areas of the city that would also provide jobs for those areas.
“To put forth a Band-Aid and pretend that’s some kind of cure, that’s not positive,” Olugbala counters. He believes the massive redistribution of funds from the police budget to disadvantaged communities—in the form of business grants, residential and commercial development, and increased social services—is the ultimate cure for poverty, unemployment, crime and Philly’s other crippling ills.
But to some who’ve caught wind of his platform, Olugbala is simply too radical: Eviscerating the police budget. Instituting total community control of the police force. Creating a community school board with the power to hire and fire teachers. All but eliminating the city’s charter schools. Boosting taxes on the rich to help feed the poor. All of this reinforced by his belief in the Uhuru principles and tactics.
“He and I have some common ground, we do need to give more resources to disadvantaged neighborhoods,” says Karen Brown, the Republican challenger. “But [Olugbala] goes way too far. We need more police on the street, not less.”
“What’s radical about demanding economic development for a community as opposed to flooding a community with a standing army called the police?” Olugbala asks.
On a recent Saturday afternoon in West Philly’s Clark Park—site of the popular, long-running monthly flea market that exists as a Uhuru fundraising venture—some of the movement’s supporters downplayed the group’s extremist reputation as Olugbala walked around shaking hands and handing out campaign fliers.
Bullhorn in hand, 34-year-old Diop Olugbala—the tall, thin, resolute leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement and, as of Aug. 11, independent mayoral candidate—made it clear it wasn’t just happenstance that the corner of Broad and South streets was the gathering point last Saturday night for a protest against the city’s recently instituted youth curfew in Center City.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom