It's time to vote in the final round of PW's Mayor Madness brackets! To help you decide, we time traveled to the future.
We’ve reached the final week of PW’s “Mayor Madness” poll, where readers have spent the past month voting online to narrow a pool of 16 Philly celebs down to one unlikely candidate they wish would run for mayor next election. After three rounds of elimination, it’s all come down to the final face-off: legendary comedian, author and education activist BILL COSBY vs. pioneering punk rocker and satirical writer RODNEY ANONYMOUS.
To present these two men for your consideration, we’re borrowing a trick from the currently-in-progress Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. To be precise: We’re borrowing the time machine they’ve built in the Kimmel Center, and we’re traveling into the future—two different alternate futures, in fact!—to report back on how Rodney and the Cos each might treat the city as its mayor. So without further ado: Peer into tomorrow! And then vote at philadelphiaweekly.com for whichever vision, however low-probability, captures your imagination.
DEC. 31, 2023: A Look Back at Mayor Bill Cosby
Few would have imagined eight years ago that the then-newly-elected Bill Cosby would put in a full two terms as mayor of Philadelphia. He was 78 years old when he first took office in January 2016—an age we associate more with retirement from political life than inauguration into it. But having reluctantly taken up the gauntlet first thrown down by Philadelphia residents in a newspaper poll naming him the dark-horse candidate they’d most like to see tackle City Hall, Cosby accepted the inevitable reality that a single four-year term would barely allow him to start scratching the job’s surface.
That was especially true given Cosby’s particular mandate: He became mayor to change the way Philly educates its kids. That was it. All other issues were secondary. Education was both his own lifelong cause and the city’s most systemic dysfunction. And having a real impact on just that one area would be an uphill battle the whole way.
The Cosby administration made a controversial decision early on: Rather than sink years of time and resources into struggling with the state’s School Reform Commission over intractable budget and management issues in the schools, the city would focus almost exclusively on developing new extracurricular support networks through collaboration between several entities—particularly, the Office of Civic Engagement, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. (As if there was ever any doubt that Cosby’s entertainment-industry connections would lead to a robust beefing up of the latter.)
Negotiating the future of the city’s children with budget-cutting Harrisburg legislators would never be the ultimate answer to our endemic education woes, Cosby felt. “We saw what happened in New Orleans when people waited for the government to help,” he said in his mayoral acceptance speech, quoting from his own book Come On, People. “Governments don’t care. People care, and no people care like parents and grandparents do.”
Springboarding off the school district’s existing Parent University program, which had begun offering life-skills training to Philadelphia families, Cosby wielded his star power to pull together an unorthodox array of partnerships across several specific initiatives. His administration identified three as particularly key to supporting generational improvement in education:
Detoxified media. Establishing a shared Philly-kid-friendly vision among the city’s community TV channels—including PhillyCAM, Temple’s TUTV and Drexel’s DUTV—Cosby worked to seriously enhance the production values of all three, winning massive donations of equipment and training from Hollywood studios. The arts & culture office then kicked off a five-year plan to incubate high-quality, nonviolent entertainment, educational and music programming aimed at a wide array of age groups.
The “Whup Yourself” campaign. Cosby’s approach to stemming Philadelphia’s egregious violence statistics was a long-term one that started at the root. “The most important thing people can do to cut down violence in America,” he said, “is to cut out the physical punishment of children.” Citing research showing a correlation between the early-childhood example of corporal punishment and tendencies to act violently later in life, the mayor took action: Pairing local celebrities with a grassroots infrastructure of church volunteers and neighborhood groups, the Cosby administration flooded Philadelphia communities with an ongoing campaign to help parents learn why not to discipline their children by hitting them.
Investment in mental health services. Countless student behavioral problems, Cosby argued, could be stemmed by ensuring families in every community access to, and encouragement toward, robust mental health resources—pointing both parents and kids toward well-trained counselors without fear of either social stigma or health-care costs. While no one disputed the principle, the administration’s plan to redirect substantial funds from city pensions to family counseling services was hotly contested.
All these initiatives will be decades in the proving; as significant as Mayor Cosby’s eight-year tenure has been, it still doesn’t give us enough time to know how his work will ultimately play out. And certainly we know not all Cosby’s initiatives paid off at all. Memorably, his attempt to garner charitable funding for school nutrition programs by calling in some old Jell-O-era favors from his contacts at Kraft Foods ran aground of protests from progressive agriculture activists. Meanwhile, his single-minded focus on education and parenting initiatives to the exclusion of all else led to deterioration in the city’s relationships with numerous interest groups, from labor unions to corporate contractors.
Of one thing we can be sure: If Mayor Cosby didn’t improve life for people in Philadelphia, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
DEC. 31, 2019: A Look Back at Mayor Rodney Anonymous
When former Dead Milkmen vocalist and keyboardist Rodney Anonymous was swept into office on a controversial, progressive platform opposing fringe societal elements, most Philadelphians expected some kinks needed to be worked out as he got used to being in office.
They were right.
“When I first heard a musician was going to be mayor, I thought it sounded like fun,” tweeted Councilman Jim Kenney last week, or the company he hired to tweet for him for $29,000 a year. “But it was just one problem after another—not unlike ‘Cocky Girl Problems,’ an account I follow on Twitter, and, sometimes, weirdly reply to.”
Anonymous—a humorist and occasional City Paper columnist—was first called to serve his city as a nominee in PW’s “Mayor Madness” poll. Lacking the funds to run a seasoned campaign, he instead took to Twitter to lay out his agenda, which Philadelphians took as a series of common-sense proposals.
“When I’m Mayor, the min. wage in Philly will be $12/hr. Anyone who objects will be free to work for less,” he wrote on March 28, 2013, noting his belief in a progressive platform that promised higher wages for our poorest workers. It was a promise he kept, which Council was more than happy to hand him. (Even if it was later voided by a presidential order.)