Oliver a hit at Central High mayoral forum
The former PGW exec is a long shot in the 2015 mayors race. But his political future looks bright among younger voters
DOUG OLIVER might not - OK, probably won't - get elected mayor this year.
But the former Philadelphia Gas Works vice president made a convincing case yesterday that he's an undervalued stock in the city's political scene.
This guy will be elected to public office in Philly. Not now, but soon. Bank on it.
Oliver, who's 40 but can pass for 30, had the teenage crowd at Central High School hanging on his every word during a mayoral forum, drawing loud applause from the get-go - and howls of protest when he tried to leave toward the end.
Often dismissed as an inexperienced and underfunded candidate in this year's race, Oliver demonstrated that he is a natural politician nonetheless, one who could potentially energize two generations of voters - millennials and the younger Generation Z.
If they ever decide to vote.
"Oh, who's that? What's his name? Is he married?" one student asked, as Oliver worked the sweltering room with handshakes and the occasional thumbs-up.
Oliver, a former spokesman for Mayor Nutter, attended the forum with former City Councilman Jim Kenney, state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz and former state Sen. T. Milton Street Sr., who are all Democrats. Melissa Murray Bailey was the only Republican candidate.
They covered a lot of ground, including the impact of dark money, reducing cronyism and blight, repairing the relationship between police and the public - even their favorite cheesesteak destinations and music artists.
But when Oliver spoke, you could almost feel the room of approximately 165 high school seniors perk up. The students, many of them eligible to vote in the May primary, didn't necessarily tune out the other candidates, but their attention suddenly became divided. It was like flicking a switch, on and off, for two hours.
When Oliver repackaged a John F. Kennedy quote during his opening statement - "No longer should you be involved in government because you need government. The question now is, 'Will you get involved in government because government needs you?' " - the students responded with "ohhhh" and "Nice."
When the other candidates rolled out their platforms and accomplishments, they were often met with polite applause, or none at all.
"I think Doug Oliver stood out. He was more relaxed and comfortable with the younger crowd," said senior Genehia Walton, of West Oak Lane, who plans to vote for Oliver.
Walton, 19, who researched each of the candidates as part of her social-sciences class, said the others seemed to stick too closely to their talking points.
"Everyone else was trying to be too formal," she said.
Christian Tineo, 18, of Kensington, said he was impressed by both Oliver and Bailey, but he had heard enough of Diaz's rags-to-riches story by the end of the forum.
"He repeats the things he's done in the past," Tineo said of Diaz, "instead of giving us an idea of what he's going to do for us."
The forum ran a half-hour over. Williams and Abraham said they couldn't stay, and the students gave them a solid applause on their way out. But when Oliver tried to escape, the students weren't having it.
"Don't go, Doug."
"Come on, Doug, I just followed you on Twitter."
Oliver caved and agreed to participate in the final round. The students responded like their favorite band had just returned to the stage for an encore.