Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris came to Philadelphia on Thursday with an itinerary and a message aimed at reaching the city’s Black and Latino voters, saying the coronavirus pandemic has been “an accelerator” of inequities minority communities have long faced — and that President Donald Trump has worsened their plight.
"It has accelerated the disparities. It has highlighted the injustices,” Harris, a Senator from California, said outside City Councilmember Cherelle Parker’s East Mount Airy home. "And in one way perhaps there is then an opportunity for more people to see what some of us have been knowing for generations around issues like systemic racism.”
Harris' whirlwind blitz through Philadelphia was her first 2020 campaign trip to what may be the most pivotal battleground state in the election.
The first Black woman, the first woman of Indian descent, and the fourth woman to ever be nominated for national office by a major party, Harris made the trip as her campaign with Joe Biden embarks on a push to appeal to Black voters in key states like Pennsylvania. Democrats will likely need improved turnout in minority communities to overcome Trump’s resilient popularity with white working class voters in rural areas and small Rust Belt towns.
Harris’ first stop was in West Oak Lane, where U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) introduced her to Black business owners on Ogontz Avenue. Harris spoke with the family that owns Paul Beale’s Florist, which has been in business for 49 years, as well as Relish, the Southern-style restaurant known for being the preferred Election Day eatery for many of the city’s Black politicians. Harris said she ate there in 2012.
Passersby lined up to greet Harris, who took selfies and elbow-bumped fans. Leela Gupta, the daughter of Evans' chief of staff, Anuj Gupta, brought a copy of Harris' memoir, The Truths We Hold, which the senator signed for her.
In her afternoon stop in Parker’s yard, Harris laid out her and Biden’s agenda for Black communities, including a $100-billion loan program aimed at Black- and brown-owned small businesses, a $70-billion plan to increase funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and protecting the Affordable Care Act from Republican-led court challenges.
The dismantling of Obamacare, she said, would worsen the racial disparities in diseases including the coronavirus.
“Black folks are three times as likely to contract it, twice as likely to die from it,” Harris said.
Montgomery County pediatric surgeon Ala Stanford, who founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to make testing more accessible to Black Philadelphians, thanked Harris for acknowledging those disparities.
“My heart is beating out of my chest to hear what you said,” she said.
Parker pressed Harris on what a Biden administration would do for city governments, noting that Philadelphia had limited options this spring in addressing a $750 million budget gap caused by the pandemic-induced recession. Mayor Jim Kenney has repeatedly pressed the federal government for increased direct funding to cities.
Mayors “can’t be successful, Senator, without help from Washington,” Parker said. “We have limited revenue-regenerating capacity. We can’t close the gap between the haves and the have-nots without you.”
Harris said she and Biden had discussed creating a “council of advisers” of mayors and governors who would “inform the policy on the front end, because what those leaders don’t want or need is for us to tell you later what we’ve done to you.”
Parker is Council’s majority leader and a potential 2023 mayoral candidate. She and Evans both hail from the storied Northwest Coalition political machine, which controls largely African American wards in Northwest Philadelphia that often post the highest Democratic turnout rates in the city.
Later, Harris participated in a closed-door roundtable discussion with Latino elected officials and community leaders at Taller Puertorriqueño in Kensington.
In remarks after the discussion, Harris said a Biden administration would not ignore Puerto Rico and accused Trump of doing just that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Most Latinos in Philadelphia are of Puerto Rican descent.
“It has been an administration that has denied the people of Puerto Rico the dignity that they deserve,” Harris said.
Harris' motorcade also made a surprise stop at the Democratic City Committee headquarters, where she met privately with party chairman Bob Brady, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and State Sen. Sharif Street (D, Phila.).
In the evening, she attended a virtual fundraiser from the campaign’s headquarters in Center City.