Interview with City Council Candidate Howard Treatman

Howard Treatman his wife Ronit , and their three children, Devorah, David and Hannah on vacation in Jaffa, Israel.

Philadelphia Voice contributing editor Joe Magid interviewed Philadelphia City Council District 8 Democratic candidate Howard Treatman this past Wednesday.

PJV:Please tell me a bit about the 8th district and what makes it worth your jumping into the pit of vipers that is the electoral process?

HT: This is a great district. It includes Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Germantown, the Logan, Nicetown and Tioga neighborhoods on out to Broad Street including Temple University Hospital and LaSalle University. The district includes some of the most beautiful sections of the City and also some neighborhoods that are among the most hurting. The district is also quite historic; Germantown is as old as Center City with so much to offer.

As to why now, this moment presents a great opportunity for Philadelphia. The DROP scandal has resulted in a large number of incumbent Council members retiring. There will be a big new class of members with the real chance for a critical mass of fresh blood and the chance to do things very differently. When the incumbent in this district said she was not going to run again I saw two machine candidates declare and I had to decide if I was going to stand by and watch or instead stand up and run; I decided to run. I feel City Council should be a source of energy, vision and ideas for the City. That is exciting to me. The right person with the right ideas really has a chance to do something good.

True it is a big challenge to run for office. It’s both hard and exciting and I don’t take it lightly. It is a lot of work and I am committed to the effort and to being a great councilman.

More after the jump
PJV: You are brand new on the scene, until very recently at least, how are you going about introducing yourself to 8th District Voters?

HT: In a range of ways; you can never get away from retail politics, going door-to-door, meeting people at the train stations. Going to meet with neighborhood groups is very effective, providing real leverage and the there are the new electronic channels available to candidates and finally media reports and a general media campaign.

PJV: How is it going so far?

Well it’s going great. We’ve gotten lots more coverage than the others so far. I have lots of parlor meetings, group meetings set up and of course the media (Ed: meaning advertising) campaign will come later.

PJV: Are you concerned that the fact that you are able to self fund your campaign will be construed negatively?

HT: The issue isn’t someone trying to buy a Council seat, the issue is someone buying a councilman. I am and will be fundraising extensively so the campaign will not just be funded by me, but I have the ability to go full steam from the start, knowing I can do the fundraising that will be needed to cover the campaign costs.

PJV: I know you’ve just begun the campaign and talking to voters, but what are they telling you is important? Anything surprising?

HT: The first concern people talk about is jobs. This is why economic development is so important. I started out as a real estate lawyer and then an investor. I know how to create jobs, how to make cities successful and thrive. The question is how do we make Philly thrive. You know it’s not just the chronically underemployed who express concern, but people up and down the education ladder. People know jobs transform lives and they are concerned.

But I’m also emphasizing government reform. Are we providing the right services to the right people with the right staffing? And are we assessing what we are doing? We really need to apply metrics to what we are doing and properly assess its success. We need to get the value for the money we are spending. Are the right services being delivered and used?

I also think term limits are necessary. No elected official should be allowed to participate in the DROP program. Councilmen don’t need cars to drive around in. Members of council have great influence during the economic development process as deals are being negotiated. This all needs to be as transparent as possible.

And I talk about public safety. People who don’t feel safe won’t want to come into the City. We need more cops on the street and we need more community policing. I’m a big believer in community policing; the police know what’s happening in the neighborhoods and can then can be on top of the issues. Unfortunately this is missing in some parts of the district. There is suspicion of the police instead of faith in the police. This needs to be addressed in a partnership between the community and the police.

Education is another important theme. I hear from people with kids in the Philadelphia schools and people without kids in the system. They both recognize the necessity to be able to bring our kids into the global economy with the skills to succeed. This needs to start with a conversation and an understanding of the fact that the state is in control of the school district. We had a friend in Harrisburg for the last eight years, but we don’t now, so we have to start with damage control, partnering with other communities in Southeast PA to fight for the resources we need. At the end of day we will get less money from Harrisburg, so the school district needs to do the same kind of assessment of its expenditures that I call for city agencies to do. This is also why the City needs economic development, so that it has its own resources for its schools.

I do have some issues with how the school district is organized. Some kids need help with life skills and they need a support structure and mentorship in order to succeed. Some kids are ready to progress, but need a safe and supportive environment where they can grow. And there are kids who are ready to take on the world, who just need the support to soar. There are some great schools like Masterman and Central, and great teachers who don’t feel supported by current policies. They need support for the great job they are doing.

So, economic development with a natural outgrowth of jobs, government reform and safety are the main issues. The good news story is that people want to be in Philly. The population is growing in neighborhoods across the City from Fishtown to Germantown, people want to move into Philadelphia despite tax polices that have driven away jobs and people. We have a great opportunity to fix the tax structure to support more people and jobs coming into the City. We have a great opportunity to turn City Council into a source of solutions.

PJV: Reading your recently released government reform plan, are the elements you have in this plan what City voters, and more specifically 8th district voters, really care about?

HT: The conversation is that people know the system stinks. They’re not confident systems are in place for government to work well and with integrity. What they are missing is a laundry list of how to change it, but cleaning up City Council is a very real issue. This is the year of DROP, a plan meant for working people that politicians applied to themselves and took advantage of, a loophole they sought out and used to retire and come back to work the very next day and people are disgusted. People want good government and there are steps to take and I wanted to provide some detail on how that can be done and that’s what my reform plan is about.

PJV: As I looked over your web site, thinking back to my days, granted some time ago, as a grad student at Penn, then living in and around Philly and coaching gymnastics at Temple, driving through some very challenged neighborhoods back and forth to the gym. Many of those areas are still in pretty rough shape. Germantown, Mount Airy are in pretty good shape and certainly Chestnut Hill is near the top of the heap. How does this factor into both why you are running and what you hope to accomplish should you get elected?

HT: There are parts of the 8th District, parts of East Germantown, Nicetown, Tioga that are very challenged. We do have Temple University Hospital, LaSalle and Central High School to build on but we do have some of the most challenged areas in the City. At the same time, positive changes have been happening. I’ve worked on the Mount Airy streetscape and storefront development projects; the Mount Airy business district has made great progress compared to what it was like fifteen years ago. The “Center City Effect” has traveled as far north as Girard Avenue, the West Philly revitalization west to 50th and Baltimore and as far south as Broad and Passyunk Avenue. So the process is there; there are positive things to build on. There is no doubt that there is block after block and neighborhood after neighborhood that need work. There are 1.5 million people living in a City meant for 2 million. We need more people living and working in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia tax policy literally shapes the region with vibrant economic centers at several points just outside the City boundaries. We’ve had years of business relocation out of the City. The creative class wants to be in Philly; what we need to do is change the dynamic so when they develop growing businesses they stay in Philly and continue to grow and prosper, bringing people into the City.

PJV: What about Harrisburg? How much really can be accomplished in the face of massive cutbacks in state funded education and social services. It takes time for economic development to take root, how does the City handle the short term?

HT: First we have to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. Efficiency projects will take time too, so there will be severe budget pressures. The Mayor’s budget is balanced assuming a level of state funding that isn’t going to be there. In the end there will be cutbacks in some places and there will need to be some restoration of lost state funds. It is going to impact the services provided. We don’t have a labor contract; it will affect that as well. We’ve got an interesting stalemate with the unions. Neither side, so far, is pushing to change the status quo but the status quo is unsustainable, so we have an opportunity. We could be like GM and ride stalemate into bankruptcy or we could go for being a model of how to do it right, the City can join in a partnership with the unions to head in the right direction.

PJV: Ours being a publication for the Philadelphia Jewish community, can you tell me a bit about your Jewish values and how they come into play in both your decision to run and how you would govern if elected?

HT: For the political world I’ve spun out of nowhere onto the scene, but for the last 11 years a significant portion of my life has been spent in community service. I’m the recent past President of the Germantown Jewish Centre and have been on the Board as well, working to build that community and I’m very proud to have helped to put it on a sound footing. That’s been a big part of my life, doing the concept of Tikkun Olam. A mitzvah is both a good deed and a commandment; I think there is good work to do and that I am obligated to do it, so I’m extending the energy I’ve put into community service into public service. It’s a natural extension of what I’ve already been doing. I’ve been actively involved in the Jewish community for years, I’m going onto the Board of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and I’ve been on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

PJV: Local elected officials generally don’t have much if any impact on Israel, but major US cities do have some semblance of a role in the our country’s overall relationship with Israel, how do you think Philadelphia has been doing in this regard and what do you think the City could and/or should be doing?

HT: I’m very supportive of Israel personally and I think the City has been as well and I see that continuing. We have the Sister Cities Plaza, the prominent placement of the Israeli Flag on the Parkway. I’d like to see this positive relationship continue.

PJV: Are there additional cultural opportunities for Philadelphia and Israel?

HT: Yes, in fact there are interesting things happening with the growth of the Philadelphia Israeli Film Festival. There is a large expatriate Israeli community so cultural interaction is growing. We’ve also got an active high tech venture partnership going between Philadelphia and Israel; there is quite a lot going on and I see this continuing, and growing momentum. There are many economic development possibilities with collaboration between the Israeli and local venture communities, something that could be very mutually beneficial.

I should mention that my wife Ronit was born in Israel and served in the IDF and we traveled to Israel recently after my son’s Bar Mitzvah to celebrate with our relatives there.

PJV: Howard, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with PJV and good luck with your efforts.

The Treatman campaign website can be found at


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