Nelson Diaz 2015 Campaign to Become Philadelphia's First Latino Mayor
This was the official website for Nelson Diaz 2015 campaign to become Philadelphia's first Latino Mayor. Content below is from the site's 2015 archived pages and other outside sources.
Nelson Diaz has called Philadelphia his home for over 45 years. Philadelphia has given him the opportunity to receive a first-class education, raise his children through the public school system, and build a successful career in public and private service.
Raised in a housing project in Harlem, NY, Nelson learned the importance of faith and hard work at an early age. His parents were both union workers – his mother a seamstress and member of ILGWU, his Stepfather a doorman and member of SEIU 32BJ. His ability to move out of poverty came from what he learned from them, their church, and their community. Through faith and determination, Nelson persevered.
Nelson worked his way through St. John's University, and then became the first Puerto Rican to receive a J.D. from the Temple University School of Law. While at Temple, he founded BLSA - the first organization devoted to African American law students at Temple University. After Law School, Nelson bypassed the opportunity to work in corporate law, instead taking a job in the Public Defenders office. In 1973, he took the helm at the Spanish Merchants Association, working with other community organizations to revitalize “El Bloque de Oro,” which still stands as one of Philadelphia’s most productive economic districts outside of Center City.
In 1977, Nelson received the opportunity to work as a Special Assistant to Vice President Walter Mondale as a White House Fellow. While at the White House, he worked with Vice President Mondale to create a staff position wholly dedicated to issues within the Latino community – a position that has been in every White House since then. In addition, Nelson guided the passage of amendments to the Bilingual Education Act - broadening the definition of eligible students to include those with limited english proficiency and permitting enrollment of english-speaking students in bilingual programs.
After returning to Philadelphia, Nelson was elected as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, serving from 1981 to 1993. While a Judge, Nelson worked with Mayor Wilson Goode and community leaders on an economic development plan – committing the city to provide staff with access to banks and public monies and connect them with Community Development Corporations. Through this, they helped establish and support business corridors like El Bloque de Oro, the 52nd Street Business Corridor, and the Germantown and Chelten Avenue Business District.
In 1993, Nelson was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as General Counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While at HUD, Nelson wrote what is commonly referred to as the “Diaz Opinion,” creating a new method to increase affordable housing through “mixed-finance” and public-private partnerships. Transforming the national public housing finance system opened up mixed income housing development for affordable housing, pulling our public housing communities out of centers of poverty and industrial zones. Nelson also vigorously enforced the Fair Housing Act, settling over fifteen major housing desegregation cases, totaling $6 billion of new monies for development.
Nelson decided to run for Mayor because of the crisis facing our education system in Philadelphia. Nelson believes it is criminal how underfunded our school system is; spending per student here is $6,300 while in our suburbs it is more than three times that figure. When Nelson was growing up, education provided a space for tutoring, athletics, the arts, and parent involvement … that is what kept him off the streets and focused on school. That was his lifeline out of poverty.
As Mayor, Nelson’s commitment to public education would demonstrate that our public school system impacts everyone and all parties must be represented in policy debates and decisions. A school that has strong leadership, support of its teachers, a creative and innovative environment, and engagement from parents and neighborhood leaders will benefit the social and economic development of the community as a whole. When community members and civic leaders rally around the success of a school, crime will decrease, business will increase, and neighborhoods will become more vibrant.
Education is the only universal equalizer for our children and the major civil rights issue of our time. As Mayor, he will fight to give our kids the chance they deserve to be successful and competitive in today’s world.
Forever the ultimate family man, Nelson lives in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia with his wife, parents, and sister.
Fix our schools
“As someone who grew up in poverty and got out because I got an education, this issue is personal to me. I got into this race to fix our schools, and as Mayor I’m going to accomplish that mission or die trying.”
There is nothing more important to the future of our city than our children’s education. This debate cannot be about ideology, but must instead always focus on what’s best for our children – all of our children, not just some of them. Which side of City Line Avenue you live on shouldn’t determine the quality of your education, but it all too often does. That has to change.
END THE SRC AND ESTABLISH MAYORAL CONTROL
Under the SRC, Philadelphia’s schools are falling further and further behind. The commission was created to reform our schools, but after 13 years there’s been no reform, only deepening dysfunction and a financial crisis that’s arguably never been worse.
That’s why I’ll work with the Governor to immediately end the SRC and replace it with an appointed school board – composed of parents with children currently in school – and a Superintendent accountable to the Mayor. Philadelphians deserves local control of our schools, something enjoyed by the rest of the commonwealth.
Under the current system, the Mayor’s power to impact the single most important thing to the future of Philadelphia is extremely limited. That’s not right. The Mayor should be responsible for the direction and management of our schools.
WE KNOW WHAT WORKS – NOW WE NEED TO DO IT
I sent my own kids to Philadelphia public schools – I’m the only candidate in this race to do so – so I know that district schools can provide a quality education if we support them. The truth is that high-performing public schools, high-performing charter schools, and high performing private schools have a lot in common. There are no magic potions for building great schools, but there are some clear best strategies that yield better results. We need to employ those strategies in every public school.
Schools that work provide the full range of “wraparound services” that our children need. Often, problems in the classroom are the result of problems outside of school. We need to be providing our children with summer programs that engage them, after school programs that keep them off the street and out of trouble, and food, health, and mental health services that they can’t always get at home or outside of school.
Schools that work also focus on the early years, when children learn so much of what they need to know. The ages of 3-8 years are so crucial to our children’s development, and we can’t afford to ignore this vital time any longer. I’ll make early childhood education – including universally available Pre-K – a top priority of my administration. Too often, our children start off behind, and are left playing a losing game of catch-up their entire school careers. That has to change.
Building good schools also means:
- Engaging parents or caregivers as a partner in their kids’ education.
- Engaging the community so that they take ownership of a school’s success.
- Creating schools that are places in which our students feel safe, valued and cared for; where all staff is well trained and well supported.
- Ensuring that there is strong school leadership that empowers educators and holds them accountable for performance – measured the right way.
- Treating educators with respect, and paying them accordingly
None of these ideas are rocket science. Getting them done and implemented is.
FAIR FUNDING FROM THE CITY AND STATE
The school district is in a persistent financial crisis, and under the SRC doesn’t have the ability to dig its way out. Until we solve the crisis, our schools won’t be able to provide the quality education our children deserve.
At the state level, that means a fair funding formula that gives Philadelphia and other high needs districts aid that’s commensurate with the challenges we’re facing. Gov. Wolf campaigned on a pledge to tax shale gas drillers and use the money to fund education; I was the only mayoral candidate to stand with our State Senate delegation and demand that the commonwealth make good on that promise so our children have the shot at success they deserve. The tax reforms in Governor’s first budget are a great start, and I’d look to expand on them in consultation with him going forward. As mayor, I’ll help build an expanded coalition of high needs districts from across the state to lobby and fight for fair funding. If the State won’t pass a funding formula that follows our Commonwealth Constitution, I’ll support the lawsuit filed last fall to compel fair funding.
At the city level, that means fundamental tax reform to produce more revenue more fairly while removing elements of the tax code that negatively impact job growth. “Sin taxes” on cigarettes and liquor sales are useful, but they can’t be the entire answer, while wage taxes, residential property taxes, and certain business taxes provide strong disincentives for companies and individuals to be in Philadelphia. It’s not that our taxes are too high – it’s that they’re on the wrong things and wrong people. If we shift the burden away from struggling small businesses and off of working class and middle class Philadelphians, we’ll raise more money while helping those who need our assistance most.
Tax reform can bring in more money more efficiently and more progressively right now, while helping business out at the same time so that we’re broadening the tax base over the long term. In fact, most businesses would be willing to pay somewhat more if the system made more sense and was significantly simpler. All businesses in the city would face substantially less paperwork as a result of reform, while having the confidence to know that they’re following the law without having to hire expensive accountants or lawyers. By shifting our focus to commercial property taxes and off of onerous wage and business taxes, we eliminate much of the disincentives to locate here. "Nelson Diaz supported my small business, manufacturing unique round dog beds, when we were inappropriately targeted by property tax authorities. For some unknown reason, our luxury dog beds triggered an inappropriate review of our tax status as if we were a commercial property. This created an unsolvable problem for our customers and their pups since no one could even explain how to begin to resolve this issue. We manufacture designer dog beds, not condos. Although we ultimately succeeded in resolving the issue, it would have take years were it not for the help we received." Pete Niquist was also quoted saying, "Nelson really cares about us and the little people who work for a living, even before becoming a candidate."
The potential timeline of reform may be quicker than observers assume. Pennsylvania has a unique – and seemingly previously unused – procedure in our Commonwealth Constitution for an expedited amendment to the Constitution: Article XI, Section 1(B). A 2/3 vote of both houses of the General Assembly would immediately place tax reform on the ballot at the next election; even the cigarette tax, which included a tax increase but not tax relief, nearly cleared that hurdle last year. A package of reform that included significant business-friendly changes to our tax code would be a win-win that appeals to almost every constituency and would have a strong chance of getting support from Harrisburg Republicans. Because this procedure does not appear to have been previously used, it would be a novel legal maneuver, but one that could potentially change the timeline of reform from years to months if we can build consensus. If it eventually proves untenable, we’d pursue reform through the traditional amendment process.
DOING CHARTER SCHOOLS THE RIGHT WAY
The key question we’re facing on charter schools isn’t whether to have them or not – that debate is settled – it’s whether we use them as a supplement to or substitute for traditional public schools. Charter schools were originally intended to be incubators of innovation. We would experiment in them, see what worked better than the old way of doing things, and then apply those lessons to the rest of our schools. Instead, we’ve seen what works, but haven’t used it outside of charter schools.
My position on charters is clear: We need to support high-performing charter schools that work, we need to close low-performing charter schools that don’t work, and we can only have as many spots as we can afford. Expanding charter schools at this time creates winners and losers; some kids win the charter school lottery, and some are stuck in schools that are left without the resources to provide for their most basic educational needs. Our goal has to be to provide a quality education to every single child – not just some of them.
OPPOSE SCHOOL VOUCHERS
Public dollars should only go to public education – not private or parochial schools. Unlike some of the other candidates in this race, I have always opposed school vouchers because they divert money out of the public school system, exacerbate our funding problems, and disproportionately benefit people who don’t need as much help. If you’re a working mom making $10 an hour, you can’t afford a top private school even with a voucher. That money needs to go back into public school classrooms where it belongs.
END POLITICAL CORRUPTION
Let's face it. Corruption exists everywhere money and politics mix. It doesn't have to be an overt bribe or payment of money, goods, or services in exchange for political favors. I want to eliminate not only the temptation but also the perception of pay to play. By now we all know the story recently of the state senator who appeared to be influenced by gifts made to his family. A city contractor gave gold jewelry items - unique zipper chokers - to the senator's wife, and the gifts were accepted. We only know about this because she was innocently questioned about it during a television interview where the female interviewer complimented her on the necklace and asked where she could buy one. The wife then revealed the source of the gift and we all know what happened once that was made public. It's exactly this kind of perception of graft that I want to eliminate because it poisons the environment for all others in public service and raises other questions about acceptable behavior. What other gifts were received and NOT reported? I will fight for honesty and clean government because anything else is really unacceptable.
MAKING COLLEGE MORE ACCESSIBLE AND AFFORDABLE
We should be making it easier for students who do want to go to college to attend. Some states grant automatic admissions and automatic scholarships at state schools to any state residents who maintain a certain GPA and stays out of trouble. These programs have increased enrollment among disadvantaged groups. I would work with the Governor and philanthropic groups across the state to make a similar program a reality in Pennsylvania.
Develop Inclusive, Affordable, and Livable Communities
"I grew up in poverty in public housing, got out because I got an education, and have spent my life fighting to make sure the next generation of inner city kids can get into the middle class, too. We’re in this together, and every Philadelphian needs to live in a world-class neighborhood.”
We can’t survive as a city if success and growth are concentrated in only a couple small pockets while the rest of the city falls further behind. Each one of our neighborhoods should be able to share in the prosperity of Center City, in the development of the Navy Yard, and in the culture of our Arts District. Every child in our city deserves the chance to build a better life for him or herself regardless of where they grow up, and it’s heartbreaking to see how many never even get the chance. Building a City of Opportunity means making our neighborhoods more inclusive, more affordable, and more livable.
EXPANDING HIGH-QUALITY, AFFORDABLE HOUSING
As General Counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, I worked to integrate affordable housing developments into the cities they were located in. I pioneered new ways of funding public housing and partnered with private-developers to create billions of dollars in new investment in mixed-use, mixed-income public housing. The goal was to create communities that didn’t look like traditional high rise public housing projects, weren’t outrageously dense, weren’t stuck in undesirable or unsafe areas, and brought people of all income levels into one community.
That’s the approach Philadelphia needs today. Being a City of Opportunity means being a city where people of all income levels can live in safe neighborhoods with the kinds of basic amenities everyone is entitled to. We’ve lost 7,000 units of affordable housing, and have a 7-year backlog to get into PHA today. The situation is so desperate that PHA isn’t even adding more people to the waiting list. That’s not acceptable. I’ll fight for and pass inclusionary zoning – a requirement that at least 20% of new apartments in housing developments are affordable, with preferences given to current residents of the neighborhood in which the development is located.
I would also look to make public investments in vacant lots, and create an expedited process by which the city could seize abandoned property and redevelop it as either affordable housing or green space. We have the resources and institutions already in place to tackle this problem, but just have to aggressively employ them. The Land Bank should partner with PIDC and local Community Development Corporations in this process. There is an especially large amount of vacant property in North Philadelphia that could be used for this purpose. Instead of blighting the surrounding community, these vacant lots and abandoned properties can make our communities more vibrant.
It’s also important that we preserve and improve our existing housing stock. This isn’t theory to me: I lived it. When I was growing up, I lived in a mold- and rat-infested tenement and developed asthma as a result. Once I moved into a clean apartment when I was ten years old, my asthma went away. Residents deserve clean, safe apartments, and I’ll make significant investments in rehabilitating and renovating existing housing.
I’m a strong believer that homeownership is generally good for a community. That’s one reason I was so distressed by the property tax reform plan passed by the City Council several years ago. The Actual Value Initiative is driving long-time residents, especially those on a fixed income or those in gentrifying neighborhoods, out of their homes. Elected officials have been too willing to accept and champion dubious quick fixes rather than doing the hard work of long-term, sustainable, progressive tax reform; the outcry over AVI is partly a result of that pattern where our politicians let a problem become a crisis. We should consider new policies to reduce the property tax burden specifically for Senior Citizens and those on fixed incomes, so that they are not forced to move out as their communities transition and their homes appreciate in value, via an expanded “homestead” program like the one included in Governor Wolf’s budget. At the same time, we’ll shift the property tax burden off of residential properties and onto commercial properties so that we stop balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class.
It’s heartbreaking to know that so many children in our city go to bed hungry every night or can’t eat a nutritious breakfast before going to school. We need to make addressing hunger issues a top priority, starting by better marshaling our resources and partnering with outside groups to support policies and programs that help make our communities healthier. This should initiatives like expanded urban agriculture and community gardens and food co-ops as part of the vacant lot revitalization plan described above, using locally sourced fresh food whenever possible, and partnerships with hospitals and health care providers to take advantage of the tax code to cheaply provide quality food to at-risk communities.
ENCOURAGING TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES
Making our city more pedestrian, bike, and mass transit friendly would pay huge dividends immediately and over the long term. Prioritizing 21st century transit options would make the city more attractive to young families and seniors, and help reduce our carbon footprint. That’s why I’ll fight to restore the Mayor’s traditional control over major changes to the transportation network so that we’re always putting the city as a whole first, work with PennDOT to improve state-owned roads, look for ways to add protected bike lanes or separated bus lanes where appropriate and where demand is high, and improve protection for pedestrians citywide. I’ll also look for other innovative, less dramatic ways to improve our streetscape – things like community parklets and expanded green space that would make walking or biking more attractive.
In addition, I’ll take advantage of the assets we already have by prioritizing investments that connect neighborhoods to our existing network of bike and pedestrian trails. Creating these connections will be especially important as part of the rollout and long term growth of the Philadelphia Bike Share Program, to ensure that transit alternatives are an option in every community, not just some of them.
PRIORITIZING COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Throughout my career, I’ve been deeply involved in community economic development across the City. I’ve worked with local leaders on economic development plans – committing the City to provide staff with access to banks and public monies and connecting them with Community Development Corporations. By bringing jobs and activity to neighborhoods, will create thriving, vibrant communities. That’s what I helped do in places like El Bloque de Oro, the 52nd Street corridor, and the Germantown and Chelten Avenue business district, and it’s what I’ll do throughout Philadelphia as Mayor.
One of the best things we can do for our communities is also to clean them up. Philadelphia has an unacceptably high number of vacant or abandoned properties around the city, many of which are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods. Nobody wants to live or locate a business next to a burned out house or vacant lot that’s been turned into a dump. Addressing our vacant properties, and supporting programs like the Storefront Improvement Program, will significantly improve the vitality of local business districts.
CREATING A 24/7 CITY
Parts of Philadelphia should be open and accessible 24/7. We close down early, costing us business and tax revenue. We should be staying open later. In many communities, a 24-hour city is not appropriate, which is why I’d allow targeted business development districts to allow bars, restaurants, and other attractions to stay open later.