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Who is Doug Oliver? The relatively unknown mayoral hopeful with nothing to lose talks schools

Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Doug Oliver wants Philadelphians to face harsh facts and make tough choices when it comes to education spending.

Having just stepped down from his post as senior vice president of marketing and corporate communication for Philadelphia Gas Works to run for mayor, Oliver speaks like a man with nothing to lose.

In a message that’s sure to rankle education advocates, Oliver seems willing put the "make Harrisburg pay" mantra in the backseat.

Like the rest of the candidates, Oliver says that state government needs to provide more funding for Philadelphia public schools.

"The pie is not big enough," he said, and "a funding formula needs to be implemented."

But Oliver takes a much sharper tone when discussing the realities of bringing more resources to Philadelphia classrooms.

"We’ve gone to Harrisburg again and again and again, and we’ve demanded and we’ve demanded and we’ve demanded," he said. "The challenge with what we’ve done to this point – not that it’s wrong; it’s not wrong – is that it’s been ineffective."

Oliver, a Democrat, has yet to formally announce his candidacy, which he says he’ll most likely do in early February.

Before his PGW gig, Oliver served as Mayor Nutter’s press secretary from January 2008 to September 2010.

The other announced candidates at this point are all Democrats: State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, former State Sen. T. Milton Street – brother of former Mayor John Street – and former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz.

The primary will be May 19.

On education funding, Oliver says Harrisburg has "reached down into its pocket and pulled out zeros, and everybody got mad at Gov. Corbett and x,y, and z, and we didn’t get what we needed and schools are feeling the pinch."

Many state legislators would object to that characterization, citing the passage of two recent pieces of authorizing legislation: one that allowed Philadelphia to raise its tax on cigarettes and another that allowed the city to make permanent its 1 percent sales tax extension.

Neither directed more state funding to city schools, but simply allowed Philadelphians to tax themselves.

With a state legislature that grew more Republican in the last election, Oliver thinks it’s foolish to expect Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, to be Philadelphia’s funding rainmaker.

Oliver offered an analogy in which as he goes to work for PGW everyday, but week by week does not receive a paycheck. And week by week, his son comes to him hungry, begging for food.

"And at the end of the month he’s famished. He’s about to fall over dead. He hasn’t eaten a thing and he’s like, ‘Dad, please, I’m hungry.’ And I start jumping up and down, saying, ‘PGW, Pay me now! Pay me now! Pay me now!’" he said.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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