If City Council has an ambassador, it’s Councilman David Oh, who has made it his mission to make sure Philadelphia has a place on the global stage.
Becoming an international city takes a lot of local work.
“What as city are we doing? What we’re going is pretty lacking,” Oh said. “But, I’m optimistic because I think the first thing we do is recognize here’s what we need to do to improve.”
Oh, one of seven at-large Council members and a Republican, has become the international face of City Council. He chairs a newly formed committee — the Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy — that deals with “all matters related to making Philadelphia a world class city and international destination for international persons and entities.”
The committee was created in January — almost specifically for Oh — who ran on a platform of making the city more internationally competitive.
It will hold hearings on increasing Philadelphia’s global competitiveness in September.
“It’s to give us the opportunity to ask, ‘What are the priorities of change?” he said. “There is good and bad, and there will be some tough questions about what we’re not doing.”
Oh cites the creation of the global opportunity committee as an example of a concerted effort to raise the city’s global profile. The debate over the expansion of the airport, dredging the Delaware River, school reform and crime are all part of the effort to make Philadelphia more a global hotspot.
None of it will be easy.
The dredging debate has been going on for years. Discussions over expansion of the airport — lengthening runways and providing room for more are just heating up. School reform has been a hot topic for more than decade. Violent crime is again on the rise.
Solving all of them will take money. With budgets squeezed at the local, state and federal level, it’s difficult to anticipate where that money might come from.
Oh said he doesn’t have the answer to that question, but feels sure that Council — under new leadership and with six new members — will begin to tackle the difficult questions.
“At some point we have to do the heavy lifting,” he said.
In addition to dealing with larger questions, Oh is spearheading a more personal outreach effort.
On the Wednesday he spoke to the Tribune, he was meeting with a distributor of foreign movies who currently does business out of New Mexico, but is considering a move to Philadelphia.
One of the six new members on Council, Oh’s perspective has changed slightly since he’s taken his seat.
He was relatively quiet during the budget process. But, it was an eye-opener for him.
“I get the information that I need – from my perspective the budget is understandable based on what’s on paper,” he said.
This year’s budget was marked by sometimes heated debate over the Actual Value Initiative — a shift in the way property taxes are collected, moving from fractional values to full market values — in Council chambers and months of behind the scenes maneuvering. But, Oh said it wasn’t as dramatic as it’s been portrayed.
“I didn’t see it as a bruising process,” he said.
Over the course of the debate, he learned that Council has less say in spending that he thought and compromise is need to get anything done.
“It’s very important to understand what other Council people are thinking,” he said. “It’s important for me to understand where they’re having difficulty, and what they feel strongly about — what they’re willing to do. We are not to get exactly what we want.”
It is a reality that is both good and bad going forward.
“If we put the public interest first, we are, none of us, going get exactly what we like, but can we put forward the best possible scenario?”
He’s confident Council can and will.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “Ultimately, I think we work well together.”