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April 18, 2015

Philly, here's your chance to 'fall for' a mayoral candidate

PhillyVoice uses a dating experiment to get mayoral hopefuls to open up

Politics Mayoral Race
04102015_candidatelove5 Illustration/PhillyVoice


Philadelphia will elect its next mayor this year, a decision that will greatly impact the direction of the city.

But will Philadelphians fall for any of the seven candidates in a field that has been called uninspiringboring and a snooze-fest?

PhillyVoice sought to find out in an unorthodox way, and have some fun at the same time. Inspired by a New York Times article that went viral earlier this year, we recreated a "dating" experiment first conducted by psychologist Arthur Aron.

Aron, if you haven’t heard, succeeded in making two strangers fall in love through a laboratory exercise. He had the couple answer a series of 36 questions that gradually grew more intimate. Then, he had them stare into one another’s eyes for four minutes.

New York Times writer tested the experiment, penning an article that drew 8 million page views, influenced several dating apps and inspired an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” 

So, PhillyVoice decided to give it a go with the mayoral candidates, offering each an opportunity to complete an abbreviated, face-to-face exercise. We selected 10 questions from the list, but did not reveal those questions until sitting down with them, an attempt to keep the exercise as spontaneous as possible.

Four candidates accepted — Democrats Lynne Abraham, Nelson Diaz and Doug Oliver, and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey. Three others – Jim Kenney, Anthony Williams and Milton Street – ultimately stood us up, though PhillyVoice initially received commitments from them.

The goal was to humanize the candidates, steering them away from the rehearsed answers given to the issues on the campaign trail. We sought to provide readers — and voters — a glimpse of the actual person running for office. 

Here’s how the four candidates answered each of our questions. (Some responses have been edited for length.) 


Mayoral candidate Doug Oliver says a perfect day involves sunshine. (Thom Carroll /

PhillyVoice: What would constitute a perfect day for you?

Lynne Abraham: A perfect day would be sleeping in until 8 o’clock, having a great breakfast of sunny-side up eggs and bacon or sausage, some nice toast and butter and jam. And then getting out and meeting my (late) husband some place for a walk in the park, maybe going to a good movie or some theater. Coming home in the late afternoon after enjoying each other’s company. Getting dinner prepared, sitting down and reading a newspaper, listening to some great jazz. And then talking – talking, talking, talking. And then chill out and go to sleep. That would be a perfect day for me.

Doug Oliver: Believe it or not, sunshine first thing in the morning. It sets my mood. I don’t have to fight through my morning when the sun is there. It's a natural start for me. ... If it’s a perfect morning, I’d be sleeping in until at least 7. If it’s a Saturday, you can go ahead and give me 8. I’ve got a personal alarm that wakes me up. I can’t sleep past 8. But sunny, preferably warm.

Nelson Diaz: That I’ve won the election. That’s a perfect day.

Melissa Murray Bailey: I’m from New Jersey, as everyone knows right now. So, most of my family is in Ocean City, N.J. We spend a lot of time down there with my parents in the summer. Waking up in the summer, beautiful sunny day and going up on the boardwalk and running with my husband and my daughter in the stroller. It’s not really running because we’re running and my grandparents are at the coffee shop [and] we’ll stop and talk to them. My dad is running the other way with my mom and we’ll stop and talk. Then we’ll see my uncle. Then we come back to my parents' house and my niece and nephew are there. I have three sisters. So just that relaxation in the summer in the sun, is really the ideal.

PV: When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

LA: I sing and whistle to myself every day. I’m a big whistler. It’s unconscious to me. I don’t sing mostly out on the street, because I’d look like I’m talking to myself. But whistling, all the time. And singing when I hear something on my car radio or on my home radio, which I listen to, and it’s something I know. I really like to sing along.

When my husband was alive, when he was there, if a good song came along – something he would be familiar with as opposed to what I would be familiar with – I would sing along because I knew all the words of the old songs that he used to love when he was a young man. Also, the contemporary songs like ‘Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.’ So, it didn’t make any difference. Whatever it was. Or show music – he loved show music, so I sang all the time.

DO: I sing to myself in the mornings with my headset on my walk from my house to Fern Rock (Station). So I need to play my "get hyped" music. It’s really the only time that I have alone. ... So if I want to sing, that’s what I’m going to do. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I’m weird. I wonder what other people do to get themselves ready for their day. Singing to myself, reciting lyrics to Eminem’s “Eight Mile,” “Lose Yourself,” — that’s one that I constantly recite on my way to the train station. The lyrics in that song are so motivating for me. ... This may be the only opportunity that you got. That is how I feel every single time.

I sing to other people if they happen to hear me. I don’t do it on purpose. I think the last time I did it — I don’t know the last time I did it. I was in Mexico once and drunk and joined a Mariachi band. They would go around after everybody got drunk and they would serenade people from their windows. But, yeah, that was a long time ago. That was a very long time ago.

ND: I sing to myself a lot because I love gospel music. I put the local gospel station on. In the car, or if I’ve got my earphones on, I’ll sing along to the gospel music. Gospel is my favorite kind of music. It’s also inspirational, so it gets you through the day. To someone else? Yeah, my wife. I used to sing because she became sort of a dream to me. There was a song when I was growing up, which was "Once Upon A Time." I used to sing to her all the time. Then, once the reality came through – she was my wife – I don’t sing it as frequently, since the "Once Upon A Time" sort of happened. It’s a very, very old doo-wop song from the '60s. She’s always wondering why don’t I keep singing it to her anymore. I say, "You’re the reality now." "Once Upon A Time" happened.

MMB: Pretty much anytime I’m in the car. I cannot pass up singing along to a great song. Bon Jovi comes on the radio – forget it. I was driving down Cottman Avenue a couple of days ago. I was just jamming out. Then I looked over to the side of me and I saw one of the ward leaders up in the northeast. He was just dying, laughing at me. But I wouldn’t give that up for anything – rolling down the windows, belting out at the top of my lungs. And to somebody else? Well, I have a four-year-old daughter. Every single night I sing to her. It’s part of our nightly ritual.

PV: Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

LA: Actually, I’ll tell you something. … First of all, I don’t really think about death at all. However, I think everybody wants a good death in the sense that we all are born, we all know that we’re going to die. If we’re going to go, we don’t want to be in intractable pain or not knowing who you are or where you are. Just being able to wrap things up in a nice little circle, if it were possible. 

To say everything that you needed to say and so that when you know you’re sort of going toward the end you can say, ‘Well, I said everything I needed to say and I pretty much did everything that I set out to do, but never quite did it.’ Because if you’ve set your agenda in such a way that you’ve done everything you’ve set out to do, you’ve set a very narrow and a very short agenda. So I always want things that I haven’t accomplished, that I’ve left open, to be unfulfilled. I think that way you set very long and very ambitious goals or agenda system.

DO: No. I never thought about it. I don’t know how it will be. My hope is that it’s quick. If it’s violent, then let it be quick. If it’s peaceful, let it be quick. I don’t want to be seeing it before it comes. Let it be something unexpected. I’ve always wished and prayed that it’s not drowning or burning. Those are two things that don’t just seem like they could happen quick. The three major losses in my life – one was sudden. A young lady I was engaged to back in 2000 (died at) Pier 34 down on Delaware Avenue. She went down there to have a good time and party and the pier collapsed. It hit her in the head. She was knocked unconscious. ... I can look back now and I’m just glad (she didn't drown). I don’t want to imagine somebody trying to fight for their life in the water. I just don’t want to think about it.

But the other two — my grandmother and her older sister — both passed away well into their 90s. For both of them, they were peaceful.

ND: I assume that a lot of it will be in service. I don’t believe in retirement. For 45 years, I’ve been doing service to others. I would think it would be in service to someone or exerting myself too much or doing too much in terms of public service as a civic individual. The other way is if I went to my dream, which is to be a baseball player, going to one of those dream camps and pulling a muscle or hurting my heart while I’m playing. That’s another one — those winter camps that the pro teams run. Those are the only two ways that I think I would overly exert myself and kill myself.

MMB: I don’t. I really think that’s in God’s hands. There’s a lot of other things that I’m worried about and have to be thinking about. But that’s not one of them.

PV: If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? 

LA: If it were possible to recreate a period of time, I would hope that my mother would be better. She was ill. Her being ill was a tremendous, impactful experience that I went through as a child and as a young adult. That’s the one thing that I would change – to make her well, if I could do it. Not for me, so much, but for her.

DO: I wouldn’t have minded having a little bit more financial resources, a little bit more money. There are lots of things that I wanted to do as a kid that we just didn’t have the ability to do. Traveling just wasn’t in the itinerary. Being fashionable just wasn’t there. Mind you, some of these things taught (me) valuable life lessons that if I changed it, something would probably be different about me and my personality today. But at Christmastime I always wanted a bike, but it just wasn’t coming. 

I’d like (to know) my dad. I never knew and never met him — and never really cared to. Because as a kid, all you know is what you know. I didn’t have my dad, but then neither did many of my friends. ... But if I could go back, I would like a dad. I had an uncle who kind of filled in, but he wasn’t my dad. He was my cousin’s dad. So he gave me the discipline and he gave me the guidance, which is really what you count on your dad for. But I wanted a dad. If I could go back, I would choose that. 

ND: The poverty was tough and the lack of knowledge of what was available in terms of education for me. I had a scholarship to Wharton that I turned down. I wish I had taken the scholarship. It would have made life a little easier financially during a period of time when I had three children.

I think those things would have been very different in my life. I never thought I was going to be a lawyer. Philadelphia has been very good to me. The legal profession has been exciting and challenging for my ability to work on issues that I probably would have never worked on. 

But I would say the tough times were until I was 10 years old — the lack of understanding the language, the lack of having an ability to have a stronger body. Before 10, I would get bullied. Once I became stronger, that was the last time it ever happened. I learned from that experience. Those are sort of the main events in my life.

MMB: I really don’t think anything. I love my family. I didn’t always love how I was being raised at the time, but it turned me into who I am. I wouldn’t change who I am. Although, at the time, I might not have agreed with everything, but I’m following in my parents’ footsteps right now. So I think that’s the best compliment – when you’re replicating what somebody else did.


Nelson Diaz says he wishes he could be the commissioner of Major League Baseball so he could attend any game of his choosing. (Thom Carroll /

PV: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

LA: A little more patience. I think we all have to have a little more patience. I think that’s a quality that I’ve tried to hone, but in this kind of business – as you know – everything is do it right away. There’s no time for being patient with others. Everything has to be done today, so you’re impatient to get it done. You’re impatient with other people. So, you have to be a little more patient.

DO: There’s a couple. I always wanted to go back to school again to get a J.D. (Juris Doctor degree). I like the linear and logical thinking of attorneys – especially good ones. I always wished I had that skill set. ... On a more practical level, I’d be a mechanic. I’d want to fix my car myself. Then I can move my projects through faster. My heart won’t drop every time I see a check engine light come on. If my transmission goes, I might not like buying a transmission, but I don’t have to worry about labor costs.

ND: Yeah, I would have wanted to play Major League Baseball. That would have been a lot of fun. I always tell Judge (Michael) Stiles, who was my colleague in the Court of Common Pleas, he had a dream job when he left the U.S. Attorneys Office, which is to be (an executive for) the Phillies. If anything, I would love to be the commissioner of Major League Baseball so that I could attend any game that I wanted to attend. I’d go to all the ballparks and have a chance to see the great ones instead of just watching on TV. That would have been a dream time – baseball.

MMB: To be able to operate on four hours of sleep or less. There are so many things to do in the day that I just really need more time. So, either to be able to operate on less sleep or be able to do things more efficiently. Some kind of combination of the two of those.


Mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham demonstrates how, as a young girl, she held her hand above her head to hold hands with her father. (Thom Carroll /

PV: What is your most treasured memory?

LA: I don’t have a most treasured memory. If you only have one treasured memory, your life must be pretty thin. I have a whole series of treasured memories. Holding my father’s hand was one of the sweetest, nicest memories. As a young girl, walking down the street and holding my daddy’s hand and I’m reaching way above my head to hold his hand. That’s a very sweet memory.

Having my first ice cream. Smelling bread baking in a bakery. We lived in a working-class neighborhood. There was a bakery on the corner. Oh my god, we would wake up and smell freshly baked bread. It was like the most delicious thing.

DO:  I would say my mom and I — she kicked me out of the car. I must have been 8. I was a bit of a momma’s boy, perhaps. She told me to get out of the car and walk down the street. ... I just remember not wanting to get out of the car, not wanting to do anything without my mom right there. She was like, "Get out of the car, walk down South Street until you get to Third. I’m going to drive down, go over and I’ll come back and meet you at Third Street."

But she wanted me to just walk down the street and it was the scariest thing ever. Just because I was by myself for that three-block stretch. I just couldn’t wait to get to Third Street. There was no doubt in my mind that my mom was going to be there. I was more concerned — was I going to be there? There was all these people and no one bothered me. The truth is, by the time I got down to Third Street, I was free and clear. I could walk anywhere in the neighborhood that I wanted. ... My mom got me comfortable with that kind of stuff by sort of dropping me from the nest and letting me figure things out on my own — but always being there to catch me.

ND: I think Leroy Otis, who managed me for seven years playing baseball and softball. His idea of baseball was just to get your bat on the ball. Somebody is going to make a mistake. Somebody is going to make an error. It’s important to just get it. Don’t fear. Don’t be afraid to swing. Don’t hold it up. You’re not going to walk all the time. It was good if you get your bat on the ball. Most of the time somebody makes a mistake or you get a hit — especially when you’re young. You’ve got kids who are real amateurs at the game.

Winning the league almost every year was also a treasure. The joy of winning was exciting. All of the trophies you could bring home. Playing in different venues and different communities was enlightening, the quality of parks when you went from one baseball game to another. ... It was Leroy Otis who just kept a lot of kids off of the streets by playing baseball, basketball, sports — and (as) a guy who wasn’t employed by anybody. He just did it on his own. That was probably the best memories of my life.

MMB: I think it would probably be about 16 years ago – the first conversation I had with my [future] husband. We had mutual groups of friends. We were out together and we were walking back to our individual dorm rooms. We started talking and we sat outside in front of a bike shop in College Park, Md. and just talked the entire night. A really good memory.

PV: How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

LA: My relationship with her was good, except that she was ill. She really couldn’t be the kind of mother that I think she really wanted to be, because her illness prevented her from being that. But my relationship with her was really good. My relationship with my father was closer than my mother, because my mother was frequently absent and incapable of that. But I share the best qualities I think of both of them. 

I am truly fortunate to have had both a mother and a father who loved me and my sister — and who cared for us even though we really had nothing in material goods. We had absolutely nothing. We lived in a rented home. My father was employed on Dock Street — that was the old food market in Philadelphia — making a very small wage. We were just impoverished people. We were broke, but we were never poor.

DO: She was mom and dad. I don’t know how she did the things she did with me. It was just two of us — me and my younger brother. He’s 10 years younger, so he’s 31. I don’t know how she did it. 

I remember her telling me once that her biggest dream for me was if she would see me at the age of 21 and that she wanted me to make $50,000 a year. When she said that, I was a child. So, in my mind, it was like, how do I get to 50? That was just always the goal. I never thought, should it be higher? I never wondered why. I just knew if I could get to 50, that means I’ve done so much better than my mom ever did. That just became the goal – 21 and 50 grand. That was it. 

Even on the day when I first hit $50,000 annual salary – probably much later in my life than I’m willing to admit – but I remember feeling a sense of pride. I did it and I couldn’t wait to tell my mom, "Hey, by the way, you’re paid off."

ND: It’s good. She spied on me all the time (and) would make sure that I got home at night — using my own baseball bat to get me home. She would plead with me in terms of my behavior. She was a strong disciplinarian. I was her boy and nobody else’s. There was no one else that had any authority over me. She taught me a heckuva lot of discipline. She was a very religious woman who constantly prayed for me. It gives you assurance that someone is listening to her, to be protective of me. 

And she struggled. She struggled mightily with the finances of trying to maintain a household and doing everything she could to bring extra income to the house, whether it was caring for children, sewing or working outside the house.

MMB: It’s really been evolving over time. When I was a teenager, we had mutual respect but maybe a little bit of disagreement. As I’ve grown older, we’ve only grown closer. I really look to her for advice, especially as I think about raising a daughter. It’s such a hard thing – raising a child. My mom raised four girls – not an easy feat. But she’s still so generous with her time and loving and giving back to the community. All things that I want for myself and my family. 


Mayoral hopeful Melissa Murray Bailey says her most treasured memory is the first conversation she had with her husband. (Thom Carroll /

PV: Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … ?”

LA: A great meal with wonderful conversation. That, to me, is really treasured. (What kind of meal, we asked.) I think that simpler food is the best. It’s not really the food that’s important but the fact that you’re having a good meal that’s sufficient in quality and quantity, that’s not too fancied up with flowers and micro greens that somebody put on with a little tweezer. But meatloaf and mashed potatoes works pretty good for me — with some stewed tomatoes on top.

DO: Dreams in their infancy. My pastor once said that the eagle can’t share his dreams with pigeons. And it’s not because they’re not both birds. But they have a different perspective on life. You have to be careful when presenting your ideas to people before they’re fully flushed out. Because people will look at them and say, "That’s dumb. You didn’t think about this."

So, I wish that I had someone with whom I could share an undeveloped thought in a safe environment, where it doesn’t get chopped up just because it’s not thoroughly vetted. Because that’s where ideas begin. I’m sure long before the iPhone got here, somebody was thinking ... wouldn’t it be cool if you could put your music, your phone contacts and your apps and everything you wanted to do ... all on your phone. And someone was like, "Get out of here. Beat it." That’s the wrong room. I want the guy who got kicked out of that room. I’d like to talk to him about anything.

ND: Somebody that would have given me better advice as I was growing up in regard to the needs that I had. My parents, (with) a very limited education, couldn’t provide enough assistance for me and didn’t understand what the issues were in my life and the problems in education for me. They didn’t understand the fact that I was monolingual was part of my problem or that my behavior had to do a lot with not being able to understand what was going on in school. Or that my illness (asthma) didn’t give me enough of a stamina to be able to pay attention. They didn’t understand. They assumed that the teachers were the parents and the teachers knew how to do it better.

MMB: Maybe listening to country music. It’s one of the only things that my husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye on. When we started living together I had to curtail a little bit how much I could really be rocking out to country music.

PV: When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

LA: Probably when my husband died. That is the last time that I can remember crying in front of another person. There have been times where I’ve heard of such horrible news – terrible war injuries, people being blown up or have their throats cut for some ideology. Sometimes, even, I get sort of moved to tears when I think of a group of people who are destroying the history of the world that was in their own country. Their whole patrimony, their whole history, they think it’s idolatry. It’s historic.

By myself, I’ve rarely cried-cried. Just got emotional and started to cry – I’m not that way. There are just certain things that strike me. Sometimes even when I see the American flag at the Arlington Cemetery, where I’ve been. I’ll tell you where I cried in a similar circumstance – when I went to the American cemetery in Pointe du Hoc in France and saw the D-Day cemetery. I looked at all those crosses, row after row after row, and I started to cry at the human price we pay for war. It’s astounding. 

DO: About two weeks ago. ... I needed to let out frustration. I’ve always, in my adult life, been in very forward-facing, always-on types of positions where you never really fully get to have your own opinion, because you’re representing someone else’s. That can be tremendously frustrating. When you add on top of that the machismo that just comes along with being a guy — you’re never supposed to cry — and then you add on just the weight of being African-American and a lot of the challenges that you see in your own communities, you can’t hold all of that in all of the time. And so it’s not so much that something happens and it makes me cry. But sometimes I will go ahead and consciously decide that it is OK now for you to let this go.

Actually, I can tell you the exact last time I cried, because it’s not usually (that) something happens and then I cry. But in this instance, I was watching “Selma,” and I cried like a baby when they were crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It wasn’t that I didn’t hear the story a thousand times — and this is my fault, it’s the educational system’s fault, I’ll even blame my momma for this — nobody told me that it took three times to get across the bridge. It was always just the victory lap when they crossed the bridge and what they achieved by it. But for me, the journey is where the message was.

ND: I cry all the time. I cried about how I got into this race. I was watching a game and thinking about the fact that if I wanted to fix the situation, I would have to give up all that I was doing and not live like everybody else — just take my vacations when I wanted to, take my money and travel. Making those choices sometimes are very, very difficult. But it was tough making it. It was tough going through the process. ... And then whether or not I continue to be a good and faithful servant. That is what motivates me about making sure that I don’t just think about myself, but think about how we can make this world a better place. That’s what I’ve done all my life. I’m a little sentimental about that. 

When I go to a school and I see a bunch of kids that I know are not going to make it, it destroys you. We had a couple of murders in North Philadelphia. One 22-year-old kid who was at community college taught kids how to play tennis. To see a life wasted that way, for no reason, somebody shoots him just because they wanted to — those things are painful.

I’m not ashamed of crying, but it’s a lot easier to do it alone.

MMB: Well, most recently, is when I was being interviewed by the Daily News. That’s public information now. But the time before that was when I was telling my team at the company that I work for that this is something I was going to do. I got really choked up because we’ve been through a great journey together. I would never want them to feel like I’m letting them down or abandoning them. But this is also something that is really important to me. I don’t know if I was full-on crying, but I definitely got tears in my eyes. And by yourself? Fortunately, I don’t have to cry to myself all that often because I have such a supportive husband that, if I’m crying, it’s usually with him supporting.

PV: Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make one final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

LA: I wouldn’t choose anything and I’ll tell you why. I did have pets all my life until just recently. My family and my pets are the most, single important thing. Everything else is replaceable by buying new, except the memories. Now, you just have to keep that in your brain.

The two most important things to me are family, first and foremost, and pets. Things you can always buy and get more of. There’s never any end to things. There’s never any end to man’s desire to own things. You just say, ‘Oh, great, when I rebuild my house I can fill it up with new things.’ It doesn’t mean anything. That’s why I wouldn’t go back into the fire for anything. Everything most precious to me is already out.

DO: I would try and grab my computer. There’s just a few too many pictures in there. I wouldn’t want to lose that. And, if not that, a photo album. I would want the things that can’t be replaced.

The only reason I think of those things is when I was 8, something similar happened. It wasn’t a fire, but it was a thief, who came in and took everything. The only thing that I regret that was taken — there was a little fire box that my mom had. It looked like a safe, but it wasn’t. It was just a fire box. There was an honest man’s lock on it, but, presumably, it had a lock, so there must be something valuable in there. They didn’t try to figure it out, they just took it. The only thing that was in there was a picture of my dad. Now, the very thing that probably — in this day and age — that would have allowed me to find him, was taken at age 8. Insurance isn’t going to cover that. There’s no way to duplicate that. So, pictures, either digital or hard copy. I’d go back in to save pictures.

ND: That happened to me in a car, by the way. I bought a new Chrysler car. My daughter and I were in the car and we’re coming off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There was a gas station on the side. I was going to go to the gas station and I said, "Nah, let me just go home." It was 5 o’clock in the morning. So I go home and the car starts going on fire.

My daughter is there, so I take my daughter out. I say, "Oh man, I better get my bag — all of my notes and my briefcase is in there." I went back to pull out my briefcase. Everybody thought I was nuts — the heck with the briefcase. But I got the briefcase out. 

I think my briefcase is what I carry all of many emergency (belongings) — my glasses, my notes, my checkbook. The briefcase tends to be a little blanket security for me. I guess I would run out and get the briefcase, more than anything else, just to be able to know what I got to do next. It happened to me. I can tell you what I took out. 

The car was a new car — 1,600 miles on it. It totally burnt up. I think I was a judge by that time, so I had to call City Hall — "I’m not going to be in this morning."

MMB: Kind of boiling down everything that you have into one thing is kind of hard. But we have a waterproof gallon bag that has all of our really important documents in it – birth certificates, passports, everything like that. It would probably be really devastating. Dealing with the government is hard enough as it is. I would love to have everything that makes that stuff a little bit easier.