He never voted until he was 30, former City Councilman David Oh tells me, sheepishly, as he sits for an interview in Chinatown’s EMei restaurant.
Voting wasn’t a thing in Southwest Philadelphia where he grew up, he says, adding that he was intimidated by the voting procedures. His family still lives in the same house, bought in 1963 by his parents, immigrants from South Korea.
Oh first registered as an independent, having found things in the history of both major parties he liked, but later was seduced by the memory of Abraham Lincoln into the Republican ranks, where he is a centrist.
Voting is on his mind right now, because he recently resigned his seat on Council after three terms to announce his candidacy for mayor, as a Republican.
In Philadelphia, that’s like volunteering to slam a car door on your hand. (I was going to use the metaphor of a kamikaze mission, but Oh is Korean, not Japanese, and Japanese treatment of Koreans during World War II remains listed in the journal of the shameful. I will instead use the metaphor of David versus Goliath.)
After almost 70 years of Republican dominance, Democrats captured City Hall in 1951 (Joe Clark) and have enjoyed a stranglehold on the mayor’s office ever since.
In 1999, Republican Sam Katz came thisclose to an upset: He got 203,905 votes, or 49.12%, to John Street’s 211,136, or 49.52%. In a rematch four years later against incumbent Street, Katz collapsed, probably because the discovery of FBI bugs in the mayor’s office created Democratic “rally ‘round the flag” support for Street.
In a city with a 7-1 Democratic enrollment edge, the numbers say Oh’s chances of winning are hair strand slim. But this 5-foot-6 David picks up his slingshot and says he doesn’t see it that way.
His chances of winning are “good,” he says, regardless of who gets the Democratic nomination, but his chances improve against certain opponents.
As I expected, he brushes aside my question about who he would most like to run against, but over the interview that lasted more than an hour and a half, he said he would do best against a candidate that is least like himself. He later said Helen Gym is the “most different” candidate of all Dems running. That’s an understatement.
I connect the dots and conclude he would love to run against Gym, which would be historic. During an interview on Dom Giordano’s radio show Oh said he expects to get financial and other support from centrist Democrats and independents if Gym is the candidate because she is way too woke for them.
He tells me has a number in mind, a number of votes, and that if he can hit that, he will win.
He won’t tell me that number.
But I can do math. The third time he was elected to council, in 2019, Oh received 53,742 votes.
In the mayoral election that year, Jim Kenney got 213,390 votes. That’s a deficit of 159,648 votes, Kenney to Oh. In that same year, Gym was reelected to Council with 205,661 votes.
Should Oh and Gym get the nomination, it would result in Philadelphia’s first Asian mayor, and in the case of Gym, a woman. Not to mention a dyspeptic female woke ideologue.
Some say Oh quit Council after winning three elections because he feared losing next time to the Working Families Party, which beat his fellow At-Large Republican Council member Al Taubenberger last time.
No, no, says the 62-year-old Oh. He has polling that shows he is more popular than Kendra Brooks, who took Taubenberger’s seat.
He is running, he says, because he had done all he could on Council as a minority member. And that was little, because of politics.
Democrats would “vote against me, even on things they say they are for,” he says without rancor.
By profession, he is a trial lawyer. As mayor, he believes he can get things done, starting with enforcing the law. He sees public safety as his #1 issue, and his primary support coming from small business owners, immigrant communities, and veterans.
Ah, veterans. One thing he accomplished (as the only veteran on Council) was getting a veterans employment tax credit passed.
His military service created the only blemish on his career. In 2011, he was accused of enhancing his military credentials by wrongly claiming to be a Green Beret.
He apologized then, but now says, “The press has the power of the pen. You cannot explain things to an unwilling press.”
That’s all he has to say on that subject, preferring to offer political endorsements from actual Green Berets.
His message is clear: If I am good enough for them, I ought to be good enough for you.
I was one of those with the pen back then, criticizing Oh for overreaching. I stand by my opinion then, but it’s been more than a decade. There should be a statute of limitations on mistakes, and Oh did serve his country.
He points to two other accomplishments: starting a committee that “deals with global opportunities and the creative, innovative community.” And also PHL Live, a free music platform for local musicians. (His interest in today’s music probably explains him being recognized as Hip Hop Man of the Year in 2016.)
Kind of an unusual honor for an Asian, which sometimes brings its own difficulties.
I ask if he has experienced racism in Philadelphia.
“I didn’t,” he says, but then quickly corrects himself.
“Yes, absolutely. But that’s normal, right? I don’t expect anything different.”
Normal? So America is racist?
“America is a great country,” he says. Every country has haters, and if its not race, it may be religion. It’s ugly, but it’s reality. His wife is sometimes the object of ridicule in his majority Black neighborhood. “When she goes to the bus, people go ‘chingee chong, chingee chong.”
That happens sometimes, or — get this — the Black bus driver won’t let her get on the bus.
What? “Because she’s Asian?!” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says. “What’s the reason people are cursing at her and yelling at her?” he asks, sadly.
Worse than cursing or yelling, in 2017 Oh was stabbed in the back outside his home in an apparent robbery attempt.
The neighborhood has gone downhill since your parents bought it in 1963. Why don’t you move, I ask him.
“Despite the crime and the problems, my father [a pastor] said it was a God blessed neighborhood and it would be even better if we stayed.”
So he has, with his wife and four children, all of whom attend Philadelphia public schools. (His eldest daughter attends Central H.S., his alma mater.)
He never uses the term “law and order,” but that’s Oh’s major thrust. We share a belief in three simple words: Obey the law.
That’s why he opposes (Not) safe injection sites. Mostly because they are illegal, but also because it sustains addiction. He would rather arrest the pushers, and other criminals, and send the addict zombies to rehab.
He feels Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw got a raw deal, but he would replace her because she has lost the trust of her troops.
If he is elected, no more Sanctuary City, which he defines as non cooperation with federal authorities.He will cooperate to get foreign felons deported, but he would not harass the garden-variety illegals who have settled here. That was the deal the city had with ICE until Mayor Michael Nutter was stampeded into non cooperation by the Open Border types.
Returning to that policy will make us all safer.
And safety would be a great achievement for Mayor Oh.
7 thoughts on “David readies for the Democratic Goliath”
David Oh would be the best choice for mayor if you compare him with the announced democrats, but that’s not saying much. There is no hope for the Republican Party in Philadelphia, with a 7 to 1 voters advantage for the democrats.The reason the socialist candidate beat republican Al Taubenberger for his council seat is because Al is a terrible candidate. He stand ready to run for any office no republican wants to run for. He even ran on the Republican ticket for mayor. I believe he lost by the largest landslide in Philadelphia history. Sad times. PS Sorry to hear disgraced Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack decided to take his name of the list of potential mayoral candidates. I guess he realized they already had their limit of comedians on the candidates list.
Hopefully, the Republicans can register and add 165,000 new Republican voters before the general election for Mayor of Philadelphia. That would cost a large amount of money to send vote harvesting individuals throughout our neighborhoods. This is the only path for David Oh to win. Good luck David may the mail-in-ballots lead you to victory
He doesn’t have to register so many new voters. He has to convince current voters to switch to him, and I believe many will, if Gym is the candidate. I know a lot of Dems who can’t vote for her.
David has to convince them not to stay home, but to vote for him.
The problem is Philadelphia unions pound into the rank and file members that if they don’t vote for the democrats the union will lose jobs there will be layoffs. So they vote straight D. This is how we got stuck with Senator John Fetterman for the next six years. Also the A/A voters vote straight D because they falsely believe if an R is elected they will lose many benefits. Things will never change in Philadelphia we are doomed.
The Dems took over the City in 1951 and it has been straight downhill ever since. One would think the voters would notice. Mr. Oh, God bless his naive little heart, will get his ass kicked by a Democrat Goliath, whomever that may be.
You covered his chances very well but I would two additions that would give him any shot at all. How many ward leaders has he received support from? After all those years in the City Council, he must have some information on the process where legislation passed without legal conformity or just some steps that violated the law and affected the public. I think he is a good man with his answers to your questions about his family, but you’re right, he begins his uphill cause with an empty slingshot.
Being as he is the only GOP candidate, so far, he will get the support from ward leaders, for whatever good that will do him. Republicans are concentrated in the NE and South Philly.
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