PHILADELPHIA – On September 23, 2022, Senate Candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz spent five hours campaigning in Philadelphia and I followed along, from a closed-door “community discussion” in Germantown to a bizarre walk-around Kensington’s McPherson Square, where he picked up a dirty needle with ungloved hands for a weird photo-op with his entourage and some hecklers.
While he grand-standed, name-dropped, and contradicted himself with abandon, not once did he show any sign of understanding our problems, values, and concerns as a community or a city. All I saw was someone exploiting our trauma, grief and pain as a backdrop to seize an undeserved office in a state he’s never lived in.
Even when presented with multiple opportunities – and outright challenges – to speak to solutions for various issues that might connect with Philadelphians, all he could offer was bland platitudes and vague assurances that he was “listening” and knew what wasn’t working (spoiler alert: Democrats!).
His arrival in Germantown on a Monday morning – the first stop of his day – was a surprise to many community members, who only found out about this event the day before. I got word when Phila Neighborhood Networks sent out an e-blast Sunday evening, asking people to come out to give Dr. Oz a “Philly Welcome” at his “Safter Streets Community Discussion,” being held at the House of Glory Philly (a storefront church at 5245 Germantown Ave).
“Oz thinks he’ll use this last-minute event as an opportunity to score some political points in front of the press and a small, friendly audience…” PNN’s announcement stated, “Since this is a ‘community discussion’, let’s surprise him by showing up to let him know how we feel…” Bullet points followed, with issues like reproductive rights, gun control, the economy, etc. but turned out none of this mattered because they wouldn’t let anyone in. 🤨
Not only did they filter their audience, they also muzzled them. “I arrived, and after Oz’s staff tried to keep me out of the meeting, they ushered me to a place on the panel one seat down from Oz,” said State Rep. Chris Rabb, “I repeatedly tried to speak during the program and make my voice heard but was never allowed to. I was disgusted by what I heard at this event, which made clear that Oz did not understand my community and was only here for a photo op.”
Outwardly Candidate Dr. Oz listened intently and offered sympathy, if not empathy, as various community members talked about the root causes of crime and gun violence. He gave Sheila Armstrong comfort as she poured her heart out, talking about the unsolved murder of her brother and the murder of her nephew, patting her hand, and providing a Kleenex when she broke down over the grief and trauma. “We’ve got babies killing babies,” said Armstrong, and a system that’s “playing politics with the lives of this community.”
But Dr. Oz didn’t present a clear vision of how he would address gun violence. Instead, he leaned on vague terms like “community policing” and “police reform” to skirt the issue that was core to the conversation he was supposed to be having with our community. He couldn’t point to any legislative proposals he planned to make if elected. Much like the rest of his campaign, he offered little more than fearmongering about immigrant communities and addiction.
“Dr. Oz has never done anything to take on crime, and he has no idea about the issues we face in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania, for that matter,” said Representative Dwight Evans, “We need real leaders who have heart and understand what it takes to turn around communities facing gun violence.”
When confronted with the failure of police to close murder cases in the city’s most affected communities, Dr. Oz had every opportunity to address funding and policy. Instead, he just moved right past it, changed the subject to “opportunities” if we increase fracked natural gas production to export it through Philly’s ports. Because obviously that’s the real priority in a community conversation – railing against the “green new deal.” <sarcasm>
Actually, as many people know (and much research supports), a policy to transition us from fossil fuels to renewable energy, would create millions of new jobs – and train people in new valuable new skills, and put us on a path to true energy independence. This would also reverse environmental damage from fossil fuel use, improving quality of life for literally everything alive, everywhere. Most Americans love the idea of cleaner energy, but sadly not as much as Republicans like Oz love record profits for their pals at the oil & gas companies.
Speaking to racism, Dr. Oz name-dropped Meek Mill and George Floyd, as he shared his comically uncontroversial stance that racial targeting is “unacceptable,” and that we shouldn’t be arresting people for marijuana, but instead targeting violent offenders and dangerous gangs. Well duh. Then Dr. Oz took a firm (and problematic) step to the Right, adding immigrants to this list! And calling neighbors to demand an end to “sanctuary cities.” How is pitting under-resourced populations against each other a solution to gun violence and poverty, again?
True Story: the policies around sanctuary cities create safer communities by ensuring immigrant victims of crime aren’t going to be deported for reporting crimes to the police. They build trust between neighbors and in government. By helping our immigrant communities have access to essential services like hospitals, schools, and courts, they support a healthier society for everyone.
But wait, Dr. Oz isn’t just being clueless, he’s also hypocritical! One of his business assets, Asplundh Tree Experts Co (his wife owns the company) pled guilty in 2017 to hiring immigrants they knew were ineligible for work in the U.S. It was the largest fine in I.C.C. history, too, $95 million!
Interesting footnote: Asplundh Tree Experts Co has since donated $12,000 to Dr. Oz’s campaign so clearly there are no hard feelings. No doubt in an industry that hires many undocumented workers, it’s handy to have a cozy relationship with someone who will grandstand broadly about immigration while quietly bending the rules and curtailing investigations at will.
So anyway, Dr. Oz finished big in Germantown by inexplicably insisting he could improve both Philadelphia’s economy and our school system with one magical step: privatization! He’s a big supporter of “school choice” which aims to redirect taxpayer money from public education, and give it to private/religious schools that can pick and choose students according to their mission. Again, this solution seems improbable and out-of-touch, especially considering 70% of Philly’s kids attend public schools (that number is 90% for minorities).
It’s truly weird how Dr. Oz seems unable to connect with any real community issues, as he relentlessly pursues his own agenda (which coincidentally dovetails with MAGA’s). “Dr. Oz is a fraud who has no idea what the people of Philadelphia, and Black voters, deserve out of their Senator,” said State Rep. Rabb, summarizing his impressions from the event.
Onto Kensington, where Oz was explicitly asked what he would do about gun violence and whether he would oppose stricter gun legislation. His response was slippery, non-committal. “We have a new gun law, and I’d like to see what happens with it,” he told reporters, “We have a lot of money for mental health there, and that’s a big problem for violence way beyond guns.”
In his opinion, most of Philadelphia’s violence is caused by unlicensed guns used by people who “should’ve never been able to get a gun in the first place” – for instance, kids under the age of 18, and those with mental health issues. As a retired physician, it’s understandable that Oz would tend to see firearm issues through a clinical lens. What’s not so clear is why he’s not stumping for easier access to therapists in schools, and better mental healthcare coverage.
Instead, Dr. Oz’s campaign has attacked Lt. Gov John Fetterman’s policies supporting marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform. Evidently, Oz sees the solution for communities traumatized by decades of mass incarceration is… more incarceration? Dr. Oz has criticized Fetterman’s efforts to free innocent people sitting in prison, and end life without parole for “felony murder” – a shady legal doctrine that allows people who have not killed to be charged, convicted and sentenced as murderers.
FYI, felony murder is a rule that allows a defendant to be charged with first-degree murder for any death that occurs during a dangerous felony – even if they’re not the killer, even if the death is accidental, like a heart attack. It can apply to anyone involved: lookouts, helpers, get-away drivers, etc, including those who had no idea that violence would be involved. Imagine facing the death penalty as an unwitting accomplice to a crime you would never have committed, and had no way of foreseeing.
In practice, the enforcement of this rule tends to follow a disturbing but familiar trend. A new report shows significant racial disparities resulting from the statute: 70% of people sentenced under the law in Pennsylvania are Black, whereas Black people are 47% of the prison population and yet only 12% of the state population. Makes sense that such a law comforts Oz’s white “law and order” fans in other counties. Here in Philly, though, African Americans represent the majority at 41.4% – almost 700,000 residents who can do the math and draw their own conclusions.
Regardless of race, jobs, habits and personal histories – we’re all Pennsylvanians. We deserve fair representation by leaders who don’t just “listen” but will educate themselves on the real issues we’re all facing in our schools, in our cities, in our communities. Someone who’s actually lived here in this unique, diverse, and historic part of our country. Someone who reflects our values, who has the experience to serve us as we strive for health, safety, and human rights.
“Dr. Oz has had many views, often on the same subject, but he hasn’t laid out a clear legislative agenda for Pennsylvania, much less Philadelphia,” said Danielle Finger, a resident of East Germantown. “He has shown a clear willingness to use our community to drum up fear for his suburban supporters and exploit our community’s trauma, pain, and struggles. We need someone from here with experience leading Pennsylvanian communities, not another grifter.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, ma’am. Let’s see you at the polls this November.