Christopher Booth of Mt. Airy to run for City Council at-large

Author: Tom Beck
               Chestnut Hill Local

A third Northwest Philadelphia resident will be running for one of Philadelphia City Council’s seven at-large seats. Christopher Gladstone Booth, of Mt. Airy, has officially announced his candidacy.

Among others, Booth will be competing against two other Northwest Philadelphia residents, his neighbor Nina Ahmad and Chestnut Hill’s Eryn Santamoor. 

Booth, who served as president of Philadelphia’s Morehouse College alumni chapter until January, worked for the federal government in the Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture for 30 years after studying biology and math at Morehouse. He took an early retirement in 2013 to take care of his aging parents. 

In 2016, he put retirement behind him to become a schoolteacher at Kenderton Elementary School. He went back to work because he needed to pay for his daughter’s education, he said, and he also wanted to make a difference in his community. By becoming a schoolteacher, he said, he could offer young Black children, particularly boys, a role model – in a system where only 23% of teachers and counselors are Black, while the student body is more than half Black. 

The Local spoke with Booth, who announced his campaign in January, to learn more about what inspired him to run for office, what makes him a unique candidate and the policies he’s most passionate about. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What inspired you to run for office?

Basically, I was inspired because I'm now of the belief that if you really want to see what's going on in your community, one of the best ways to do that is to teach school. I've always been civic minded, and active in my community. I actually am the tennis coach over at Germantown Friends, where I teach both the boys and girls varsity tennis teams. 

When I got involved with the School District of Philadelphia I saw a lot of things that disturbed me, and could be changed if the circumstances were changed. I started out at Kenderton teaching science and then math. I stayed there for a couple years, and then went to Bryant. 

From what I saw, these kids just needed some resources and a little more motivation. That motivation can come from a number of different places. Extra -curricular activities, yes, but also motivation from the teachers themselves. 

In particular, I saw the impact that I was having as an African American teacher. The kids gravitated towards me because most of them didn't have many African American male teachers. I realized that was something that needed to be addressed. The School District has to make a conscious effort to make sure we have [more African American teachers] because I can see how it makes a difference.

You suggest that we can reduce crime by hiring more Black school teachers. Can you explain that further?

Early on, kids start looking for role models. At school, it starts in kindergarten, and the first and second grades, when they're first starting to socialize outside the household. 

Especially, as an African-American male, you're looking for people you can identify with and who you can associate with, because that's when kids start formulating their opinions about who they are and what they're about. 

One of the things that I would like to see happen – and this is not the sole part of my platform, but it's a part that I am committed to – I would like to see African American males not only teach schools but specifically teach kindergarten, first, second and third grades. I really believe that would be a game-changer. 

In addition to what they see on TV that they want to be, like athletes and whatever, They also want to be a Mr. Booth, or a Mr. Jones, because they watch you. I think all teachers will agree with this - kids watch you almost as they listen, probably more than they listen. And so, when you conduct yourself a certain way and you show that you really care about them – especially for kids who may not have positive role models at home – you know you have a captive audience from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can show them something they can aspire to. You can inspire them to be a Mr. Booth, or a Mr. Jones, or whoever it may be.”

And the thing is that Philadelphia has to realize this is not just an African American problem, it's a Philadelphia problem. If you look at the opioid epidemic in Kensington – that's not just a Kensington problem, it's a Philadelphia problem. It doesn't matter what race you are. All these kids who are in trouble are Philadelphians, so this is a Philadelphia issue. 

At some point we have to be more of the city of brotherly love, and really try to pinpoint what can uplift these kids, no matter who they are.

How do you suggest we do that – increase the number of Black male teachers?

If you're coming out of college and you have $60,000 or $70,000 in debt, the kindergarten, first and second grade teaching jobs - those aren't the sexy jobs. They're not. But those are the jobs where African American males can have the biggest impact. 

So let’s say you're coming out of college and you are $70,000 in debt. You can offer an incentive, and say 'Hey, if you teach in the Philadelphia School District and if you teach one of these grades, maybe there will be some loan forgiveness.’ Money makes a difference.

Any ideas outside of teaching, and schools?

We have the best source of energy, which is the sun. We're not using that renewable energy the way we should be. We should be encouraging SEPTA to buy electric buses so they can reduce their carbon footprint. 

If SEPTA did that, it may be more expensive, but it'll cut down the fuel costs and it'll cut down on carbon monoxide. A number of cities are pushing in that direction. And offering more incentives for renewable energy use generally. It hasn't caught on in Philadelphia the way it should. From everything I'm reading people are looking more towards solar energy for heating and powering their homes, but it's not at the level it could be.

People originally were saying they couldn't consider installing solar panels on their homes because it would take 15 years to recapture the investment. That should not be the case, and slowly but surely the city of Philadelphia and some utility companies are changing that, but that needs to happen much more rapidly because Philadelphia's pollution problem is still a major pollution problem. 

You're an advocate for a city-owned bank. Can you explain how that would work and why you support it?

San Francisco is doing this as we speak. Instead of taking taxpayer dollars and investing them in commercial banks, we should have a bank that is run and controlled by the City of Philadelphia. The city could take taxpayer dollars and invest the money in companies that do good business with the City of Philadelphia, as opposed to investing our taxpayer dollars in a Wells Fargo. 

This way taxpayers will have more of a say about where our tax dollars are being invested, and we would be directing a lot of our business towards companies that are going to do good business with Philadelphia. For me it’s a no brainer because we're investing in the people of Philadelphia. A bank owned and controlled by Philadelphia would be Philadelphians investing in Philadelphia. 

What would you like people to know about you that they don't already know?

I think what will separate me as a candidate is my work ethic. I'm a committee person in the 22nd Ward. I'm a member of East Mt. Airy Neighbors and I'm on the Pleasant Playground Advisory Board. I wanted to see change and make sure that people were aware of it. 

As an elected official, I will give you my opinion, but what comes out of my life as a city councilperson at-large will be the voice of the people who elected me. I may not always agree with what all my constituents will say, but I want them to understand that what comes out of my mouth will represent them, and that is their voice. I will be their voice. 

It sounds like a cliché, but I will be their advocate. I truly love this town and I'm not a career politician. I'm also not the youngest guy in the world, so I'm not thinking this is going to be my next 20 years or anything. I won’t be a career politician. I would like to come in, make a difference, create some initiatives that I truly can uplift the city and continue to make it the world class city that it has the potential to be.

Too often, Philly gets a black eye, and I'm tired of that. I want people to know that if I get elected, I will be their voice and I will be working for them.