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Learn about Citizen Voices from this blueprint of the project laid out by Chris Satullo at the end of last year. Here he explains the philosophy of the project and what is involved for participants.

What's your vision for Philadelphia's future?
Come; talk about the issues. Let your ideas be heard.

Citizen Voices '99: Mayor's Race

Chris SatulloBy Chris Satullo Deputy Editorial Page Editor

As 1999 dawns, Philadelphia is poised between two centuries, two mayors, two futures.

As it picks a new mayor, the city needs to have a passionate but civil conversation about the facts of the century just ending and the challenges of the one soon to dawn.

The quality of that conversation will go a long way toward determining not only which leader is chosen, but also which future awaits the city: baffled victim of unfriendly trends or supple urban phoenix.

Already, the half-dozen likely candidates for mayor are raising money, courting allies, test-marketing positions. In their quest for victory, they will do what they have to do. Their job isn't to make sure the public gets the time, the facts, the space to have a rich, candid conversation about the city's future.

The people of the city, from Eastwick to Torresdale, from Chestnut Hill to Southwark, will have to do that for themselves.

Here is what the Inquirer Editorial Board proposes to do to help:

We will sponsor Citizen Voices '99, a yearlong project to enhance the civic conversation and enlarge the public's voice as Philadelphia chooses a mayor.

We've invited a number of you to take part.

As in 1996 (congressional races) and 1997 (New Jersey governor's race), Citizen Voices will bring people together in forums to share their fears and dreams about their community and to deliberate on the issues they deem vital to the future.

Their conversations will connect to the city elections and the candidates in several ways. As in New Jersey, where Citizen Voices sponsored the first statewide television debate in fall 1997, the citizens will draft questions to be posed at televised mayoral debates. They'll get chances to quiz Council candidates in person and online.

Ultimately, they'll draft a Citizens Agenda for Philadelphia, to be presented to the new mayor and City Council early in 2000.

The forums will use a form of political dialogue known as deliberation. Deliberation is not debate. In a debate, the goal is to win the argument. In deliberation, you seek not only to be heard, but also to hear -- to listen long enough to glimpse the values beneath other views.

This all sounds lofty and mysterious, I know. Let me try to answer some of the obvious questions:

What's in store for participants?

A good time. Seriously. Here's what Valerie Gladfelter of Moorestown, a stalwart of the 1997 New Jersey project, says: "It was really a lot of fun and energizing. It was rewarding and exciting to see the great diversity of views we started with, then to go through a process where we could end up with, if not total consensus, real agreement on a lot of issues."

Being a full-fledged Citizen Voice means committing yourself to attend about six events during 1999, a couple on weeknights, others taking up the better part of a Saturday or Sunday. Two-hour introductory forums will be held in January at 20 or so neighborhood sites. At all forums, food and child care will be provided. Every effort will be made to provide free parking.

But I'm no expert or anything . . .

You're an expert on your own life, your values, on what it's like to live in this city. That's all any Citizen Voice needs to bring to the table, along with a willingness to listen to others tell their stories.

Who's in charge of preserving these talkfests from chaos?

As before, we've contracted with Harris Sokoloff of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for School Study Councils to provide moderators trained in deliberation, on which he is one of the nation's leading experts. The moderators will keep the dialogue civil and on track; help all voices be heard, and, frankly, prevent loudmouths with a partisan agenda from hijacking the forum.

Who's paying for all this?

The Inquirer. With this twist: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of Penn's Annenberg School for Communication, wants to study this project as an example of civic deliberation. To that end, a portion of the Citizen Voices group will be a diverse, random sample of Philadelphia generated by Annenberg; The Inquirer will defray some of Annenberg's expenses for doing that.

To encourage those in its research sample to stick with the Voices process, Annenberg will reimburse their travel expenses and help pay for child care at events. The school will use money from a grant by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Uh-oh. The Inquirer. Pew. Penn. The usual, pointy-headed suspects! What are you guys up to? A secret plan to boost some candidate you like, right?

Wrong. You can spin conspiracy theories until Pierre Salinger cries uncle, but the only agenda the Editorial Board has is this: Whatever commentary we do on this mayor's race, we want to base it upon careful listening to the people of Philadelphia. Whatever the roles that money, tactics, tribal loyalties or ancient grudges play in this race, we'd like to see equal time for meaty discussion of the issues. The Citizen Voices will not endorse candidates; they will try to craft a shared, workable vision for their city.

What's with that Citizens Agenda? Does that mean the Editorial Board will crusade for whatever it says?

Not necessarily. But we'll publish it (as we will essays by Citizen Voices throughout 1999). The Citizens Agenda could be a to-do list for 21st-century Philadelphia, not just about what politicians should do, but what citizens should do for themselves and their city.

I live in the 'burbs. Am I left out?

No. Any conversation about the city's future that excluded suburbanites would be a foolish one. Though the main focus of the project will be on city voters, we'll make some room for suburban voices.

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