Global Conversations With: Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor for Administration & Coordination and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia



Richard Negrin currently holds the position of Deputy Mayor for Administration & Coordination and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia in the Nutter Administration. Negrin is an ardent supporter of the Global Philadelphia Association and several of its long-time partners. As a first-generation American, Deputy Mayor Negrin reveals in this interview how he feels very connected to the multicultural compositions of the communities he serves in his working life. 

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to live in Philadelphia?
Both of my parents came to the United States at a very young age from Cuba. They met in New Jersey in the early 60s after the revolution. They came here for opportunity, along with a larger Cuban community, to look for freedom.
The rumor is that my dad snuck out of the country dressed as a priest with false papers, and my mother came with her family. I was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1966. I had one of those classic immigrant upbringings where your parents tell you that you could be president if you work hard and go to school. There isn’t a sense of possible upward mobility within an economic structure in many places outside of the United States.
One of the things I always loved about Philadelphia that was tied to by background, coming from an immigrant family, is that I loved history and the concept of American opportunity and progress. And Philadelphia really embodied that for me. I moved down here to go to law school, and I chose this region because I thought to myself that this might be a place where I decide to stay. After law school, I had a job offer to be a district attorney in Philadelphia, and the chance to practice law in the rich tradition of the Philadelphia lawyer really kept me here. 

How did your path lead you to your current position?
It was a combination of education and having the right opportunities at the right times. I’ve been so blessed to have a lot of people to help and mentor me throughout my entire life. And it’s also sheer grit. One of the things I love about Philadelphia is the straight-talk, and people not putting on airs. I’ve played football my whole life, and that was the same approach I had to football, so I liked that I found that here.

Can you talk about the PhillyRising initiative?
We choose the more dangerous areas of the city that need help and work bottom-up rather than top-down to improve their neighborhoods in small ways, like improving dark alleyways and transitioning dangerous parks into safe areas with police stationed, so that children can play. I tell people that the answer is not the government. The government should not come into these areas and try to make quick fixes, but rather facilitate the citizens to change and grow themselves.
City neighborhoods are important and cherished by their citizens, and this helps motivate them to want to improve their surroundings. We want to fight crime and the fear of crime. We are building sustainable, responsive solutions to the concerns of people living and working in each neighborhood and we want to develop cost-effective methods for improving service delivery to each neighborhood. We are helping those living and working in the PhillyRising neighborhoods to realize their vision for their community. At a South Philly meeting, we were able to translate the meeting into four languages. It said a lot that people were willing to come and be involved, even with four languages going at the same time. 
We started a smart phone App that is available in 17 languages for Philly 311. We have to embrace diversity of culture and thought. The Welcoming Center of New Pennsylvanians put out a study that showed that immigrant communities in Philadelphia use mobile technology for communication and information at very high rates. There have been over 17,000 downloads of the Philly 311 app.
It is crucial that Philadelphia be an open, tolerant, welcoming city that embraces diversity. We should be big thinkers. I don’t think Ben Franklin would tell you that you don’t deserve service if you don’t speak English. 

How is Philadelphia a world-class city?
We have the greatest hospitals, hospitality and schools. We’re having great events, like Made in America. Last year, the entire music world was talking about Philly on that day. That created astronomical numbers of impressions about the city on social media and the internet. This is great for the city and gives us international status.

How many international people do you interact with on a regular basis?
I do so on a formal level and informal level. I’ve met many visiting delegates, such as a group of mayors from Korea, people from Qatar, as well as the King and Queen of Sweden. Recently, there was a delegation visiting from Chile. All of these were in the last year. I also have regular contact with many of the Consulates in Philadelphia, and I make an effort to go to international and community events throughout the city. As the highest-ranking Latino in Philadelphia Government, it is important to show my support. I have open-door hours on Friday, during which I see people from the community and get to learn what others care about.

How do you think Philly can work to improve and build upon its reputation as a global city?
I think we’re on the right track. We need to do more, and do it quicker. We have great assets, and lots of neighborhoods have extraordinary things to offer. We need to expedite development. A place like the Race Street Pier needs to be a vital part of our city, for example, and that area could be used more as a major asset. The waterfront and the drive from the airport into center city are areas that I would like to see improved upon. The large events, like Made in America, come at a great cost to the city, but bear fruit.

How do you see yourself as a Global Philadelphian?
I hope I embody many of the things I've talked about. Mayor Nutter’s leadership has been exemplary in this area, in having a tolerant, open-minded approach that doesn’t compromise excellence.
I chose this city deliberately. I loved it for a reason.

This interview has been edited by the Global Philadelphia Association