By Amy V. Simmons
One thing this primary election season has taught us is that Philadelphia is facing a number of crises that require immediate attention.
For the past few months, the mayoral candidates have elaborated extensively on their approaches to crime, education, and employment opportunities in several town hall-style forums, through ads on streaming services, radio and television, and through the dozens of mailers and doorknockers that residents receive on a daily basis.
Yet beyond these concerns, other issues, such as those surrounding development and the environment, also tend to be more consequential for those Philadelphians who are most vulnerable.
It isn’t that the other crises haven’t been addressed at all throughout this election cycle in the numerous forums, but perspective is important. This is not a competition for which problem is the most urgent — they are all urgent.
Voters are well aware of the city’s problems, whether they have been discussed in great detail or not. And frankly, these issues — and the political rhetoric surrounding them — have worn people out. Philadelphians are eager to elect representatives who are committed to finding workable, realistic solutions — and to implementing those solutions.
The SUN posed three questions to four mayoral candidates — Warren Bloom, Amen Brown, Rebecca Rhynhart and James DeLeon related to some of these matters. Here is how they responded.
One theme runs through the major concerns that Philadelphia’s residents have — they are looking for solutions, not an endless restating of the City’s problems. What one quality makes you the best-suited candidate to be a “solutions mayor,” and why?
The Bloom campaign did not respond directly to the SUN’s question after several outreach attempts. Nonetheless, Bloom’s official campaign website mentions one main motivator repeatedly that would indicate he takes solutions seriously — his lifetime dedication to activism.
On the site, Bloom also names late SUN founder and publisher Jerry Mondesire as one of his key mentors in this regard.
“My activism skills advanced even further when I worked in the field with as many civil rights champions of the day that I was able to work with, such as Mondesire and others,” Bloom wrote.
Although the Brown campaign also did not respond to the SUN’s inquiry, in an answer to a solutions-themed question posed to him by the Committee of Seventy, Brown cited coalition building as the first step to finding those solutions.
“There is a great amount of division in the city. And, we need to break that disconnect in order to move the city forward. We do not have to all be friends; but, we must find common ground in order to be of the best service possible to constituents. I will work with my team to bring people together, putting our differences aside and focusing on real issues and tangible solutions.”
I’m the best candidate to be a “solutions mayor” because I have developed a plan called the Local Incident Management System (LIMS) in which a city problem is declared a “dramatic incident.” Then I would enact LIMS which is a uniform set of processes and procedures that the city government would use to combat and fix the problem by enabling the necessary responders to work together more effectively and efficiently to manage the root cause of the problem.
Firstly, I am the only candidate running with citywide executive experience. I’ve managed a mostly union workforce in the Controller’s office and gotten things done. As City Controller, my office audited our city departments and developed recommendations to solve some of our biggest problems. As mayor, I will have the power to implement those blueprints to take action addressing these challenges on Day 1. I also have demonstrated the courage necessary to take on the status quo and make real change through my audits of the Police Department and Parking Authority, and that’s exactly how I would lead as mayor.
Based on the fact that both sides have strong opinions on the topic, explain briefly what you think are the main pros and cons of gentrification and development in the city. In particular, what would you do as mayor to help bring people on all sides of the issue together to find common ground?
The Bloom campaign again did not respond directly to the SUN’s question after several outreach attempts. That said, in a questionnaire about how gentrification and development projects impact Philadelphia’s Latino communities from Every Voice, Every Vote partner Impacto, Bloom identified tax reform as a way to level the playing field when it comes to assisting long-term homeowners, mom-and-pop businesses and the poor — especially when it comes to property taxes.
“I believe everyone should be able to pay their taxes at an affordable rate without going broke,” Bloom’s questionnaire answer read. “We would have to make special allowances for the poor, and perhaps lower the taxes for those individuals suffering from this disadvantage.”
The Brown campaign also did not respond directly to the SUN’s question after several outreach attempts. However, the candidate did address it indirectly in a previous question asked in a survey about his plans to end and prevent homelessness from Every Voice, Every Vote partner Project HOME.
In his answer, Brown said that his administration would “evaluate systems and processes to reduce barriers to development, e.g., supporting efforts to reform zoning, implementing one-stop permit shops and developing City-owned properties for affordable housing” and that “as the city grows, it is inevitable for development to take place, but we have to make sure communities are not displaced in the process.”
There is no pro when you gentrify a neighborhood under the auspices of “development.” What has to happen is that you set up processes for people to keep their homes. I would establish an in-person health center in the city’s Office of Property Assessment that would be fully staffed to guide any citizens through any and all paperwork needed to file for programs that would help them keep their homes, and I would play satellite offices in the community legal center offices. Some of the programs to help a person keep their home are the homestead exemption, the Long Term Owner Occupant program, the low income senior citizen real estate tax freeze, the active duty tax credit for military members and families and the real estate tax deferral program.
We need to balance development with fairness, and ensure that people can stay in the communities they have lived in for generations. Gentrification in neighborhoods across our city has increased property taxes and rents, pushing long-term residents out. As mayor, I will work to ensure that people can stay in their homes. Too many residents are not part of programs like the Long-Term Owner Occupants Program (LOOP) and the Senior Tax Freeze that can mitigate rising costs and allow people to stay in their homes because they don’t know these programs exist. My administration will deploy city employees and volunteers to conduct door-to-door outreach informing long-term homeowners of programs available and helping them enroll in these important programs.
In addition, as part of the housing plan I developed on my website, rebeccaforphiladelphia.com/housing, my administration will leverage the 8,500 city-owned vacant lots and properties to develop this much-needed housing supply for our residents. I will also look to utilize funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to subsidize mortgages to encourage homeownership in historically disadvantaged communities, especially Black homeownership.
From the disproportionate location of polluting industries to a challenged tree canopy, Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods face some of the greatest environmental challenges in the region. In brief, which one of these critical issues do you consider the most urgent? How do you plan on addressing it?
The Bloom campaign did not respond to the inquiry. However, EVEV partner Green Philly reported on April 7 that during its Climate Mayoral Forum held on April 4, Bloom admitted that although he was not that well informed on climate issues, he was dedicated to learning more and to surround himself with experts and organizational stakeholders on these matters. The report stated that in addition, Bloom “also promised that climate issues, including addressing disparities in Black and Brown communities and reducing our carbon footprint, would be among his “top 10” goals as mayor.”
Bloom was one of only three candidates that participated in that particular forum. He participated in the Grid Magazine and WURD-sponsored Green Living Plan (GLP) Mayoral Candidate Forum held on March 29, which addressed environmental equity across the board.
The Brown campaign did not respond to the inquiry. In addition, a thorough search for his position on these issues which included the campaign website, did not yield anything that could provide at least a partial answer to this question. Brown to not respond to EVEV partner WHYY News’ 2023 Climate Voter’s Guide inquiry about the topic, and was not present at either Green Philly’s Climate Mayoral Forum, or the Grid Magazine/WURD sponsored The Green Living Plan (GLP) Mayoral Candidate Forum.
Polluting industries are the most urgent concern, due to the immediate effects on a citizen’s health and wellbeing. Constant measuring of air quality is the first step. If these measurements show a concern, then an environmental protection agency suit is the next step. The safety of our citizens must be protected through any legal means necessary.
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