What experience and/or personal background qualifies you to hold this office? If elected, what would be your top three policy goals for this office?
My vision for Philadelphia is a city where we no longer have the title of the largest big city with the highest level of poverty in the nation. With a 26% poverty rate, this title has defined our City. This level of poverty is generally concentrated in communities beyond Center City. In many ways, Philadelphia has become a tale of two cities. Higher income and gentrifying neighborhoods are seeing property values skyrocket and moderate to low income communities are not seeing this level of growth. Further, these growing neighborhoods are attracting entrepreneurs and businesses who are creating jobs for these communities. In contrast, moderate to low income neighborhoods are struggling to fill vacant storefronts with businesses that can reduce poverty with jobs. As a City, we need policies and initiatives that will help all neighborhoods and not just a select few communities.
Through my experiences as a small business lender, entrepreneur, and nonprofit leader, one of the best ways to address poverty is the ability to grow small businesses. Our ability to grow these businesses will benefit our entire City. From Washington Lane to Washington Avenue, every neighborhood in our City has a commercial corridor that is the anchor of the community and the hub of its small business sector. In order for these companies to grow and thrive, they need assistance from our City so that they can employ our neighbors and increase their wages.
To support this goal, I worked with the Commerce Department to create the Philadelphia Business Lending Network (“Lending Network”). The Lending Network is a consortium of 30 banks, credit unions, and lenders that use one application to provide access to credit to small businesses. In comparison to Lending Tree, this initiative is a one stop, online resource that is helping small businesses in our City. Through the Lending Network, small businesses are able to grow and provide income to their employees. This new or additional income will also help other businesses because employees with have more resources to buy goods and services. Further, this income will also provide more revenue for the City’s General Fund and will enable more investments in education, City services, and other needs for Philadelphia. By growing small businesses in neighborhoods around our City, we can begin to reduce our poverty rate and move from a tale of two cities to one community where growth is shared throughout Philadelphia.
I also envision a better future for public education in Philadelphia. One where we live up to the standard stated in our state constitution. Under Article 3, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “[t]he General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” In comparing the amount of state funding for the School District versus other urban education systems that are funded based on the same state constitutional language, it is clear that the standard of our own state constitution is not being met. As a member of City Council, I voted to provide over $600 million in additional dollars to the School District. However, the School District is not receiving a fair level of funding from the Commonwealth and over the years we have had to increase funding at the local level to make up for this deficit. As we await the decision in the William Penn School District v. PA Dept. of Education litigation, Philadelphia should form a coalition with other county officials to lobby Harrisburg for a fair, weighted funding formula that provides more state funds for Philadelphia’s public school children but also for children throughout Pennsylvania. Due to the elimination of the charter school reimbursement and the growth of cyber charter schools, numerous schools (urban, suburban, and rural) are feeling the impact of a lack of a fair funding formula and this result provides an opportunity to from a unique coalition to address this issue.
As an African American man who was once racially profiled while leaving his office as an Assistant District Attorney, our criminal justice system needs major reform. In particular, Philadelphia needs to end its cash bail system. When a person is arrested, it means that law enforcement believes that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. Yet, probable cause is simply an allegation of a crime and not a determination of guilt by a court or a jury of their peers. Due to our cash bail system, a person who cannot afford to pay bail will be detained in jail for an average of 100 days before appearing before a judge to have their case heard. In Council, I have pushed for the elimination of cash bail and have partnered with the Philly Community Bail Fund, No 215 Jail Coalition, Media Mobilizing Project, and other partners to advocate for criminal justice reforms. Accordingly, I authorized, through Resolution # 170838, the Special Committee on Criminal Justice Reform to hold hearings to assist bail funds in Philadelphia. Until cash bail is eliminated, I will continue to support community based organizations that bail out those that cannot afford bail. In addition to my work to end cash bail in Philadelphia, I have partnered with JustLeadershipUSA and #Closethecreek coalition to advocate that the savings from the closing of the House of Corrections should be used for locally-run, community based services for returning community members.
Our city has a major inequality problem: 26% of Philadelphians live in poverty, making us the poorest big city in the US. If elected, how will you address the issue of poverty, through legislation and other means? In your response, please address our tax structure, programs to support and invest in neighborhoods and small businesses, workforce training, and engaging businesses and non-profits to address this issue.
As a follow up to my answer to Question 1 and as a former small business lender in North Philadelphia, I saw how the growth of local businesses can impact poverty in families and communities. In this regard, I believe that we need to develop and create policies that help our small businesses to grow and thrive so that they can create jobs for our communities and consequently reduce poverty in our City. Additionally, we need to modify our corporate tax structure so that we can support small businesses and insure that big corporations pay their fair share. However, our Pennsylvania Constitution restricts our ability to modify our current tax structure. Under Section 1, Article 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “[a]ll taxes shall be uniform.” This Uniformity Clause restricts our ability to tax small businesses differently than large corporations. In comparison to the constitutions of many other states, we need to call on our Pennsylvania General Assembly to amend the Uniformity Clause so that we can have an equitable corporate tax structure in our City.
Further, we also must improve workforce training to combat poverty in our City. It is important to increase access to funding for Career Technical Education (“CTE”) programs in schools because these programs provide a career path for many students and is a roadmap for a brighter future. In addition, we need to develop a better relationship with the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council (“Building Trades”) to make this roadmap accessible to more students. As the Labor Co-Chair for the Democratic Municipal Officials, I have toured 17 Building Trades apprentice training facilities. Through these tours and meetings with Michelle Armstrong (Exec. Dir. of the District’s CTE Office) and Rich Lazer (Deputy Mayor for Labor), we plan to develop a directory to make it easier for District students and employees to understand the application process for the Building Trades.
Philadelphia lacks sufficient affordable housing and programs to help address homelessness. What actions will you take to combat this? Please be specific and consider land disposition (Councilmanic prerogative, land trusts, land banks, etc.), tax laws, zoning regulations and assistance programs in your response.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, from 2000 – 2012, Philadelphia suffered the second largest drop in homeownership rates among the nation’s 30 largest cities. Although a loss of jobs and the Recession contributed to this homeownership decline, I witnessed the beginning of this drop during my time as a Deputy City Solicitor representing the City’s Office of Housing and Community Development. In this role, I saw the initial impact that predatory lending was having on our communities. This impact caused significant foreclosures in our neighborhoods, robbed citizens of the equity in their homes, and increased poverty in our City. In response and to address this issue, I was a co-author of Bill #000715-A, the Philadelphia Anti-Predatory Lending Ordinance which became a national model for anti-predatory lending legislation throughout the country. Although this bill was preempted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, it led to our creation of the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, which over the past 10 years, has saved over 11,000 homes from foreclosure.
However, the infrastructure that has enabled the City to save thousands of people from foreclosure is crumbling. Through federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, the City has funded numerous grassroots, nonprofit community organizations that provide the housing counseling to constituents and have stopped foreclosures. Yet, through Sequestration and other federal budget cuts, the amount of funding for these organizations has been drastically reduced and has impacted the future viability of these groups and this program. To address this issue, the City needs to change its funding policy to provide general fund dollars to these organizations so that we can insure that foreclosures and homelessness do not increase in our City due to this crisis.
Further, I took additional steps to address our housing crisis by voting for Bill #170854-AA which requires a good cause for residential evictions. Finally, our City’s Home Rule Charter has made the disposition of land in Philadelphia problematic. Issues involving Councilmanic prerogative, land trusts, land banks cannot be resolved until the Home Rule Charter is revised. Under the Charter, the City cannot acquire or convey land except by legislation. Consequently, decisions regarding land use fall to those elected officials that represent the constituents that will be most impacted (“near neighbors”) by changes to land use. However, I would support revisions to our Home Rule Charter.
If elected, do you plan to reduce or increase taxes, and which ones? Do you support the creation of any new taxes and, if so, what would be your plan for the revenues generated?
As I stated in Question 2, we need to modify our corporate tax structure so that we can support small businesses and insure that big corporations pay their fair share. However, our Pennsylvania Constitution restricts our ability to modify our current tax structure. Under Section 1, Article 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “[a]ll taxes shall be uniform.” This Uniformity Clause restricts our ability to tax small businesses differently than large corporations. In comparison to the constitutions of many other states, we need to call on our Pennsylvania General Assembly to amend the Uniformity Clause so that we can have an equitable corporate tax structure in our City.
If elected, what would you do to ensure our public school system is fully funded and provides an equitable education experience for all Philadelphia students? What is your perspective on charter schools?
Yes. As the son of a retired School District of Philadelphia teacher and the father of a son on the Autism Spectrum who attends a District school, I am deeply concerned regarding the funding of our public school system and the District’s $5 Billion Dollar capital deficit and the impact of deferred maintenance on our school facilities. My first legislative act as a member of Council was to hold hearings regarding the physical safety of Philadelphia schools (Resolution # 160046). This hearing was held after the unfortunate death of District employee and SEIU 32BJ member Chris Trakimas who lost his life after a boiler explosion at F.S. Edmonds Elementary School. Later, I joined the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative to raise awareness regarding various unhealthy conditions of our District schools. Further, I introduced Bill #181008 to require the Health and Licenses and Inspection Departments to certify school buildings for asbestos and mold before they can be opened.
For various years, the School District was not willing to provide greater oversight of charter schools. Although the District would close traditional public schools, it appeared to have a fear of Harrisburg and would not close poorly performing charter schools. In contrast, we need a uniform method of evaluating all schools. In this regard, the District’s Charter School Office should be reformed so that it can properly evaluate and provide oversight of all charter schools in our City.
Do you support any reforms to current policing practices in Philadelphia, including stop and frisk? What programs would you advocate for to assist returning citizens, including post-release counseling for jobs, housing, and other support services?
As I stated in my response to Question 1, our criminal justice system needs to be reformed. In this regard, we need to review the initiatives of peer cities so that policies like stop and frisk can be revised. We also need to end our cash bail system. When a person is arrested, it means that law enforcement believes that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. Yet, probable cause is simply an allegation of a crime and not a determination of guilt by a court or a jury of their peers. Due to our cash bail system, a person who cannot afford to pay bail will be detained in jail for an average of 100 days before appearing before a judge to have their case heard. In Council, I have pushed for the elimination of cash bail and have partnered with the Philly Community Bail Fund, No 215 Jail Coalition, Media Mobilizing Project, and other partners to advocate for criminal justice reforms. Accordingly, I authorized, through Resolution # 170838, the Special Committee on Criminal Justice Reform to hold hearings to assist bail funds in Philadelphia. Until cash bail is eliminated, I will continue to support community based organizations that bail out those that cannot afford bail. In addition to my work to end cash bail in Philadelphia, I have partnered with JustLeadershipUSA and #Closethecreek coalition to advocate that the savings from the closing of the House of Corrections should be used for locally-run, community based services for returning community members.
What is your opinion about the increasing privatization of city public spaces and institutions, including Dilworth Park and Franklin Square? What steps would you take to protect or expand public spaces in Philadelphia?
Generally, I am opposed to the privatization of city public spaces and institutions. In numerous cases, these ideas are presented as a benefit to the City when in fact they are not. The proposed sale of PGW is a prime example. As Counsel to former Councilwoman and Gas Commission Chair Marian Tasco, I am very familiar with the details of this transaction. It is from this perspective that I believe that public hearings should have been held on this proposal. Through this process, it would have been demonstrated why this proposal was not good for the City.
The City’s current, annual minimum municipal obligation to the pension fund is approximately $660 million. However, the true net proceeds of the proposed sale of PGW to UIL would have been $200 million not $400 million. The $400 million amount does not take into account the loss of the annual $18 million franchise payment to the City from PGW. Using a discounted cash flow analysis, this loss is equal to $200 million and consequently, the true net value of the proposed sale is $200 million which is about 1/3 of the City’s annual pension payment. If PGW had been sold to UIL or another bidder, the City would not be in a position to consider a Green New Deal for Philadelphia that could bring in revenue to the City that exceeds the actual net amount of the proposed sale.
How will you advance immigrants’ rights?
As a member of Council, I have and will continue to be a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights. In this regard, I co- sponsored the following legislation:
- Resolution 160886 – Calling on Congress to immediately rectify the injustice of the “1996 Immigration Laws” by restoring due process to immigration procedures, ending automatic deportation, and discontinuing mass detention, in order to uphold human rights and dignity in the United States immigration system.
- Resolution 160729 – Commending Mayor Kenney’s support and affirmation of Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city for immigrants and our City’s continued support for our immigrant population whom we are privileged to have as part of our community.
- Resolution 180720 – Affirming that the imprisonment and prolonged detention of asylum-seeking children and families is inhumane and counter to international law, and calling on Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to issue an emergency removal order and immediately close the Berks County Residential Center.
If elected, what will you do to advance environmental justice in Philadelphia? Specifically, how will you advocate for greater residential and commercial energy efficiency and support efforts to eradicate lead poisoning in schools and households?
I believe that the City should develop a Green New Deal energy plan. To begin this effort, I co-sponsored Bill #180965 which will enable the City to purchase 20% of its municipal energy needs from a solar energy provider. As Chair of the Philadelphia Gas Commission, I believe that we need to transform PGW into an energy provider that is not dependent upon fossil fuels. Accordingly, I introduced Resolution # 181081 to begin this discussion regarding the PGW. Yet, most of PGW’s customers are moderate to low income and we need to use PGW revenue to keep rates low, operate this utility, and invest in its very old infrastructure. Consequently, we need to create new, non-ratepayer revenue that can be used by PGW to invest in alternative energy projects similar to the City’s solar energy project and can be a bridge toward a non-fossil fuel future for PGW as a part of a Green New Deal plan.