Posted: March 20, 2015 on PoliticsPA.com
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia hosted the Better Mobility 2015 mayoral forum on Thursday night at the Friends Center in Center City. Seven candidates answered questions pertaining to public transportation, infrastructure, and general mobility issues facing the city of Philadelphia.
One of the main discussions was centered around adopting a Vision Zero policy. Plan Philly, a news project of WHYY and Newsworks.org, calls Vision Zero “the hottest political issue you didn’t know you care about yet, which is headed straight for this year’s 2015 Mayor and Council campaigns.”
It is a multi-national road safety initiative that began in Sweden and aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries caused by road traffic. Enacted by the Swedish parliament in 1997, the idea has gained traction recently in the United States with cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Portland, Ore. adopting similar plans.
“I think Vision Zero is something to take hold of,” Melissa Murray Bailey said.
Bailey was the only Republican candidate at the forum.
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham noted that Philadelphia is home to one of the largest populations of unlicensed and uninsured drivers in the country. Former City Councilman Jim Kenney said that he would strongly enforce the speed limit during the first six to eight months of his administration in order to set a precedent.
The always outspoken Milton Street claimed that traffic safety is a state issue as well. He noted that an extensive driver’s license test would ensure safer roads.
Judge Nelson Diaz spoke about a need for cameras and sound systems at crosswalks around the city which would ensure “more protection for children.”
Another key topic was public transportation. Deputy editor at Philadelphia Magazine and forum moderator, Patrick Kerkstra asked the candidates to discuss how they would make SEPTA work better for the public.
“I’d like to see them expand hours later,” former Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said.
Oliver said he would like to see Philadelphia become an ‘18-hour city’ like Houston and Austin. He believes that SEPTA’s expanded hours on weekends is a step in the right direction.
Kenney wants to see SEPTA “work better with our universities” but also made a point to invest in buses that employ alternative energy like natural gas and electricity.
One candidate commiserated with all public transportations riders in the room. Bailey said she would like to see all forms of transit “run on time.”
In a city which hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1952, Bailey worked hard to humanize herself and keep her answers relatable. On a few occasions, she mentioned her daughter and the problems facing young families in Philadelphia. During her introductory remarks, Bailey addressed the chuckles coming from the crowd when she asked voters to elect her in November.
Overall, Bailey seemed to hold her own and remain personable during the Democratic-heavy forum.
The closing remarks allowed the candidates to comment on the hot button issue of education.
Oliver said that eight out of 10 problems facing Philadelphia stem from education. Diaz backed a moratorium on charter schools until the school funding issues is resolved.
“I think the hallmark of the Kenney administration will be universal Pre-K,” the ex-Councilman said.
And Milton Street put on his most serious face of the night to address the “cornerstone of his campaign.”
“If Philadelphia is going to progress, we need to stop the violence,” he declared.
Posted: February 16, 2015 on PoliticsPA.com
On the same day that Philadelphia was announced as the host of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the City of Brotherly Love tackled an issue which is poised to become a central point of discourse in the looming presidential election.
Surrounded by a crowd of excited workers, the City Council passed legislation for mandatory paid sick leave which Mayor Nutter signed into law later in the day.
“The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most,” said Councilman William K. Greenlee, the bill’s sponsor.
“They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.”
The bill, which will benefit around 200,000 Philadelphia workers, requires businesses with 10 or more employees to guarantee at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. The law goes into effect 90 days after the signing.
This bill has been seven years in the making since Greenlee first pushed for it back in 2008.
Currently, 16 cities–including New York, Portland and Seattle–and three states–California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts–have enacted similar laws while President Obama has called on Congress to pass a federal measure.
Mayor Nutter had previously vetoed similar attempts in 2011 and 2013, explaining that he was never opposed to sick leave but could not support it during the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis.
“The hardworking men and women of our city really can’t wait another day, another week, another month to have paid sick leave,” Nutter said.
Opposition, in particular the hospitality industry, lobbied against the bill saying that it will discourage businesses from moving to the city and deter current companies from expanding.
Initially, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce motioned for the employee threshold to be established at 50 but eventually curtailed that number to 15.
The chamber’s director of public policy Joe Grace said the group’s contention was “never about paid sick leave” but “about competitiveness.”
And in the midst of the 2016 DNC decision and paid sick leave announcements in Philadelphia, just south in Washington, D.C. Democrats introduced a bill that would establish a federal standard on the matter.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post called the three intertwined stories “a coincidence, surely, but it is an interesting one.”
Sargent believes the issue is ‘well on its way to becoming a key issue for Democrats on the national level, as they seek to craft an economic agenda for the 2016 elections.’
Even with imminent Republican contention, Democrats are pushing the matter with brazen vigor in the hopes of establishing a new pillar in the party’s middle class platform.
The fact that Washington is taking action on the issue is significant.
Lucia Graves of the National Journal pointed to this as a success for progressives who have seen this issue pushed at the state and local level by labor and women’s groups for a decade.
Long-time Philadelphia labor activist and former head of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) Kathy Black is one of those progressives working at the grassroots level. Black attributes this political victory to a ‘changing political climate’ which has seen ‘unstoppable momentum.’
Black also saw the successful 2016 DNC bid as a factor.
“Democrats couldn’t really hold their convention in a city that was repeatedly defeating this bill,” she said.
Following Mayor Nutter’s signature into law, prospective Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted her support of the action.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 14, 2015
Soon after, Martha T. Moore of USA Today wrote “Could this be a clue to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform?”
Posted: February 5, 2015 on PoliticsPA.com
Just over a week after he resigned from City Council, former Democratic Councilman-at-Large Jim Kenney made a much expected statement to the media and the city.
In a room of a few hundred supporters at City Hall, he announced his candidacy for Mayor of Philadelphia.
“There is no silver bullet, there is no superman from Harrisburg,” Kenney said.
“Improving our public schools, our city finances, our infrastructure, and our public safety will all take time and patience. Make no mistake, Philadelphia has the grit to get it done – but we will need to come together and become more self-reliant and more independent than ever before.”
Kenney noted that his vision for Philadelphia relies on the cohesive action of a diverse city to reach the lofty goal. He stressed the need to ‘encourage each other’ and put an end to the ‘Philly shrug,’ which he described as the easy way out in a time of adversity. Kenney aims to build a sense of community and transform Philadelphia into a ‘can-do city.’
The former Councilman made clear the importance of schools as the ‘centerpiece of activity’ in a neighborhood.
“If elected Mayor, I will work hand in hand with city departments, community organizations, universities, and non-profits to collaborate and transform these schools into true neighborhood centers for community activity,” Kenney said.
“Schools need to be something we’re proud of again.”
But Kenney didn’t stop at that. He underlined a clear-cut goal of improving education from the ground floor.
“My administration will partner with universities and businesses and, over five years, we will fund Pre-K for every three and 4 year-old in need,” Kenney said.
On the issues of jobs and the economy, Kenney didn’t have specifics laid out. Instead, he emphasized that a great deal of Philadelphians don’t have the skills required to enter the current economy. He believes there is a need to tailor community college education around the current job climate as to better fit students and employers.
Kenney, however, also addressed improving the lives of those who are already employed.
“As mayor, my administration will listen to employers, listen to people looking for work, and align their goals. That includes fighting for things like a real living wage, and earned sick leave,” Kenney said.
In his Mayoral coming out party, Kenney seemed to have his focus on a grassroots operation. The word ‘neighborhood’ was used frequently. ‘Working together,’ ‘giving back to the community,’ and ‘looking out for one another’ was his message.
Kenney’s childhood was based on the community of his South Philadelphia neighborhood.
“The neighborhood I grew up in was a typical South Philadelphia neighborhood,” Kenney explained.
“A typical rowhouse neighborhood you see in South Philly and around different parts of the city, very small streets, 72 houses pushed together, no trees, kids who ran from sun up to the time the lights went on in the streets and you knew you had to be home.”
“It was the kind of neighborhood where everyone took care of each other, everyone looked out for each other. Everyone’s parents knew who you were, and your parents knew who their kids were.”
“I think in many ways, we have to get back to that model. We have to get back to neighborhoods and the neighborhood feel,” he concluded.