In new poll, Philly voters put crime at the top of priorities list for city’s next mayor
Two-thirds of respondents said they’d heard gun shots in their neighborhood during the last year
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks in this undated photo (Image via The Philadelphia Tribune).
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — With city voters on the cusp of choosing a new mayor, a Lenfest Institute survey says that most or 89% of respondents think crime is the No. 1 issue that needs to be addressed by the next mayor.
According to the poll, after crime, the most important issues for residents were: public schools, education 75%; the economy and jobs 65%; homelessness 59%; affordable housing 57%; opioid use 55%; and city services/infrastructure 51%.
In the survey, titled “What Philly Wants: The Every Voice, Every Vote Survey of Philadelphia Voters,” 65% of the residents polled said the city is on the wrong track.
According to the survey, about two-thirds, or 64% of the respondents, said they have heard gun shots in their neighborhoods during the last year. About half or 49% of those polled said that gun violence had a major negative impact on their quality of life in their neighborhood.
The survey uncovers big differences in the perception of the city based on racial differences and sections of the city.
For example, Black respondents (63%) were more than twice as likely than their white counterparts (30%) to say that gun violence has a had a “major negative” impact on their lives.
About two-thirds of residents polled from South and Center City sections of Philadelphia rated the city as an excellent or good place to live, compared with 46% in the lower Northeast section.
“In Black and brown neighborhoods in the poorer ZIP codes, gun violence is the No. 1 problem and No. 1 concern,” said the Rev. Robert Collier, Sr., president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. “These are the people who are being confronted with their children and grandchildren, getting shot or somebody in their family perpetrating the gun violence.”
But Collier said gun violence will not remain confined in certain neighborhoods.
“No one is really safe,” he said.
In September 2022, 14-year-old Nicolas Elizalde, a student at Saul High School, was shot and killed and four other teens were wounded in Roxborough, after a football practice. Four teenagers and one adult were arrested for that crime and are facing trial for murder and other charges. Two more suspects remain at large.
In June 2022, multiple shooters left three people dead and nearly a dozen more wounded on South St. And on July 4, 2022, two police officers were shot on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in what police believe was celebratory gun fire.
“If there is an overwhelming amount of violence even though you may not be personally involved yourself, you may come to believe that the neighborhoods are probably worse than they actually are,” said Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chair of the Department of Africology and African American Studies at Temple University.
On the other hand, Asante said, if you live in Center City, where there is an abundance of services and security and residents with higher incomes, compared to other parts of the city, you probably feel safer.
On May 16, Philadelphians will go to the polls and vote in a new mayor. In addition, all 17 City Council seats are up for re-election. Four former Council members have resigned to run for mayor, including Derek Green, real estate mogul Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones Sánchez. Other candidates for mayor are: the Rev. Warren Bloom, state Rep. Amen Brown, supermarket owner Jeff Brown, retired judge James DeLeon and Rebecca Rhynhart, former city controller.
Meanwhile, when it comes to solutions to lowering crime, 87% of respondents said increasing access to mental health services and drug treatment was extremely important; followed by 86% who said improving relationships between the community and community; and 55%, who said funding for police should be increased.
When it comes to fixing the public school system, 75% said providing resources such as school supplies, technology and internet access was the number one answer, followed by funding infrastructure and other improvements: 73% and providing vocational education and job training: 72%.
Here are some of the other findings of the survey:
- 65% or respondents said the economy and jobs were key areas to address
- 55% of residents polled said that opioid use should be a top priority for the next mayor and other elected officials.
- 67% of respondents said that providing support for people with mental illness and/or drug addiction should be a top priority for the mayor and other elected officials when trying to solve the problem of affordable housing.
- 85% of those surveyed and they residents to vote at their correct address, but 45% said they do not know which City Council member represents this district; and 66% said they only hear from elected official at election time.
Commissioned by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, this survey is a key component of a citywide initiative of 55 diverse community groups and media companies including The Philadelphia Tribune, known as Every Voice, Every Vote, with a goal to elevate the city’s diverse voices, inform voters and promote civic action.
This poll, along with candidate forums, voter guides and news coverage of the issues important to city residents will help Every Voice, Every Vote understand how to better engage the city’s diverse population in the electoral process.
The survey was conducted by the market research firm SSRS. The survey was sent to 14,424 households across Philadelphia between Dec. 5, 2022, and Jan. 9, 2023. There were 1,247 completed surveys done via web, phone or mail in both English and Spanish. The Pew Charitable Trust advised on the development of the poll and will publish an analysis of its results in April.
Asante, the Temple professor, said City Council members should do a better job of making themselves known to their constituents and educational institutions should do a better job teaching how city, state and federal government affects citizens’ everyday lives.
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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