Parker and Oh talk gun violence, opioid crisis, and housing in mayoral forum
The Urban Affairs Coalition hosted the Philadelphia mayoral forum at Temple University on Thursday
A general view of Philadelphia City Hall beside the Convention Center June 17, 2023. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Less than twelve hours after the candidates faced off in the first and only scheduled debate before the Philadelphia mayoral election, Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh participated in a candidate forum hosted by The Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) at Temple University on Thursday evening.
Parker and Oh, who are running to succeed term-limited Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, appeared separately for 45 minutes each and answered questions from Andrea Lawful-Sanders, of WURD-AM, plus submitted questions from a public sentiment survey, and members of the audience who attended the forum.
As has been the focus for most of the campaign, both candidates fielded questions on how they would address gun violence if elected.
Lawful-Sanders cited a UAC survey conducted over the summer, which included responses from 1,002 Philadelphians. More than 80% of those surveyed had felt the impact of gun violence.
Parker said her Neighborhood Safety and Community Policing Plan, that she introduced in March 2022, was a roadmap to “address violence, thinking about prevention, intervention, and then enforcement.”
She described her plan as “smarter on crime” and pointed to her advocacy work on the issue while serving on the Philadelphia City Council.
“I wanted any officer on our street wearing a body-worn camera. That was an unpopular thing to advocate for when I was in council because we had a group shouting for us to defund the police,” Parker said. “But that was antithetical to the message that I was hearing from the people in the neighborhood who were reminding me that they used to have community policing and if I was their council person, why did I let someone take their community policing officers away?”
Oh said the first thing that he would address in the police department would be what he described as a current shortage of police officers in the city.
He said that current staffing levels for the Philadelphia Police Department were problematic, and “short probably by about 1,400.”
Parker said she’s offered proposals that would allow some police department retirees to come back on a “float force” and help with administrative duty, so more able-bodied police officers could get back to work out in the community. While Parker emphasized hiring a police commissioner who shares her vision of public safety and knows Philadelphia, Oh said he wants a commissioner who is from the city.
“I want to hire a police commissioner from Philadelphia with experience in Philadelphia, to show what our police department is about,” Oh said.
As of Oct. 26, there have been 356 homicides in Philadelphia. In all of 2022, there were 516 homicides in the city, which was just slightly lower than the high of 562 homicides in 2021. The figures have been on a steady rise over the past several years; in 2018, when Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was sworn in, the city saw 353 homicides, and in 2016, the first year of Kenney’s administration, Philadelphia had 277 homicides.
Both candidates were also asked how they would ensure community members feel safe in their neighborhoods.
Oh blamed poor policy for the ongoing problems in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, where city officials have grappled with an open-air drug market.
“You know, I think Kensington is just a prime example of government policy that is very harmful, intentional and discriminatory,” Oh said. “How did this one area of the city end up getting no services? No policing, no safety? You know, it’s intentional, right.”
Parker said that a “ground up approach” was best to address the problems in Kensington, and not telling the members of the community what was best for them.
In September, Philadelphia City Council voted 14-1 to override a veto from Kenney, to ban supervised injection sites in the city. Kenney and Krasner have both previously voiced their support for supervised injection sites, where intravenous drug users can take illegal drugs with overdose treatments and staff available on-site.
“I stood up very strongly against safe injection sites because I grew up during crack cocaine,” Parker said. “And I know what that’s like. I want to focus on long-term care, treatment and housing.”
Oh has also been a vocal opponent of proposed supervised injection sites in Philadelphia.
“We have to get to capacity, serve the people with quality care, better care, things like that,” Oh said. “But I’ll just say this, we should not allow people to linger in drug addiction.”
Parker, when asked about how to create more affordable housing in Philadelphia and prevent the displacement of vulnerable communities, stressed the need to build more affordable housing units.
“I offered a plan during the primary where I talked about having 30,000 units of housing available here in the city of Philadelphia,” Parker said.
Oh criticized Philadelphia’s current home assessment property process and said it needed to be changed.
“Our city, to me, illegally assesses property,” Oh said. “It’s improper and they are overtaxing people all throughout Philadelphia, especially the most vulnerable poorest senior citizens [on] fixed income, low-income high crime areas.”
Change in Philadelphia
Overall, both candidates stressed the need for change in Philadelphia. “I think people are sick and tired of what they already know happens,” Oh said. “That’s why they don’t vote. They don’t think it matters. But yeah, you need someone to come in and clean house.”
Parker said despite being viewed as an underdog in the Democratic Party primary, she thinks voters appreciate her straightforward message.
“I was forthright with what the solutions that I would proffer were,” Parker said. “And I didn’t change them based on the race, class, socio-economic status, the religion, the zip code, sexual identity, or orientation of the audience.”
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