Ogbonna Hagins walks along Ninth and Ontario streets in North Philadelphia. He’s been pressing city officials to do something about illegal dumping (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — Stopping illegal dumping, cleaning vacant lots, fixing broken street lights and reducing traffic fatalities are crucial to improving public safety, City Councilmember Anthony Phillips said.
In April, a poll by the Black Leadership PAC found that most African-American voters in the city want the next mayor and City Council members to address public safety and quality of life issues.
They are not alone.
Most members of Council, including Phillips, have joined Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, in sending a letter to Council President Darrell Clarke, D-5th District, supporting her $72 million amendment to the city’s 2024 budget to improve city services and enhance the quality of life for every neighborhood. The letter formally asked Clarke to advocate for the funding in the budget negotiations with Mayor Jim Kenney.
City Council members are united, Gauthier said, on the issue that all neighborhoods deserve dependable city services.
“For too long, many communities across Philadelphia have not received their fair share,” Gauthier said.
Phillips said the city must improve its response time for complaints about things like broken street lights and vacant lots and that is why he supports the amendment. According to the City Controller’s office, the city’s 311 telephone complaint system is flooded with calls, mostly from outside of Center City.
“There have been studies that show there is a significant correlation between quality of life and violent crime,” Phillips said. “It is our belief in Council that if we address issues of quality of life, it is one step towards reducing violent crime. People begin to value their neighborhoods.”
In March, Kenney proposed a $6.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2024, and negotiations are taking place this month and are scheduled to be completed by June 30. About a third of his budget relates to public safety.
Gauthier’s amendment calls for the city to spend $72 million to hire six more crews to fight illegal sanitation to make sure that each district has its own crew; install permanent speed bumps near schools and high traffic accident areas; hire 20 additional code enforcement officers and building inspectors; and clean vacant lots.
Gauthier said uncollected trash attracts vermin and nuisance businesses and vacant properties attract crime. And dangerous roads can result in traffic fatalities. Research also shows that cleaning and greening reduces violence and saves money, she said.
Reached by the Tribune, neither Kenney nor Clarke’s office commented, citing ongoing negotiations.
This year, City Council members have passed or introduced several pieces of legislation impacting public safety and quality of life in their districts, such as the Marshall Plan for Kensington to fight open-air drug markets, introduced in February by Quetcy Lozada, D-7th District. Phillips has advocated for quality of life issues in the Northwest such as calming traffic measures near schools and improving enforcement of nuisance businesses. They have been joined by many of their colleagues.
In May, several district councilmembers joined zoning legislation introduced by Lozada that would effectively ban illegal drug supervised injection sites in much of the city, including Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, which includes parts of the Center City, South and Southwest sections; Mike Driscoll, D-6th District, which includes parts the Northeast section; and Brian O’Neill, R-10th District, which includes much of the Northeast.
Reducing gun violence and improving city services and quality of life were all major issues in the May primary election to nominate party candidates.
Cherelle Parker, a former councilmember and state legislator, won the city’s Democratic nomination for mayor in the primary. She won with a coalition of Black and brown voters in the Northwest and underserved areas in the North, West, South and Southwest sections, along with voters in the Northeast and union allies. Many of those neighborhoods have disproportionately suffered from gun violence and a lack of city services.
On Nov. 7, Parker faces David Oh, who won the Republican nomination for mayor. One of them will replace Kenney, who cannot run for a third consecutive term under city law. And those issues will likely be front and center in the mayor’s race.
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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