Controversy continues over violence fight between council member, controller, and mayor

Rebecca Rhynhart speaks from a podium at a press conference, with elected officials behind her

File photo: Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart joined other elected officials and community leaders in demanding a stronger response to the city’s historic gun violence on July 22, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s City Controller and a member of City Council are teaming up to call out the Kenney administration on its response to the city’s rising murder rate, while the administration says they are taking the issue seriously and are working through multiple avenues to address the issue.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart issued a statement saying with 529 murder victims in the city, “Whole communities are traumatized and afraid.” The pair are calling for more money and effort to “push for an end of the bloodshed and a return to calm on the streets.”

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Gauthier said a series of correspondence with the Kenney administration has left her frustrated.

“I represent the 3rd District, which includes much of West and Southwest Philly that has neighborhoods that are being inundated by gun violence. And so, you have people, mostly Black and brown people who are afraid to let their kids play outside, who are nervous going to and from work, who can’t enjoy public spaces without fear of gun violence … to me, that’s an injustice. You know, Black and brown people in our city deserve to live and exist in neighborhoods that are safe and where they can thrive. And they also deserve to have our city wrap its arms around them in this moment, and provide the resources and support that’s needed.”

Gauthier said if she had the power, she “would immediately expand resources in a very targeted way to neighborhoods. I would expand the crisis intervention program, where we have folks with lived experiences who understand our neighborhoods and who understand how to work with people who are involved in violent situations … so that we have enough of those people on the ground mentoring young people, coming between conflicts before they turn into shootings. We had plans to expand that program and we still haven’t done so. We have about 54 people doing that work on the ground at a time when we’ve reached about 529 homicides. I would immediately expand trauma services to the targeted areas that are experiencing routine gun violence.”

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Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said she and Councilmember Gauthier have been “pushing the mayor to have a real strategic response to the gun violence in the 14 ZIP codes most impacted by the violence in our city. That’s about 30% of where our city is experiencing the majority of the gun violence, and we have been requesting and demanding him to do more. And he hasn’t done it, his team hasn’t done it, and we’re disappointed in the mayor’s inaction.”

Rhynhart added, “What the council member and I have been demanding is that the areas most impacted by the violence need investment in terms of recreation programs. They need trauma treatment. … It’s completely unacceptable the level of death and trauma that certain areas of our city are seeing.”

A spokesperson for the Kenney administration refuted Gauthier and Rhynhart’s claims. Kevin Lessard, the mayor’s press secretary issued a statement saying, “over the last several months, we have been working with a broader range of external stakeholders to improve the structure and outputs of the tactical meetings that will incorporate the Philadelphia Police Department’s Place Network Investigations, innovative environmental strategies from the Smart Cities program, as well as incorporate supports for homeowners in vulnerable areas.”

Specifically, Lessard said the city has distributed $13.5 million in Community Expansion Grants and distributed $870,000 in new Targeted Community Investment Grants. The city is also planning to open “community evening resource centers” in South and Southwest Philadelphia on Dec. 20.

Lessard added, “The mayor firmly rejects, and is deeply offended by, the notion that he and his administration has not taken the epidemic of gun violence seriously. We will continue to work with our criminal justice and community-based partners to address this challenge, save lives, and protect communities in every corner of Philadelphia. Our administration is resolved to devote every remaining day of Mayor Kenney’s time in office to stopping this senseless violence in its tracks.”

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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