In July, following a nonfatal shooting on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told a Zoom room full of reporters that he is looking forward to not being mayor anymore so he can “enjoy some stuff.”
Kenney’s comment came in the middle of a summer plagued by gun violence — there have been more than 380 firearm homicides in Philadelphia this year — and some lawmakers and activists called on the mayor to resign.
Now, more than a year before the November 2023 election for Kenney’s replacement, multiple council members are stepping down from their own posts to jockey for the position — and they’re already making gun violence a top talking point on the campaign trail.
Three former City Councilmembers have announced a mayoral run: Cherelle Parker, Derek Green, and Maria Quinones-Sanchez.
Community developer and minister John McKay, founder and president of Life Outside the Streets, is a write-in candidate running under the Freedmen Party. City Councilmember Allan Domb has resigned and is considering a run, and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who has been vocal on the issue and critical of the mayor’s strategy, is also considering.
Community activist and former sanitation worker Terrill Haigler has joined the race for City Council. He said it’s time for a leader that can bring people together on issues such as cleaning streets, addressing food insecurity and improving education.
“We have people making irrational decisions because they’re in survival mode,” he said.“Bring resources to people … anything and everything to make sure that every single Philadelphian is not just surviving, but they’re thriving in this city.”
Other gun violence prevention advocates have been calling out announced mayoral candidates on social media.
Here’s a breakdown of the key players and where they stand on gun violence prevention:
Green became a Councilmember-At-Large in 2015. He believes job creation is a key solution to reducing shootings.
At his mayoral kick-off in a Northwest Philly barbershop, Green said he plans to lower taxes for small businesses and make sure people in underserved areas get access to employment opportunities.
“Through these jobs, a person can put down a gun and pick up a paycheck,” he said. “We can make it easier for businesses to provide high-paying jobs in our city, without reducing funding for city services.”
He mentioned the Budd plant, the Navy Yard and the Sunoco refinery as employment hubs. He promised to visit barbershops and hair salons around the city to spread the word.
A 2021 study found that Philadelphia neighborhoods with the highest rates of chronic unemployment also have higher rates of gun violence compared to areas where more people have jobs.
Green also mentioned improving the school system and increasing funding for police and public safety.
Before resigning, Parker had served as council member for Philadelphia’s 9th district, which sits north of Germantown and slightly west of Jenkintown, since 2015.
She called gun violence her number one mayoral campaign priority, and emphasized her commitment to community policing.
“We will support strengthening police and community relations,” she said. “This idea of having beat officers and bike patrols walking our neighborhoods, getting to know the people they are protecting and serving, there is no one who can tell me that that is not an essential part of making public safety our number one priority.”
Earlier this year, Parker published the Philadelphia Neighborhood Safety and Community Policing Plan, which emphasizes increasing the number of police officers in the city, adding security cameras and lighting, cleaning up commercial corridors and investing in victim relocation services.
McKay is a faith-based leader with a history of community organizing. His nonprofit Life Outside the Streets focuses on teaching people how to cope with trauma and improving mental health.
Over the phone, McKay said that Philly residents are traumatized and city leadership have long ignored trauma-informed and mental-health focused efforts.
“Gun violence is a brain health problem … the first thing that I would be doing as the mayor is formally declaring untreated trauma the public health crisis that it is.”
McKay argued that the money from various city, state, and federal grants can’t be effective because it doesn’t reach those most in need.
“It’s not really being organized – it’s getting trickled down into the kid that’s already been going to the programs,” he said. “It’s not going to the kids that are actually being directly impacted.”
He plans to corner a new voter market by connecting with formerly incarcerated and first-time voters. Philadelphia’s voter turnout rates barely reach 25 percent, depending on the election.
Maria Quiñones Sánchez
Philadelphia’s first Latina legislator, Quiñones Sánchez was a four-time elected council member for District 7, serving for 14 years. District 7 includes parts of lower Northeast Philly and North Philadelphia, near Kensington.
Councilmember Quiñones Sánchez has organized an International Day of Peace march in the city for several years to help foster positive relationships between police and youth. This years’ march will be held on Friday.
Quiñones Sánchez said that in addition to divestments in local organizational infrastructure, disconnects between city, state, and federal leadership have been ‘frustrating’.
“We should not be saying the D.A. and the police commissioner are not on the same page,” she said. “That is the executive’s role to say ‘we are going to have one common vision’… that is what’s missing, and that kind of leadership only the mayor can provide, to assure people that all of those components are working together.”
During a recent trip to London, Quiñones Sánchez said she took note of increased use of CCTV footage and high-quality lighting and added that investments in reducing blight would help Philadelphians to feel safer in their communities.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.