Kenney grilled on gun violence, gentrification at Germantown mayoral debate

Mayor Jim Kenney reacts to questions about gun violence, blight and inequality during a forum with all three mayoral candidates at Janes Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney reacts to questions about gun violence, blight and inequality during a forum with all three mayoral candidates at Janes Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Germantown residents put Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in the hot seat during a mayor’s race forum at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church.

With the Democratic primary election three weeks away, the incumbent and his opponents state Sen. Anthony Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz made their case for why they should take the Iron Throne in City Hall. The audience didn’t make it easy for the incumbent.

Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz during a mayoral candidate forum at Janes Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Williams and Butkovitz both say the mayor is falling short when it comes to addressing the staggering number of shooting victims and the impact of rising property taxes on cash-strapped residents.

Kenney chalked it up to election season before rattling off city efforts such as a $36 million investment in gun violence prevention measures, and an $80 million investment in affordable housing and housing stabilization. The funds will come from new tax revenue through properties that just finished a 10-year tax abatement.

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

“This is a campaign,” Kenney said. “And people are going to complain about things because they’re running for office, but we’re doing our best to make sure we maintain people living in the neighborhoods.”

But residents held his feet to the fire inside the church surrounded by the massive Germantown High School which, has remained vacant since 2013. Despite local efforts to repurpose the school, the future of the behemoth remains uncertain.

Kenney promised to meet with his finance team, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and administrators from the school district to “see what we can do to go in a different direction.”

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge, discusses gun violence in Philadelphia during a mayoral candidate forum at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Local advocates pressed the mayor for more resources and face-time, as well.

Keith Pate, associate director of Men Who Care Germantown, an organization that serves youth and seniors, says he wants to see the next mayor “be responsive and have a connection to the community.”

Chantay Love of EMIR, an organization that helps gun violence victims, says the next mayor needs to partner with local grassroots organizations more deeply.

Community members attend a mayoral candidate forum at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church in Germantown on April 28. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

“Grassroots organizations being funded to do a true partnership with the city is imperative to our survival,” she said. “Because not only do city officials create policies, but you have grassroots that are doing the work.”

Marie Patterson, of North Philadelphia, voted for Kenney in 2015, but she’ll be casting her vote for Williams in the upcoming primary. She says Kenney hasn’t done enough for the black community in the city.

Tone Wallace, a long-time resident of Germantown, seemed unimpressed by the candidates. He intends on voting but is undecided.

He said he’s looking for a candidate who “takes off the suit, takes off the tie, and is willing to get dirty in this city.”

Candidates have until May 21 to prove themselves.

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