Where do Philly’s mayoral candidates stand on gun violence prevention?
Those looking to replace Mayor Jim Kenney have all highlighted gun violence as a top issue.Listen 2:34
This story is a part of the Every Voice, Every Vote series.
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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 were more than 500 firearm homicides in Philadelphia in 2022 —and some lawmakers and activists called on the mayor to resign.
In Philadelphia’s crowded 2023 mayoral race, multiple candidates are making gun violence a top talking point on the campaign trail.
Five former City Council members have announced a mayoral run: Cherelle Parker, Derek Green, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Allan Domb, and Helen Gym.
Community developer and minister John McKay, founder and president of Life Outside the Streets, is a write-in candidate running under the Freedmen Party, as is Fareed Abdullah, a community activist and a teacher at Roxborough High School.
“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 mayoral candidates 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.
The former council member has organized an International Day of Peace march in the city for several years to help foster positive relationships between police and youth.
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.
After nearly five years as City Controller, Rhynhart resigned to run for mayor. She announced her campaign just weeks after releasing a damning report of a Philadelphia Police Department audit.
The audit included statistics such as the discrepancy among police officer deployments — only 2,500 of roughly 6,000 are assigned to patrols.
Citing the relatively limited power of City Council and another year of more than 500 homicides in Philadelphia, Rhynhart plans to focus on connecting Philadelphia’s city resources together.
“There needs to be daily meetings to say ‘Who was shot yesterday?’ ‘Did we know them?’ ‘Could it have been prevented?’ That’s the type of rigor and the type of hands-on approach that’s needed and that I would take as mayor,” she said.
“At the same time,” she added, “I would also be focused on fixing that root of the problem of violence, which is the lack of opportunity … we need to create opportunity in the long term. That’s what is going to stop violence. But we can’t wait for that. We must do short term intervention strategies to get [violence] down now.”
The former controller also plans to implement strategies from cities that have seen recent decreases in gun violence, such as Oakland, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Although he works as a special education teacher at Roxborough High School, Fareed Abdullah isn’t new to politics. He was a candidate in several recent elections.
Inside his classroom, he said he’s concerned about Philly’s young people and their mental health. “Some of the biggest problems with gun violence is the lack of understanding with the young people,” he said.
“Being a high school educator, I see it all the time. The things that they believe leads up to clout and what they see on social media is all about being relevant. If gun violence is the most relevant thing in their lives right now. This is what they are part of.”
He plans to continue partnering with community organizations and begin new partnerships with the Philadelphia police to better focus on assisting youth.
The grocery store owner has worked to address gun violence before, donating gift cards to a gun buyback program and adding stores to food deserts and areas with low income.
He says his plans include community-dwelling police officers. “I’m disturbed by the conversation that we should make it easier to hire people from outside of Philadelphia because we have 1.6 million people that live here,” he shared while sitting in the conference room at his campaign headquarters.
“We could have a more diverse police force that sort of mirrors our communities … I would like to see people from the neighborhood policing their own neighborhoods where they know the culture.”
Brown also plans to add more de-escalation training to the Philadelphia Police Department and hire more city employees.
After resigning from the City Council in August 2022, Domb announced his campaign in mid-November.
In addition to fixing what he calls a ‘crisis of leadership,’ Domb has released a public safety plan. He says the issues are three-pronged.
“First, there is this kind of culture around carrying weapons — that it’s okay to carry weapons even in schools … [Then], it’s the demand for these guns that we have to address. And the way to address that is to get public safety under control. And, of course, this third point, as we deal with the demand and the supply, is that we’re not prosecuting enough gun crimes.”
The former council member also wants to continue investing in anti-violence programs and providing more transparency in the mayor’s office about communication between city entities.
The progressive former council member announced her run in late November of 2022.
Her plan has three key focuses: reducing the number of guns in the city, increased care for those likely to commit crimes, and trauma-informed care for co-victims.
“I’m going to ensure that the police department gets support from a visible and effective federal task force that takes illegal guns off the streets and targets major dealers. I want to make it clear that [I’m] going to prioritize increasing the clearance rate on homicides and shootings. We have to bring perpetrators to justice. We have to treat survivors and family members with respect because every death [and] every injured person in the city is someone who matters.”
Gym said she’ll also invest in improving connections between faith-based intervention groups, town watch volunteers, schools, and parents.
Currently serving as a state representative for Pennsylvania’s 10th district, Amen Brown announced his run in late December of 2022.
The Philadelphia native said tackling illegal guns would be a top priority. He’s worked on firearm restrictions, including partnering with the state Office of the Attorney General to get a Pennsylvania gun show promoter to ban the sale of ghost gun kits at shows.
He wants to use a bipartisan approach.
“Whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, Black, white; whatever [or] whoever you pray to, I think that we all should agree on this crisis. Violent crime is out of control, the violent criminals [are] treating our communities as fair game. We have to address this with some level of heavy handedness.”
Brown said that being visible in the communities that are most impacted is paramount to addressing the problem, adding he lives in a community that experiences shootings often.
James “Jimmy” DeLeon
Jimmy DeLeon worked as a municipal judge for 34 years. He told WHYY’s Billy Penn that he wants to implement a “Local Incident Management System” of procedures in city government to combat gun violence.
“The various components that we have in the city would go into a community that’s affected by gun violence, to lift that community up and get that community running more effectively. That would not only reduce gun violence, but would overturn generational poverty. And as far as community groups, [it] mobilizes grassroots organizations supported by city funding to implement mentoring and intervention actions directed at our young people.”
He believes the next mayor and City Council should expand efforts that involve the court system, and believes his work as a judge would help to open doors.
The only Republican candidate so far, the former council member plans to focus on police recruitment, putting uniformed officers in gun violence hotspots, and improving 911 call response times.
“The most practical thing is to use law enforcement to show people you care by having a visible presence, by working with the community, by being engaged… There are mosques, there are synagogues and other places of religious institutions where they want to work with the police.”
Oh added that his plan would include hiring a new police commissioner to build trust within the police force, and that he would be open to community input on police methods.
Editor’s note: Democratic candidate Rev. Warren Bloom did not respond to WHYY’s multiple requests for an interview.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.
This story is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. Learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters here.
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