Poverty, inequality top of mind as Philly City Council returns to session

Philly Council returns with most members having served one term or less, a new leadership structure and many new ideas.

Philadelphia City Hall during the daytime in summer.

Philadelphia City Hall (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

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Philadelphia City Council is back in session with new members representing various interests and fresh ideas on how to run the city.

Because so many former council members stepped down last year to run for mayor, the majority of city council members have served a term or less. That means there’s a major infusion of new views on the city’s legislative body.

Councilmember Nina Ahmad summed up what she thinks will be the major issue of the first year of this term. “The overall theme is addressing poverty in our city. We can come at it many different ways,” she said.

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Veteran Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said this isn’t like a high school freshman class, but admitted everyone will have to find their own way.

“Certainly, it’s an exciting new environment, and I think there are going to be fresh ideas and a lot of camaraderie,” Gauthier said.

Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke is another first-term freshman. He’s seeking “a hyper-focus on reducing and removing the obstacles for people to have access to what they need to be able to survive and thrive. We want to remove hurdles for people to have access to their resources and also reduce any harm that’s being suffered by folks within the city.”

O’Rourke spoke about issues of homelessness throughout Philly and substance abuse prevalent in the Kensington neighborhood.

“Homelessness is an issue with our city all across this country certainly, but certainly here in the city of Philadelphia, and a sense of urgency is something that I think all of us should carry,” he said. “It remains to be seen how effective we can be … but I have high hopes that we can get some things done.”

Councilmember Rue Landau is another first-term member who wants people to aspire to make the city a better place in many ways.

“I’ve always worked on affordable housing and issues having to do with civil rights, and I want to make sure that as we promote the city and as we grow the city that we also make sure that we’re taking care of our most vulnerable.”

Landau plans to introduce a resolution to review the city’s historical data to better determine how to fix problems.

“Digging into numbers to see why we haven’t made some of the changes and moved forward in the way in which we should, and I think my colleagues will be doing the same, and this is all about getting us back on track so we can get back to the Philadelphia where we know we can thrive.”

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Council also has new leadership, and a return to more in-person meetings. Kenyatta Johnson is the new council president, replacing Darrell Clarke, who retired last year. Katherine Gilmore Richardson displaced Curtis Jones as majority leader, and Isaiah Thomas and Cindy Bass will be majority whips.

The minority party is now the Working Families Party, which gained two seats in the November election.  That means longtime Republican Councilmember Brian O’Neill is no longer minority leader, replaced by Kendra Brooks. Brooks’ Working Families partner Nicolas O’Rourke was elected minority whip in the three-person vote.

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