This is the first of 10 questions about issues and priorities that NewsWorks asked the seven Democratic candidates running for the Eighth District City Council seat. The questions were drafted by voters who attended NewsWorks forums earlier this spring. Their answers will appear on NewsWorks.org during the week, two questions per day. Answers to question 2, about their plans for transparency and accountability, will be posted later today.
We will be running the candidates’ answers to questions 3 and 4 on Tuesday.
The Northwest has experienced some exodus of middle-class families. As a Councilperson, what in your view are the three most important issues you could work on to stop that exodus?
The three issues I would work on to help stop the exodus would be crime, economic development and education. I would work on the crime (perceived and actual) in the Eighth District. I will work with the Police Commissioner and the captains in my district to ensure that the Northwest is a place where middle-class families will want to stay. Second, I will encourage more businesses to locate their business in the District. This will help drive the economy of the Eighth and keep more dollars in our community. Lastly (and equally as important), I will work with the School District and the principals of the schools in my District to make sure they have the support and resources needed to provide a quality education to those parents who are looking elsewhere for the education they should be receiving in our neighborhoods.
The three areas that have contributed to the middle class exodus are”
1. Depressed housing market and rundown neighborhoods. I would in the first 150 days of my administration put a plan in action to repair, or demolish vacant homes. I would conduct an assessment of the value of the housing and lots as a marketable opportunity. I would market to investors, CDC’s, and the middle class to return to our area, and have current residents suggest ways to decrease the exodus from their community. I would review ways to make property available for young families, and work with banks to secure reasonable mortgages.
2. Address public education. People move to give their children a good chance at a great education. I would be very involved in changing the culture in the schools in my district, and creating a challenging environment for staff, and students.
3. Lastly, safe and productive community to live. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this department. I would begin the process of reducing crime by introducing positive alternatives, vocational training for high-school drop outs, ex-offenders, those who have been out of work for an extended time. Train people to hire themselves. Improve public services, and government responses to neighborhood issues. I believe that if we can start these processes in the first 150 days we can restore another reason for middle-class exodus lack of confidence in this area for a future.
The three most important issues which would help curb the exodus of middle-class families are providing affordable or no cost quality options for education, fixing the tax structure for both properties and businesses and economic development. With the cost of private school education rising, it is becoming more difficult for middle-class families who do not have faith in public education to insure that a high level of education is being delivered to their children. Therefore they move to a suburban area with a better school district. It is this premise that I base that we as a district need to stop comparing public schools versus charter schools especially since by definition charter schools are in fact public schools, and start focusing on “quality schools.” We need to make the Eighth District and the city more attractive and inviting for businesses both small and large and families. Fixing the broken property and sales tax system currently in place and make it more advantageous for businesses to operate within the city limits versus outside the limits will be an important first step in the process.
Economic development is critical to the health and welfare of the District. My 30 years experience creating jobs through renovating abandoned houses into homes that are growing the tax base gives me the tools to address this economic crisis. Implement a business advocacy program enlisting the resources of the Council Office to promote and support the business corridors in the District, focusing on connecting the local business community to the agencies of the city that offer resources. And most important an educational support initiative that leverages city, state and national elected reps to make public schooling the highest priority.
The first major issue that encourages middle class families to leave the Northwest is the lack of quality public education. As Councilperson, I would fight in City Council to take our schools back. Within the District I would sponsor an annual science fair that encourages children from elementary, middle and high schools to enter and compete for prizes. I would stress the importance of pushing STEM subjects in our schools. The second issue is blight. I would seek to have no more than two city agencies coordinate the distribution of vacant properties, so that red tape would be cut for people who want to purchase, rehab and live in the properties. The third issue is public safety. One of the first things I would do is press for more pedestrian level street lighting in our neighborhoods.
We have to focus on the issues that are leading people to leave the city: jobs, taxes, education and public safety.
TAXES & JOBS: I have called for fundamental changes to our tax structure, which I will detail below in question #7. These steps will not only reduce the tax burden on Philadelphia residents, but they will make the city more welcoming to job-creating small businesses. I also propose creating opportunity zones in our neighborhood business districts, which will address blight and create jobs right here in the Eighth District.
PUBLIC SAFETY: My goal is better partnerships between police and the communities they serve. We need to make sure there is trust and cooperation. Block captains and neighborhood leaders should have the cell phone number of a community outreach officer and we need more cops on the beat so that neighbors know the people who are sworn to protect them.
EDUCATION: My first priority is protecting our public schools, which is why I oppose vouchers. Gov. Corbett has proposed huge cuts that will change public education as we know it, so our first job is damage control. I will work to partner with other communities affected by these cuts to claw back as much money as we can.
First of all, we must make Philadelphia a more business-friendly place. As a member of Council, I will work to enhance tax incentives to small businesses that hire our local residents. With new jobs and hiring will come more economic activity in our district and a renewed desire to settle in our neighborhoods. Secondly, we must also dedicate ourselves to reducing crime in our district and throughout the City. Regardless of their economic background, families will not choose to live or work in our neighborhoods if they cannot feel a very basic level of safety here. This is why I’ve pledged to do things like strengthen our Town Watch programs and work with local businesses, schools and non-profits to provide our kids with better, safer childcare and after school programs. Finally, we must commit ourselves to finding new and creative ways to improve the education we’re giving our children. Vibrant, safe, productive schools are essential to attracting more young and growing families to our communities. So we need to identify at-risk and struggling students at a young age. As a community, we must make a more serious commitment to volunteer in our schools by beautifying or cleaning them (an effort I’ll discuss in more in the questions to follow).
Tomorrow we’ll hear from the candidates on how they would prevent future political meddling in schools e.g. King High School and what they would do to reduce abandoned properties.