The Next Mayor: Five Questions the Candidates Should Face

The remaining Philadelphia mayoral candidates are going to be hard pressed with tough questions from voters this election. With the systematic issues Philadelphia faces in areas like education and government accountability to the public, the two candidates are going to have to pitch solid solutions to get voters on their side. Whoever is taking over for Mayor Michael Nutter will inherit a wide range of frustrations from Philadelphia’s citizens.ManionKinneyFall15SchoolDistrict1

What are we going to do to make our schools better?

Philadelphia’s public school system has faced multiple problems in recent years. The two key points that cause the public’s frustration when it comes to the Philadelphia Public School District are school closures and funding, which go hand in hand.

Without the proper budget, schools are unable to operate normally and provide for their students, leading to another school closing in the Philadelphia Public School District. More school closings will have parents looking into other options, like charter schools, that offer their children a solid education and are not totally dependent on city funds.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said, “The city needs to decide how charter schools can be funded. The system fights charters.”

After a recent victory in Commonwealth Court in September that ruled that the Philadelphia Public School District cannot bypass the state law and set an enrollment limit for charter schools, funding for these schools is going to be absolutely necessary as enrollment is expected to rise. While the problems with Philadelphia’s schools go way beyond funding, it is the key to solving the district’s problems.

ManionKinneyFall15Dollar1Where are my tax dollars going?

As Philadelphia’s schools struggle to get funding, another flood of issues arise.

Back in March, Mayor Nutter announced a 1.47 percent rise in real estate tax in order to allocate more money for public schools. While schools need funding, Philadelphia faces other problems, both physically and politically, that could benefit from tax dollars.

Raising taxes pushes citizens away from the city and towards the suburbs where they would still pay similar tax rates, but would be able to reap the benefits.

How are we going to improve the relationship between the local government and the small businesses?

Philadelphia’s local government has a strained relationship with its local businesses. Most recently, the 2015 Papal visit has businesses asking themselves if it’s worth it stay open or lose profits for the day and close down. Without the city assisting businesses in planning around the Pope’s visit, Philadelphia’s Independence Visitor Center decided to take to social media to start a hashtag #OpenInPHL to spread the word about businesses that will be open during the Pope’s visit. While this is one example of how Philadelphia’s government has lacked support for its small businesses, it shows where small businesses lie on their list.

After the Pope’s visit, Philadelphia will still need to foster and keep building the relationship between its government and small business. In some of Philadelphia’s districts, their city council representatives are already working on these relationships.

Philadelphia Councilman Bobby Henon’s director of communications, Eric Horvath,  said, Whether it’s with 15  – and counting – storefronts that have taken advantage of the Storefront Improvement Program through the Department of Commerce, or the Business Improvement District along Frankford, that will bring an extra layer of services to the avenue.”

ManionKinneyFall15ConstructionWhat is the government doing to fix our sidewalks and streets?

If you take a look at most of Philadelphia’s side streets, you can easily spot the potholes and other road repair problems. A trip down a Philadelphia sidewalk will have you dodging debris from unmaintained sidewalks. The next mayoral candidate will single-handedly be able to fix this during their term in office, they can most certainly get the ball rolling.

Councilwoman Blackwell said, “The condition of the sidewalks and streets is an issue, as well as retaining walls and other structural issues.”

She also noted that these street and sidewalk repairs are under the many maintenance issues Philadelphia and other large cities face and is something that the local government will have to reach out to the state government for, in order to receive funding and approval.

ManionKinneyFall15ATM1What is my government doing for me?

Underlying all of Philadelphia’s issues is its government’s lack of accountability to their people. Raising taxes without citizens seeing results in their schools and communities is a major issue with Philadelphia’s government.

Councilwoman Blackwell said, “People are tired of paying taxes and not knowing where it’s going.”

As Philadelphia switches over its leadership, it seems as though the best place to start is in the everyday operations of the city itself.  From sidewalk renovations to following up on vacant buildings, the state of the city’s appearance may be the first stop for showing the public what they are paying for.

Eric Horvath said, “Philadelphia’s government is the one that picks up your trash, plows the snow from the streets, inspects building construction and demolition, gives residents a say in what gets built in their neighborhoods and how. It’s the first stop in accountability. The next mayor must work to ensure all of those services run well, efficiently and honestly – and with each member of Council to do so.”

As tax dollars are a way of funding public institutions, it sounds like Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates are going to have to be open to the idea of creating a public forum to quell voters’ wariness when it comes to government spending.

– Text and photos by Kaitlin Marie Manion and Lena Kinney.

Roxborough: Young Voters Absent From Primary Polls

It was a quiet and unusually empty afternoon in the auditorium of the polling station at Ridge Avenue and Rector Street. Located right next to the Roxborough Memorial Hospital, volunteers and poll workers were stationed outdoors and indoors, anxiously awaiting a crowd to come in and place their votes for the 2015 primary election.

Throughout the last decade, voter turnout in Philadelphia has been in steady decline. Many poll workers have noticed this recent decline and feel that young voters need to realize the importance of their opinions and come out to vote.

“I think it’s horrible because the young people don’t realize without their vote, we will get nowhere,” said Robert Fahringer, a local poll worker and voter. “We need younger people to vote for mayors who are going to change things. The only way we are going to do that is if younger people get out there and vote.”

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Although the right to vote is something not to be taken for granted, local poll workers have theories as to why people, specifically young adults, feel their vote does not matter. Sylvia Myers, who will be turning 91 next month, has been working as the judge of elections for numerous elections and has seen the decline firsthand.

Myers said their busiest time at the polls was after the workday, but she still was not encouraged by the voter turnout so far.

“I have about 470 people in my division and only 32 people have come in to vote so far,” Myers said around midday. “I think people are discouraged just by the city itself. What is there has not been good. They figure, ‘I am not going to bother. ‘”

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Besides the political corruption that has tainted the city’s past, there are other elements that recently discouraged people from voting. The restrictions on when a person can vote and the lack of education provided about politics are two more reasons voters opted out of voting.

“A lot of people say ‘I can’t vote because I have work,’” said Donna Howley, a poll worker at the auditorium. “I went down to New Orleans after Katrina to gut houses in the lower 9th ward and there they voted on a Saturday. “

Chris McGuigan, a poll watcher from the 26th division, stood outside the auditorium promoting the Democratic Party.

“I don’t know if younger people understand how local elections work,” McGuigan said. “I think that is something that could be given as course in school or something.”

Keith Myers, another poll watcher from the 26th division, agreed with McGuigan but thinks there is no excuse for young people not to be at the polls.

“If they want to have a say in their future, they should get here right now,” Keith Myers said.

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Colleen Roberts, a volunteer for the Republican Party, thinks this problem could be solved if young people get more involved in the voting process.

“I am not very political so I can’t even say I know half the topics, but now that I’m getting into it, it’s really fascinating,” Roberts said. “It is worth it to know what’s going on.”

Many local residents of the Roxborough neighborhood, including Annie Lawlor, also agreed that young people in the area do not realize the importance of their vote.

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“People don’t understand the importance of how hard it was to get a vote and what people had to go through and still have to go through in other countries,” Lawlor said. “Your rights are so important to you, and they can be taken away so easily. No matter what, if you get to vote, it’s a very precious thing.”

“They are fighting for this privilege in Europe, and here we have it, and our people are very apathetic,” Sylvia Myers said.

– Text and Images by Chelsey Hamilton and Patrick Paul.

Logan: Education and Crime Top Issues For Voters

NextMayorLogo2015According to community activist Sheila Bellamy, the voting for the primaries is usually low in numbers because many people do not see the importance.

“In my district, there are 540-something registered voters, she said yesterday morning at the Birney Preparatory Academy, located at 9th Street and Lindley Avenue. “If we can get 200 today, we’re going to be really happy.“

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The people of the Logan section of the city believe that the best candidate for this year’s mayoral election has to be someone who attends to the issues of the community.

Bellamy said that her main concern today is the youth being targeted by police.

“Some of these boys are being murdered unarmed,” said Bellamy.

Crime and education are what the people of Logan believe are important, unaddressed issues of the neighborhood.

Like many other neighborhoods, Logan schools have also suffered because of the Philadelphia School District’s budget cuts. Voter Terry Holloway, a home-care worker and Logan community member for 35 years, stressed the importance of the next mayor tackling the school district’s funding issue.

“They’re jamming up the schools and pushing too many students together,“ said Holloway. “They need more money so they have enough supplies for the kids.“

Improving the different community facilities and recreational centers are also on the list of concerns for Logan residents. Eighty-one-year-old Marion Johnson, a community leader at Barrett Playground at 8th and Duncannon streets, has been a resident of the community for 41 years. Every second Thursday of each month, Johnson and fellow members of community meet to discuss how to improve the social conditions of the neighborhood.

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Johnson hopes that the next mayor will help upgrade and enhance the neighborhood recreation center for the youth.

“A lot of youth come there but they deserve better than what they’re getting,” said Johnson. “It is a saving grace in a way but the quality of it needs to be improved.“

 

Parent involvement is what Johnson believes is an essential piece missing from Philadelphia schools.

“You’d have forces behind the children and you’d be able to put forces on those agencies that need to be dealing with the situation,” Johnson said. “No Matter what, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.”

The members of the community believe that the way to persuade a mayor to make a change and tend to a community is to assemble and put pressure on whoever is running for office.

“Candidates can make speeches about what they want to do,” said Johnson, “but unless you stay behind them and put some pressure on them – it’s a proven fact – they might just slip right on through the holes.”

– Text and images by Clayton Hoffstein and Terence Oliver.

Public Schools Versus Charter Schools

There are many issues that the candidates for the next mayor of Philadelphia are dealing with as they continue their campaigns. Some examples of issues that many citizens are concerned with include crime, taxes and jobs.

Another major issue, one that seems to be at the forefront of the upcoming election is education. If one would ask current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, he would more than likely tell them that education is always an issue in this city.

The School District of Philadelphia operates with a $2.5 billion budget for over 220,000 students. This year, the school district is facing an $80 million deficit, and each candidate seems to have a different plan on how to deal with that deficit, as does current Mayor Nutter.

Mayor Nutter’s plan to deal with the school funding deficit calls for a raise in property taxes in the city, a plan that is opposed by all of the mayoral candidates.

At the heart of the education issue is the debate between public schools and charter schools, and which type should receive how much of the school district’s budget.

Approximately 31 percent of the schools that are part of the School District of Philadelphia are charter schools, and the remainder are public schools.

On the surface, it would appear that the candidates are attempting to sweep this debate under the rug. Democratic candidate Anthony Hardy Williams has said publicly that he is tired of beating up on one type of school. This is despite Williams’s campaign being backed by the Susquehanna International Group, which is known to be a proponent of charter schools.

Earlier on in the process, Williams also stated that he would be willing to accept a $35 million donation from the Philadelphia School Partnership, a non-profit advocacy group that is not associated with the school district. This $35 million donation would go towards increasing the number of seats in the city’s charter schools.

This suggests that Williams is on the pro-charter schools side of the debate, while some of his opponents, most notably Jim Kenney, are pro-public schools.

Kenney and Williams are on completely opposite ends of the debate when it comes to expanding charter schools.

According to Crowdpac, Kenney “supports the adoption of the community schools and a more aligned approach to delivering education and support to children.”

These community schools would be public schools placed in certain communities, and become centers for social and medical services for students and their families.

When Williams said he would accept a $35 million donation to increase the seats in charter schools, Kenney and other candidates opposed, saying that any donation should go towards charter schools and public schools equally.

The public versus charter debate is a hotly contested one, and many citizens have strong feelings for one particular type of school. Below is a visualization showing enrollment numbers, graduation numbers and dropout numbers for both public and charter schools in the 2012-2013 school year.

For these statistics, only schools that offer grades 7 through 12 were included, as those are the grades when some students will begin to potentially choose to drop out of school.

In Philadelphia in 2012-2013, public schools had a little more than twice as many 7th-12th grade students as charter schools. That is not much of a surprise, as charter schools have just recently started to grow in the city of Philadelphia.

The one common perception is that charter schools provide a better quality education, but some of the numbers, specifically graduation numbers, suggest otherwise.

As the visualization shows, 8,029 students graduated from public schools, compared to just 3,337 from charter schools. The number of public school graduates is greater on its own, but also when total enrollment is involved.

According to the data, 14.5 percent of public school students graduated, while just 12 percent of charter school students graduated. That does not seem like a big disparity, but when it comes to talking about tens of thousands of students, that’s very notable.

The piece of information that is positive for those who are pro-charter school is the dropout data. 1,402 students dropped out of public schools in 2012-2013. That is 92 percent of all dropouts that school year. Students who attend charter schools tend to stay there, and graduate in most cases.

While that information is positive for charter schools on the surface, it also makes a case for funding to go to public schools. In Philadelphia, there are public schools on the brink of closing. Many of the facilities need improvements, and the students do not receive the funding necessary for them to succeed.

All of the mayoral candidates agree that school funding is a major issue, but each has a different plan of attack. Some feel that adding charter schools is the way to go, while others would rather improve the current public schools.

When it comes to data and statistics, it appears that making improvements to the public schools is where the funding should go.

– Text and visualization by Jayson Loose

Students break down “The Philadelphia Budget”

“It is important to know what is important to you when voting,” according to “The Philadelphia Budget,” a multimedia site created by the Photography Seminar class of 2015 from the Temple University Journalism Department.

budgetsite“The (upcoming mayoral primary) election will determine who drafts and proposes the budget,” according to the site, which explains that: “This will ultimately affect how money is spent within Philadelphia.”

The project identifies topics on which the candidates have stated positions, including education, poverty, crime and job growth, while the section of the site strive to answer the questions: “How Does the Budget Work?” and “Why Should You Care?

The “Affected Faces” section is also viewable as a book called “Money Talks.”

African-American activists discuss mayoral election

Hip-hop artist and activist Pili X, and poet and activist Malik Amari share their thoughts on what they want from Philadelphia’s next mayor. Primary elections are scheduled for May 19th. Reporting from Temple University: Terrence Oliver.

Grays Ferry Wants Change From New Mayor

“They need to do something for the kids in this area,” Joe Finnegan said. “They don’t have anything to do. There need to be more playgrounds and after school programs. There has to be jobs for these young kids coming out of high school as well. With all this crime, parents have to be more responsible for their kids, then there wouldn’t be as many of these problems.”

The impact that the next mayor of Philadelphia will have on the city will be felt heavily by neighborhoods that are under-serviced. One such place is Grays Ferry, located in South Philadelphia. This once stable, Irish-Catholic community has been marred by racial tensions, crime and economic despair since the 1970’s.

This hardship is still felt in the present day. Lifetime resident Dave Renna remembered better times.

“This neighborhood used to be nice,” Renna said. “You had so many corner stores, a bakery right down the street, stuff like that. Everybody knew each other and watched each other’s back.”

Renna also highlighted the policies that have affected the residents economically.

“We need to get money back in the neighborhood,” Renna said. “(Mayor) Nutter’s trying to get funding in too many different ways. I’m a smoker, and he put a two-dollar tax on the cigarettes. I pay school taxes, and he’s hurting everyday people economically. Why should we suffer?”

Despite these complaints on the current city administration, there is hope from the Grays Ferry community that changes could come from a new mayor. The favorite candidate throughout the neighborhood seems to be former Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney. Lifetime neighborhood resident Carroll McCollum weighed in on why Kenney has garnered the support.

“He has the support of the fireman, cops and teachers,” McCollum said. “I think he would be the best for the whole city, not just Grays Ferry. We need a mayor that’s going to stand up and say, ‘let’s be a city again’.”

Similar to Renna, McCollum has complaints with the current administration.

“Nutter’s more concerned about his image than anything else,” McCollum said. “He’s handcuffed in certain areas, but in some situations, like the education funding, a better job could be done. Now people around here have to send their kids to Catholic schools that cost ten thousand-dollars-per-year.”

Another prevalent issue for the residents of Grays Ferry is housing. The residents mentioned that the University of Pennsylvania, located directly across the Schuylkill River from the neighborhood has promised for years to expand. In theory, this would allow infrastructure to be improved, and have prospective homebuyers congregate to Grays Ferry.

Finnegan, a former resident of the community, commented on the importance of this issue.

“We’ve been ignored for a long time,” Finnegan said. “There’s Section 8 housing, absentee landlords all over the place. They don’t fix the properties, they all fall apart and then the tenants don’t have the money needed to fix it up themselves. If Penn follows through with what they’ve been saying for years, then hopefully that could mark an improvement.”

With the crime prevalent in the neighborhood, Finnegan also believes that it is important to keep the youth occupied in productive ways. He noted that doing
this would benefit younger people in the community. As a new father in the city, he wants it for his own family, and others in the same situation.

Ultimately, the new mayor of Philadelphia will have to make policies for the entire city, and not just the community of Grays Ferry. What these residents of the neighborhood highlighted, showed the concern that they have for the preservation of their home. Whether change will come or not, it is equally important that people like this care about where they live. That is the first step.

– Text and image by Patrick Smith.