Jobs, Housing, Safety, Education: Philadelphia Mayoral Candidates on Important Issues Ahead of May 13 Debate

Incumbent Jim Kenney and challengers Anthony Hardy Williams and Alan Butkovitz each gave answers to 10 questions from NBC10 ahead of their May 13 debate to be held at the Comcast Technology Center.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and two Democratic challengers, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and former Controller Alan Butkovitz, have been campaigning for weeks now. 

On Monday, May 13, the three candidates for mayor will face off in the first and only debate ahead of the May 21 Democratic primary election.

They have each given answers to 10 questions posed by NBC10. Here are their in-depth answers in full.

NBC10 and Telemundo62 are giving you an opportunity to hear from the Democrats running to be mayor of Philadelphia in the first and only televised mayoral debate featuring all the Democratic candidates.

(The 7 p.m. debate will be broadcast in English on NBC10 and in Spanish on TeleXitos, and livestreamed on all NBC10 and Telemundo62 digital platforms. After the debate has concluded, it will be available to watch on demand on and

1) As the city continues to grow there is a need for more jobs and affordable housing.  Speaking both geographically and industry-specific, where do you envision the biggest opportunity for the city’s economic growth over the next four years?

KENNEY: It’s important that Philadelphia’s recent economic growth be inclusive and equitable. Last year, Philadelphia added the most jobs in a single year since 1969 and over the past three years, we have outpaced the national average in job growth. Now, we need to make sure that this growth is reaching the neighborhoods that could benefit from our surging economy. Our Inclusive Growth strategy outlines several areas where we expect growth, specifically around life sciences and the biotechnical fields, and in logistics, especially through the increase in efficiency of our Port. I was proud to partner with Governor Wolf to drive unprecedented investment in the Port, and over the next year we will open a maritime training center so that people can access the new jobs associated with this investment. Additionally, we're going to keep investing in education, housing, and workforce development so that every neighborhood can benefit from Philadelphia's strong economic growth.

BUTKOVITZ: The Philadelphia Port: Backlogs in unloading of ships at Los Angeles and New York ports creates a strong demand for more East coast ports with capacity for volume. Longshore jobs pay $50k-$100k per year and do not require a high school diploma. 

WILLIAMS: Despite recent years of modest job gains, Philadelphia still lags competitor cities in terms of job growth. If Philadelphia grew jobs like other peer cities over the last decade, we would have added about 35,000 additional jobs. To grow jobs in Philadelphia, we should reduce the city’s unique and job-killing taxes to drive the office-sector economic growth that employs neighborhood Philadelphians. We should explore creating a public bank in Philadelphia to provide access to badly needed capital for the small, neighborhood businesses that create most of the jobs in our city. And, we should better connect Philadelphians to work by exploring options to expand the Broad Street subway to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, incorporating mass-transit infrastructure along the Roosevelt Boulevard, and restructuring SEPTA bus service to link neighborhood residents to job centers. Where the city is growing — especially in and around Center City — we must use inclusionary zoning and the tools of city’s housing trust fund to ensure that Philadelphia neighborhoods retain racial and economic diversity.

2)    Housing prices continue to go up – but it’s not just creating a challenge for people who want to own their own home. As more high rises go up, rent is climbing right along with it.  What could be done to combat the skyrocketing rent prices?

KENNEY: Preserving housing affordability in our neighborhoods is a key priority. We recently released our Housing Action Plan to guide our strategy for maintaining affordability for both homeowners and renters. Included in this plan is over $80m in new funding for affordable housing programs for both homeowners and renters. One of the Plan’s recommendations is to provide shallow rent subsidies for renters. I also signed Good Cause eviction legislation that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants on short-term leases unless there is “good cause” to do so.

BUTKOVITZ: There should be caps on property tax increases caused by gentrification. This is authorized under a 1984 Pennsylvania Constitution Amendment. City and zoning authorities should require a rental impact statement before authorizing new construction of rental properties, and impact on nearby rents should be a factor in issuing approvals for such construction.  

WILLIAMS: The increase in housing and rental prices is a sign that demand to live in Philadelphia is on the rise. But, while we celebrate the fact that ours is a growing, desirable city, we must ensure that Philadelphia remains welcoming to a diverse population at all income levels. To increase affordability, the city can incentivize creation of more affordable units as a zoning bonus or through community-benefit agreements with large developers, and reduce minimum parking requirements for residential developments to drive down construction (and rental) costs. The city can also deliver quality, basic city services like regular citywide street sweeping, street resurfacing, and full staffing of recreation center and libraries so that more neighborhoods are neighborhoods of choice, expanding the supply (and reducing the cost) of rental properties.

3)    What is your plan to reduce violence in Philadelphia?

KENNEY: One life lost to violence is one too many. We’re approaching the epidemic of violence with the urgency it deserves. Ultimately, Harrisburg must allow us to enforce our own gun control laws so we can stop the flow of guns into our neighborhoods. But absent any changes in state gun laws, we’re working to implement our comprehensive violence prevention strategy, the first such strategy in more than a decade. We’re backing it up with tens of millions in new investments to support strategic Police Department programs, such as Operation Pinpoint, and gun violence prevention initiatives that are working directly in neighborhoods to provide opportunities to young people and remove them from a life of violence. Additionally, we will launch new Neighborhood Resource Centers for individuals on probation so they can access services right where they live, and an expanded Community Crisis Intervention Program to serve high-risk communities.

BUTKOVITZ: End stop and frisk. Paid mentorships for adults to work with and counsel young people on a large-scale basis, focused deterrents. Enhanced police presence and police prioritization of identification of and closing of “gun houses”. 

WILLIAMS: In 2018, the murder rate in Philadelphia was the highest among any large city in the nation – more than 20 murders per 100,000 residents. Philadelphia now has more murders each year than New York City even though New York has a much greater population. Late in 2018, nearly three years since he took office, Mayor Kenney announced the city did not have a comprehensive violence-prevention plan. Despite new pronouncements about city plans, more than 100 more Philadelphians have been murdered in 2019 already.  Far too many Philadelphians live in their neighborhood in fear. Violence is the norm in too many Philadelphia communities. As Mayor, I will declare a state of violence emergency on my first day in office to empower the police commissioner to coordinate an integrated approach to reducing violence in Philadelphia so all city agencies support our city’s anti-violence efforts and cooperate with the Police Department’s work.  I will cooperate with the City Controller’s Office on a performance audit to evaluate how the city spends nearly $50 million annually on anti-violence programs, engage the Human Relation Commission much more aggressively in the resolution of neighborhood disputes to stop them from leading to violence, and utilize the resources of the city’s Health Department to treat violence prevention as a public-health and mental-health crisis. I will end “stop-and-frisk,” build a police force that looks like Philadelphia throughout the ranks, and provide much more support to police community-relations officers to best engage every community in the effort to improve public safety. Our police will expand the use of “Focused Deterrence” and use technology — police body cameras, cameras at crime hotspots, and big-data analytics — to be smart and accountable on crime. I will increase training for town-watch organizations to expand their capacity and increase their effectiveness; engage the help of the people who are in the streets working with the community every day – as I have done in creating the recent Citywide Peace Pledge – so anti-violence efforts are grassroots movements and not City Hall proclamations; and reinvigorate community-based crisis-intervention model to engage our neighborhood leaders in the fight against violence. As mayor, I will address fundamental causes of violence by implementing my Better Way To Reduce Poverty And Grow Jobs For A Better Philadelphia plan to target cutting Philadelphia’s poverty rate in half before I leave office to grow opportunities and support our communities. I will follow the lead of Allegheny County and establish an integrated data system to link court, city, and school district data to best inform government’s ability to reduce the violence; work with my ex-colleagues in Harrisburg to build on the efforts of the Philadelphia Illegal Gun Task Force I established as a state senator to curb gun violence; use city government as a model employer for returning citizens and increase educational and job-training opportunities for inmates and returning citizens; and expand incentives for private employers to hire returning citizens.

4)    What are your top 3 achievable goals to improve Philadelphia schools in your first year in office?

KENNEY: Our schools have made tremendous progress in the past three years, now that they’re under local control, but we still have more work to do. I want to invest $700 million more in our schools over the next five years, in addition to the $500 million we invested in last year’s five-year budget. The bottom line is that our schools still need more resources and we can’t count on Harrisburg to deliver for Philadelphia’s students. First, we will make sure every school building is safe and free of any environmental health hazards. I will also create a new joint Office of Career Connected Education with the District and provide more resources for our Out-of-School Time Initiative so that we can offer quality programming for our students after school. This is in addition to my plans to increase the number of Community Schools to 20 and expand the number of free pre-K slots to 5,500.

BUTKOVITZ: A) A robust program to match businesses with specific schools for summer and post-high school employment; B) Enhancement of curriculum with emphasis on experiential education. C) Repair of most dangerous physical conditions of school buildings. 

WILLIAMS: There are not many straightforward ways that a mayor can have a direct and measurable impact in terms of school outcomes in a short period of time. But, as mayor, I will act in my first year in important ways to create the conditions for future school improvements. First, with the teachers’ contract expiring in August, 2020, I will support a fair and open negotiation between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers that will result in a new contract that makes sense for teachers, administrators, students, families, and taxpayers. Second, I will ask the school board and superintendent of schools to cooperate with the city planning commission to create a facilities plan for capital improvements and new construction to address building-safety issues and modernize Philadelphia schools’ physical assets. The plan will help direct capital investments and drive opportunities to share utilization of city and school district facilities. Finally, while we must give our schools more resources by demanding a state funding formula that takes poverty into account, provides adequate public-charter reimbursement, and includes increased local funding, it is long past time for the state to assume its legal responsibility to fund city court costs. I will pursue legal action to relieve the city of more than $100 million in expenditures that could be used to fund public education.

5)    As the next mayor, what would you do to make the roadways safer for all users – pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and drivers?

KENNEY: Everyone should be able to use our roadways and feel safe while doing so. My budget calls for additional funds to support our Vision Zero priorities such as CONNECT transportation plan, ADA ramps, traffic control and signal modernization, Roosevelt Blvd. improvements, and expanding our bicycle network. Additionally, after years of cuts by the previous administration, we are finally on pace to meet a state of good repair for our road surfaces. When I took office, the City only had one paving crew and was paving approximately 20 miles of streets a year. Over the next year, we will add a third paving crew, and will repave nearly 100 miles of streets. I’m looking forward to continuing to improve our transportation infrastructure.

BUTKOVITZ: Increase enforcement of traffic safety regulations. Right now, it is virtually impossible to catch drivers who speed or drive aggressively. That requires enforcement officers whose job it is to uphold traffic safety laws.

WILLIAMS: Philadelphia should commit to the Vision-Zero strategy to eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries. By using traffic-calming infrastructure that puts fewer pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers at risk, we can use our built environment to save lives. By enhancing enforcement of existing traffic laws, we can encourage safety on city streets and sidewalks. By completing a protected bike-lane network we can remove dangerous driver-cyclist competition for road space and encourage more safe cycling. So many of the deaths and injuries that occur on city streets are utterly preventable, but safety improvements will not occur unless our city’s highest officials commit to the plan to save lives.

6)    What neighborhood commercial corridors would you most like to see strengthened – and how would you strengthen them?

KENNEY: It’s vitally important that our commercial corridors outside of Center City experience similar prosperity that businesses downtown have seen in recent years. One of the ways we’re supporting the growth of our commercial corridors is through our Storefront Improvement Program, which reimburses businessowners for making facade improvements. We also make investments in the streetscape, from signage, lighting, sidewalks and trash receptacles. Additionally, we’re making important investments in our neighborhoods though initiatives such as Rebuild, which is also helping to revitalize communities and create new jobs throughout the city.

BUTKOVITZ: All of them — I would have task forces work with each specific commercial corridor to help them address their specific challenges.

WILLIAMS: Philadelphia is fortunate to have dozens of strong commercial corridors that make our neighborhoods vibrant. Oregon Avenue, 52nd Street, Girard Avenue, Germantown Avenue, Frankford Avenue, Bustleton Avenue and so many other business districts are places where Philadelphians have shopped for generations. To ensure that these neighborhood hubs thrive into the future, we can reduce the city’s job-killing taxes to drive the economic growth that employs neighborhood Philadelphians. We can explore creating a public bank in Philadelphia to provide the access to capital to support the small, neighborhood businesses that create most of the jobs in our city. And, we can ensure that the city delivers quality, basic city services like regular citywide street sweeping, street resurfacing, and community policing so that our commercial corridors are clean, navigable, and safe.

7)    If you could implement a new city-wide initiative using the budget surplus, what would that be and why?

KENNEY: We need to exercise extreme caution with regard to any use of our current fund balance. The surplus is not a consistent and dedicated source of revenue. A surplus this year could easily turn into a deficit next year if the economy takes a downturn, or if any unforeseen events occur - such as a reduction in the state or federal revenue or any drop in tax revenue. I am proposing that this year we allocate $92 million to a Rainy-Day Fund and $55 million annually to a Federal Funding Reserve in case of any federal or state funding reductions or an economic downturn. Last year because of better than projected finances, we were able to purchase vehicles through a pay-as-you-go program, avoiding long-term costs associated with typical capital borrowings. I want to ensure that we’re using our current reserve revenue as responsibly as possible.

BUTKOVITZ: Repair crumbling infrastructure because the streets are literally collapsing and it has been over a century. The City is risking catastrophe. I would also increase police protection due to the homicide and violent crime crisis affecting Philadelphia. 

WILLIAMS: Given our positive fund balance and tax revenues which are exceeding projections, we can end the regressive Soda Tax and establish universal Pre-K because ALL of our children need help, not just a handpicked, connected few.

8)    If you become the next mayor, what do you want people to see as your lasting legacy from the standpoint of a specific aspect that changed the city for the better?

KENNEY: I’m not really concerned about my legacy. I’m more concerned with staying focused on doing the job that I was elected to do right now. It’s no secret that education has been my biggest priority. We’ve returned our schools to local control, enrolled thousands of kids in free pre-K, and invested an unprecedented amount of local funding into the School District. Education is the best pathway out of poverty and by investing in our children, we can help them achieve a brighter future.

BUTKOVITZ: Create a pathway to employment for the hardcore unemployed.

WILLIAMS: If I can achieve one simple thing as mayor — to encourage Philadelphians to believe that we deserve to live in a great city — my term in office will be a tremendous success. Dirty neighborhoods, pot-hole filled streets, and unsafe communities are symptoms of a much bigger problem. The biggest challenge that Philadelphia is facing is a crisis of confidence. We need to believe that we deserve better as a city and that we should expect more from City Hall. We need to understand that better cities do not trash their own communities and do not tolerate the casual corruption that ruins our faith in government. We need to know that it is acceptable to be frustrated with the lack of pace of progress in Philadelphia. It is long past time for Philadelphia to stop believing that marginal improvements are a path to prosperity. It is time to believe that we can build a better Philadelphia that can be a city of opportunity and growth and safety and beauty — and, much more important — that we deserve it. We can do so by changing leadership in City Hall and by holding our city accountable for achievement, not just marginal change. If I can help accomplish this change in Philadelphia ATTYTOOD, I will have a truly worthy legacy as mayor.

9)    What is the one criticism you have about Philadelphia city government and the way it operates and how would you change that.

KENNEY: I often get frustrated by the slow pace of progress. I would like things to happen a lot quicker. For example, if the beverage industry hadn’t challenged us in court over the beverage tax, we would have been able to ramp up the programs supported by the tax (PHLpreK, Community Schools, Rebuild) a lot sooner. But, I understand why things are the way they are.

BUTKOVITZ: Entrenched corruption needs to be uprooted, now. Decisions should be made on the basis of empirical evidence, not on the basis of incomplete information or emotion. There should be an encouragement rather than suppression of adverse opinions during the decision making process that precedes policy, so that potential problems are fully vetted. I would take a long term view of the city’s best interests, rather than the current four-year perspective. 

WILLIAMS: Philadelphia budgeting is opaque and impenetrable for most citizens, but the process to set public priorities is too important to lack transparency and accountability. We should budget better. Our current budgeting procedures were established in 1951 and are in desperate need of revision to account for 21st-century budgeting practices. I will work with city council to establish an independent budget office to set revenue estimates. I support line-item budgeting to provide city council and tax payers detailed, online programmatic information about the $5 billion general fund budget. And the city must publish a year-end budget report which details the extent the spending aligned with the budget commitments and accounts for progress toward achieving specified outcomes goals.

10)    How could the city to make its parks more inviting and accessible for all ages?

KENNEY: I believe we need to improve the quality of our public spaces. That’s why I launched Rebuild, the most ambitious infrastructure in Philadelphia’s history, to invest over $400m in our parks, rec centers, and libraries. We already have more than 20 projects currently underway with dozens of additional sites to start construction in the months to come. Rebuild is addressing the unique needs of each additional site, whether it’s replacing a broken HVAC system, replacing a rundown playground, or building access ramps to allow wheelchairs to more easily enter the facility.

BUTKOVITZ: Return Fairmount Parks, assure safe corridors in wooded areas, work to install playground equipment. Encourage public transit to designated park areas. 

WILLIAMS: The city has committed capital resources to our park assets, but we must fully fund the staffing of our parks and recreation centers so our communities can thrive. Similarly, we can better connect our capital planning to yearly operating and maintenance expenses so investments in new city construction, rebuilding, and renovations will be attractive, sustainable, and useful into the future.

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