10 Questions for Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Lynne Abraham

1) Ensuring Philadelphia has a well-prepared, well-educated workforce is important to business in our city. What is your plan to ensure Philadelphia has a well-educated workforce capable of filling the employment needs of business?

Education is a priority. Failing schools are not acceptable, and leadership is key in rebuilding our public school system. Priorities include: early childhood education; ensuring that teachers in public schools have resources needed to teach; reading by fourth grade; increase in graduation rate; increase student allotment to ensure fairness between students in the suburbs and in the City; and focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math in our curricula.

Specific proposals include: a $20 million contribution to jumpstart pre-k, direct DHS to increase number of case workers to address absenteeism; direct parks and recreation to expand activities on School District playing fields for after school activities (“every kid needs to be involved in something”); expand programs where where the Police Department and the School District work together to achieve progressive, child-oriented, adult supervision to send a consistent message of good behavior; and support the Free Library towards the goal of having our children learn to read by fourth grade.

I will be a relentless advocate for our children, regardless of their attendance at public, parochial, private or charter schools.

2) In his most recent budget, Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a 9% property tax increase to help bridge the funding gap for the city’s schools. How do you feel about asking property owners in the city to pick up the costs?

Adding $105 million to school funding, as Mayor Nutter has proposed, to Governor Wolf's proposed $160 million would go a long way to addressing the underfunding of our schools. Whether or not City Council passes Mayor Nutter’s proposed property tax increase, a secure and recurring source of local revenue is critical to public schools. City Council's putting off consideration of school funding until after the primary is regrettable, since school funding is an urgent need. It is time Council steps up and does its part to fund the schools. Everything must be on the table.
Within six months of taking office as Mayor, I will appoint a committee of stakeholders to address business tax reform. That committee will be tasked to deliver to me a fair and rational tax reform package for our City, to fund our schools and retain and attract businesses that provide well-paying jobs.

3) The real estate tax abatement can help the city grow, but it also provides a tax break at a time when the city needs every dollar. Do you favor the current tax abatement plan and what changes, if any, would you make to it as it stands now.

The ten-year tax abatement has served the City well. Analyses done by Econsult, Kevin Gillen and Jones Lang LaSalle confirm that overall the abatement has been and continues to be effective in growing the City and strengthening the tax base. We should maintain the existing tax abatement, and we should evaluate the efficacy of extending the abatement to 15 or 20 years in neighborhoods just beyond the reach of development. This could be a game changer and transform those areas in the years to come. Legislation will be needed in Harrisburg to authorize the extension to extend the abatement beyond ten years.

4) Crime is always a hot topic in Philadelphia. What do you think should be the first priority of the new mayor when it comes to reducing crime in the city?

I will work to put an end to senseless violence and start building a safer Philadelphia, because we cannot allow another generation to walk down the same unsafe streets. To accomplish this, I would appoint a Police Commissioner with a proven track record for fighting crime, using community-based policing while respecting individual civil rights. I will ensure that the Police Department has the necessary funds, staff training and equipment to protect all Philadelphians.

5) The failed sale of PGW was a setback for the current administration. As we look forward to the years ahead, would you make another attempt to sell PGW and what steps would you take to earn enough support to make sure the sale is successful.

Yes, absolutely. I was the first and only candidate to take on City Council and the Council President for failing to hold hearings on the UIL proposal to acquire PGW. Not one Councilmember had the courage to move for a hearing. UIL was sent away without fair consideration and so, in the process, the City lost a potential investment of millions of dollars. Council sent a toxic anti-business message throughout the nation and the world. As to the future of PGW, we shall evaluate the pros and cons of a sale proposal – in the light of day – and make a judgment that serves taxpayers, homeowners and the folks relying on the strength of public pensions.

6) There’s been a lot of debate at City Hall about creating an energy hub in Philadelphia to attract manufacturing to the city and create jobs. What are your thoughts on the city as an energy hub?

I would work to transform Philadelphia into the next great energy hub—while preserving our environment and health throughout our neighborhoods and industrial areas. For example, I am concerned about the transport of oil by rail, especially through outdated cars that have already been banned in Canada. I would ensure that transportation corridors for energy—whether by rail, ship, pipeline or other means—do not create risk to our people.

As an energy hub that generates thousands of high-paying jobs, Philadelphia can attract financial and other players in energy commerce and the generation, distribution and export of petrochemical energy and by-products. We can encourage new manufacturing facilities right here in our City by providing lower-cost sources of power.
I also support the continued moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River basin, which also includes the Schuylkill, which serves to protect Philadelphia's water supply.

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

There are neighborhoods all over the city that have potential for commercial development. These corridors range from to Chelten Avenue to 52nd Street to Girard Avenue to North Broad Street. We can revive and strengthen these corridors through creative zoning and tax abatements that will help expand development beyond its current borders. The unfinished business of zoning reform is the remapping of large areas of the City. The Planning Commission has not been funded or staffed to do what needs to be done. As a result, there is the temptation to zone project-by-project, which involves ad hoc decisions, and nourishes a pay-to-play culture. I will fund the Commission to complete the remapping.
Also, we should consider bringing super high-speed internet, such as Google Gigabyte, to Philadelphia, especially in our commercial corridors, to provide opportunities for existing businesses to increase their speed and efficiency of operations and to attract new businesses that are dependent on such advanced infrastructure for all operations.

8) We know government has limited spending capacity—are there certain city departments in which you envision investing more resources? Are there agencies where you envision spending less resources?

We need more inspectors at the Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L & I”) and, equally important, more hours of operation of the inspection unit, to ensure that construction work is being conducted by licensed contractors safely and code-compliant regardless of the time of day. Fundamentally, L & I needs to be fully staffed, funded, trained and supervised. Public safety comes first.
Additionally, the L & I process for obtaining permits should be simplified, streamlined, and modernized to spur economic development. The current process is so cumbersome, expensive, and difficult that it makes small business development and growth needlessly difficult. I am confident we can improve the process while preserving community input.

I would consider revisiting the budget of the Department of Public Property to work towards smarter spending. Procurement inefficiencies currently cost the City millions of dollars during every five-year plan projection cycle. By reducing spending in procurement, we will eliminate overspending on materials and mark-up and be more vigilant for design errors that lead to costly change orders.

9) The city has taken steps in the past 8 years to become more green. What would you do to keep Philadelphia heading in this direction.

There are many opportunities for making Philadelphia more sustainable. The Philadelphia Water Department has done an excellent job dealing with storm water run-off in the context of our largely combined storm water/sanitary sewage system. To begin with, Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, prepared by the PWD, is an award-winning “25-year plan to protect and enhance our watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure” (the “Plan”). By implementing the Plan, the City has begun to enhance the quality of life for our residents by reducing river pollution in what have become more frequent storm events. In addition, the Plan now proposes even tighter standards for run-off and water quality. I will fully support the Plan as Mayor.

Fortunately, LEED has become the norm in construction of major new office buildings, corporate headquarters and other facilities. The zoning code should be reviewed to determine whether additional incentives for green buildings -- including low-scale development -- should be added to the regulatory framework. The adaptive reuse of existing buildings eligible for inclusion in the National Register should be encouraged through regulatory relief and zoning bonuses: reuse of existing structures is generally in itself sustainable development because the bricks and mortar need not be replicated.
In any event, growing the population through in-migration (from the nation and from around the world), increasing jobs and strengthening the tax base will make Philadelphia a more prosperous and a “more sustainable city.” A vibrant economy will help us afford the capital improvements necessary to make Philadelphia the “Next Great American City.”

10) Every mayor needs to make tough decisions. How will you handle implementing unpopular policies (i.e., cuts in some city services in order to fund other ones; tax increases).

I have served as Philadelphia District Attorney for 19 years, managing 600 employees and handling 75 thousand cases a year, making our neighborhoods safer and more secure. With 40 years of experience as D.A., Judge, and head of Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Authority, I am the only candidate with the experience to get the job done from day one. Throughout my public service, I have challenged “business as usual” and been a tough, fearless, proven leader.

As an example, as District Attorney, I led an investigation into child sex abuse committed by clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, resulting in convictions of abusers and stronger laws to protect children from sexual abuse.

My top priority will always be to do what I believe is best for all the residents of Philadelphia. I will be nobody’s Mayor but yours.

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