The mayoral race is pretty much over. Tuesday is Election Day and almost everyone knows that Jim Kenney, the Democratic candidate, is going to win. That’s simply the reality of Philadelphia politics.
But just because the outcome of the race is predetermined does not mean Kenney isn’t the best choice for mayor, or that the next four years have to be more of the same. And that doesn’t mean that the election is irrelevant to us students.
Kenney is a powerful political figure in Philadelphia — he’s served as a city council member since 1991 and has been on the board of major corporations and nonprofits, such as the insurance company Independence Blue Cross and the Community College of Philadelphia. And, like any Philadelphian who matters (sarcasm intended), he’s even taught a course at Penn (where he garnered a 3.2 instructor rating on Course Review). He has a strong record for protecting worker’s rights and the environment, and wants to focus on funding early childhood education and implementing body cameras for police. These are all issues we believe are important and can get behind, which is why we support Kenney for mayor, and we think others should as well.
But regardless of who is elected next week, there is still a lot of work to be done in Philadelphia, particularly when it concerns education, poverty and job creation. The Philadelphia education system is in shambles — it’s underfunded and students are underachieving. Racial tension is coming to a head across the country, most often when police officers unjustly take the lives of African Americans. And we hope that ensuring all Philadelphia police officers wear body cameras will be at the top of the mayor’s agenda.
As college students, we can’t speak with authority for policy recommendations on those issues, besides recognizing that they are important and need to be addressed by the new mayor. What we can speak to, however, is what the millennial generation wants from our city government. While we recognize that the issues which affect us as Penn students are not as urgent as those facing many local, working-class Philadelphia residents, we also don’t have an advocacy group lobbying for changes on our behalf. So here are some changes we would like to see considered by the next mayor, changes that would help retain more millennials like us after we graduate.
1) The difficulty of getting around is one of the biggest drawbacks of living in Philadelphia. While the SEPTA Key program, which will finally bring SEPTA into the 21st century, is a huge leap forward in terms of ease of access, SEPTA hours should be extended so people can use it 24/7. Currently, the Market-Frankford line and the Broad Street line have 24/7 weekend service “until further notice,” which is great. But SEPTA should officially make this extension of hours permanent, and include bus services and other lines in order to the extend public transportation to the many people who live outside the areas serviced by the MFL and BSL. In addition, the future mayor and administration should advocate for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft by pressuring state legislators to pass common sense regulations, which would bring the entire industry under one set of standards. The city government also needs to continue to make the city more walkable and bikeable. Philadelphia currently has a 77 walk score and 68 bicycle score, which is good, but could be improved. Green spaces need to be preserved, and the city should continue to make bike-shares ubiquitous throughout the city.
2) The draconian liquor regulations of Pennsylvania also need to be addressed by the next mayor. Although the state controls these laws through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the city government should apply pressure on the state to lessen some of the more extreme laws. For example, liquor licenses are currently priced around $120,000. While this means that Philadelphia has a unique culture of BYO’s, it also discourages the lively food scenes found in other cities because restaurants largely make their profit off alcohol sales.
3) Finally, the mayor should help Philadelphia become the thriving art center it is poised to be, by funding and supporting artistic endeavors, especially when they involve the community. This means financially supporting the production of art through residencies and fellowships for all kinds of artists, increasing affordable housing and loft spaces, giving artists spaces to display in the community and encouraging the many universities in Philadelphia to energize the Philadelphia art scene.
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