Penn Democrats hosted Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jeff Brown at an event on March 29.
Around 20 community members attended the event to hear Brown, the operator of the ShopRite and Fresh Grocer chains, discuss his central campaign policies and his background as a grocer. He spoke about Penn and his goals as a mayoral candidate in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Brown said that Penn students have the potential to sway the results of the mayoral election.
“The number of votes that are [at Penn] could shift an election, and so, in my mind, the Penn students should take that responsibility – they should register to vote, they should listen to the candidates and weigh in, and they could shift the outcome. And the outcome could shift the environment that you live in,” Brown said.
Discussing his entry into politics, Brown said he decided to enter the field after learning about food deserts — areas of systemic poverty with minimal access to fresh and healthy food.
Brown said that after his initial success in alleviating food deserts within Philadelphia, he engaged with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, preparing him to answer debate questions surrounding food policy. After Obama’s presidential victory, Brown said he played a crucial role in former First Lady Michelle Obama’s work to end childhood obesity.
“The Obamas actually asked me to be the designer of that program and work to try to get it funded, then go around the country and implement it,” Brown said.
In addition to working to eliminate food deserts, Brown said that he has also worked to reduce mass incarceration in Philadelphia by hiring formerly incarcerated individuals — particularly those with drug-related convictions — and training them in management skills
“Today, 500 of our 2,300 employees are formerly incarcerated,” Brown said.
Brown said that his vision for economic opportunity manifests primarily through education, advocating for school curricula reform that focuses on educational and “high-paying” vocational skills.
To lessen crime in Philadelphia, Brown said he is focused on a small subset of the greater population.
“All of this comes down to about 1,700 individuals who are repeatedly causing violent offenses, and we lack the ability to prosecute them because we don’t have the evidence. We need to upgrade some things because if we prosecuted the 1,700 worst offenders, all of our crime stats would drop 85 percent,” Brown said.
Brown also talked to the DP about the University’s connection to Philadelphia’s affordable housing crisis.
“The tremendous success of Penn and its growth physically has increased the value of real estate — which is good and bad, depending on the circumstance — but has put pressure on affordable housing," Brown said. "I think Penn should be active in affordable housing — I’m not saying which way — but in some way to create new affordable housing and create an environment where lower-income individuals can still live in University City."
Brown said that gentrification is a “different problem than as it is described,” adding that while friction often exists between developers and low-income individuals, “the real culprit is our taxing policy.”
Brown said that unregulated increases in real estate taxes have led to forced evictions and instead proposed a cap on how much an individual’s taxes could increase in a fiscal year to help solve gentrification issues in Philadelphia.