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Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks at the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics on April 15.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn Democrats hosted an event with 2016 Fels Institute of Government graduate and Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker on Monday night.

Parker spoke to an audience of approximately 60 people at the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics about public safety, combatting the drug epidemic, the housing crisis, Philadelphia’s education system, and encouraging voter participation. The event was moderated by College sophomore and Penn Dems Vice President Nica Smith.

Throughout the event, Parker emphasized her commitment to “mak[ing] Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation” — a key focus of her administration. She spoke about her decision to not use federal funds to support needle exchange programs or safe injection sites within the city, but clarified that she supported overall harm reduction efforts.

“The city has continued to invest in one set of prescriptions on the health care continuum for dealing with the issue in the City of Philadelphia,” Parker said, referencing needle exchange programs in the city. “Where we haven’t invested is in long-term care, treatment, and housing.”

Parker also acknowledged how her focus on a “holistic approach” would be a change from previous administrations.

“I’m not criticizing anyone because that’s not the kind of leadership I would like to embrace. There was just a different style,” Parker said. “I am not simply going to invest in the status quo, where things remain the same. The ecosystem that I’m talking about building now, guess what? It doesn't exist right now.”

Parker also spoke about how she is using “intergovernmental cooperation” — a phrase she used on the campaign trail — to implement policies. 

After an audience member asked how she planned to get community members to trust her plans, Parker said that those whose “affirmation matters” most to her were the “people who have lived there for decades and decades, and nobody listens to them.”

“If we just keep it right here and maintain the status quo and not expand further out into the city, the people who are out here, who are living with this, they are forced to live with this because socially and economically they don’t have the ability to move,” Parker said. “That doesn't even just lack compassion and empathy for me. That’s pompous. It’s arrogance and it’s ignorance because you are not taking into consideration the people whose real-life, lived experience is closest to the pain.”

Parker also shared her own experience with student loan debt — saying that she “will be paying back student loan debt to the University of Pennsylvania until [she was] dead for [her] master’s degree” — and highlighted her focus on economic mobility. 

“We have to have vehicles for people to have access to a path to self-sufficiency,” she said.

Parker emphasized the importance of democratic participation, saying that the upcoming election in November is a fight to “close the gap between the haves and the have nots.” 

College first year and Penn Dems Communications Director Steve Yang told The Daily Pennsylvanian after the event that Penn Dems wanted to bring Parker to come speak because it would be an “amazing opportunity.”

“It was amazing — being a school in Philly — being able to have the mayor come to speak to us and hear what she has been doing for the past 100 days in her administration,” Yang said.

College sophomore and Penn Dems president Ellie Goluboff-Schragger expressed the importance for Penn students to “understand what goes on in the city.”

“Local races really affect what goes on locally in the city, so I think it is really important for Penn students to understand what’s going on in the city and to be connected to local politicians,” Goluboff-Schragger said to the DP.