Philadelphia is in many ways a tale of two cities.
Center City and recently gentrified neighborhoods are thriving and growing, with new luxury apartments and trendy restaurants.
Sometimes just blocks away are struggling neighborhoods with dilapidated houses, vacant lots and shuttered storefronts.
Philadelphia leads the poorest among the nation’s 10 biggest cities. More than a quarter of the city’s 1.5 million residents live in poverty. According to recent census figures, Philadelphia’s poverty rate stands at 26.3 percent.
The city has many first-class universities that attract people from all over the world. Philadelphia also has too many poorly funded and poorly performing schools.
The next mayor of Philadelphia will have serious challenges, as well as an opportunity to bring these various sections and demographic groups into one cohesive city.
Will Philadelphia become a city with only the rich and the very poor, with no viable working or middle class?
There are six people running in the Democratic primary who believe they should be the next mayor: former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz, former City Councilman Jim Kenney, former PGW executive Doug Oliver, former state Sen. Milton T. Street and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
But based on the polls, only two candidates have a realistic chance of winning: Kenney and Williams.
Kenney has changed from being an ally of convicted felon Vince Fumo to a new unsavory police backer — John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, business manager for Electricians’ Union Local 98.
Dougherty is a powerful labor leader and major Democratic fundraiser who may become even more powerful after the May 19 primary if Kenney is elected.
Dougherty’s influence in City Council is already strong, according to WHYY’s NewsWorks, a pro-Kenney Political Action Committee — including Building a Better Pennsylvania —has received considerable donations from IBEW. Voters, especially African-American voters, should be concerned about Dougherty’s growing influence.
Voters should question Dougherty’s commitment to inclusion. His union, like far too many of the building trades in Philadelphia, does not reflect the city’s diverse population. The virtual absence of Blacks and other minorities among Philadelphia’s trade unions has been a longstanding problem.
Undoubtedly on many issues he has changed, but Kenney is still in many ways tied to the status quo. Nothing illustrates this more than his ties to his biggest financial backer, Dougherty who has a vested interest.
By contrast, Williams’s well-reported financial backers do not have any known financial interest in charter or private schools. They do support expanding school choice for parents who are forced to send their children to low-achieving schools. This is something Williams has supported for years, as well as increasing funding for public school.
There are three reasons to support Williams for mayor:
• Williams, 58, has the experience and skills to be mayor. After majoring in economics at Franklin & Marshall College, he worked in the corporate world as a mid-level executive. He was a small business owner before entering politics at age 31. In 1988, he joined the Pennsylvania Legislature as state representative for the 191st District, then as state senator in 1998.
• Williams has been a leader in Harrisburg. He has been a leading architect of the Pennsylvania’s landmark charter school legislation, which expands education options for parents. While a supporter of more school choice, he has helped bring more funds to public schools including most recently a cigarette tax to provide annual revenue for the Philadelphia School District. He developed the Diversity Apprentice Program, which has increased access to well-paying jobs in the building trades for minorities. In the Pennsylvania State Senate, Williams serves as Democratic whip, state government chair and a member of several committees, including education, communications and technology and law and justice. He has demonstrated the ability to work with Republicans across the aisle and get things done for the city. The most recent example is passage of the cigarette tax, but there have been others. This is a skill-set that is valuable for a Philadelphia mayor.
• Williams has been innovative in finding solutions to problems and is willing to go against the status quo. Whether it’s support for more school options or opposition to stop-and-frisk and the public vow to replace the popular police commissioner associated with the controversial policy, Williams has taken on unpopular positions.
When compared to other candidates Williams is clearly the better choice. The Tribune endorses Williams for mayor, strongly.