Mayoral Debate

Democratic candidates for mayor Alan Butkovitz, left, Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, right, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, center, participate in a live televised debate, Monday May 13, 2019, at the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia. NBC10 Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek, Pool

THE CANDIDATES

Alan Butkovitz

Age: 67

Residence: Castor Gardens

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Bachelor's degree from Temple University, J.D. from Temple University School of Law

Jim Kenney, incumbent

Age: 60

Residence: Old City

Occupation: Mayor of Philadelphia

Education: B.A. from La Salle University

Anthony Williams

Age: Did not answer

Residence: Did not answer

Occupation: state senator

Education: Did not answer

OUR QUESTIONS, THEIR ANSWERS

• What is your top campaign issue and what is your plan for fixing it?

Butkovitz: Lowering poverty in the city with high wage job opportunities for people without high school diplomas.

Kenney: Education remains my biggest priority as I believe it provides the best pathway out of poverty. I want to keep investing hundreds of millions in new funding for our public schools, expand our free pre-K program, and build on the progress we’ve seen with the School District under local control.

Williams: Philadelphia’s 2018 murder rate was highest among larger American cities. Despite “new” city plans, more than 100 Philadelphians have been murdered in 2019. I will declare a state of emergency to best marshal and coordinate all city agencies as we simultaneously convene grassroots anti-violence activists to help stem the bloodshed. their communities.

• Why should Black Philadelphians vote for you?

Butkovitz: I will attack the poverty problem by strategically focusing on high-wage jobs in the industrial and distribution sectors (I.e. large expansion of longshoreman jobs available even if people missed their high school diploma). I commit to real anti violence programs, and protecting long-term residents from the relentless gentrification push.

Kenney: I recognize that as a majority-Black city, every issue our city faces is of significance to the Black community. My major initiatives have had an especially notable impact on Black Philadelphians. I’m going to continue putting forward an agenda that allows the Black community, and all our communities, to thrive.

Williams: Today, in Philadelphia, African Americans question whether politicians are substantively concerned with their daily challenges or if they’re just campaign footnotes. Four years ago, African-American leaders supported the mayor. They gave the mayor trust he requested. That “trust me” account is littered with broken promises and should be stamped “OVERDRAWN.”

• Do you commit to hiring a racially diverse staff for your office, if elected?

Butkovitz: Yes, Kenney’s record is a disgrace. He had a non-diverse transition team, and could only identify four African American people in his fourteen member Cabinet. I ran a diverse Controller’s office and increased the amount of diversity in leadership positions. This is not difficult.

Kenney: We will continue to hire new employees using a racial equity lens. Diverse panels review resumes and conduct hiring. Currently, 49% of City employees are Black. It will continue to be my priority to make sure that Black Philadelphians are well-represented in all levels of city government.

Williams: While the incumbent has struggled to hire qualified, high-level non-white employees in his administration, I will be sure that my administration looks like Philadelphia and engages the talents of all its vibrant communities.

• What three things would you do to reduce poverty in Philadelphia?

Butkovitz: Strategic focus on jobs such as at the Port. Expand transportation connecting people in neighborhoods with jobs in the suburbs. Help provide assistance for continuing education so that people can be trained for commercial drivers’ licenses and other licensing/ certifications necessary to achieve high paying jobs.

Kenney: We’re going to keep making massive investments in public education, expand workforce development programs, and increase access to free, quality pre-K for our children.

Williams: By the end of my mayoralty we will cut Philadelphia’s poverty rate in half by making poverty a cabinet-level priority for my administration, growing jobs in Philadelphia, addressing city policies that unfairly burden low-income residents.

• What grade would you give Philadelphia’s criminal justice system (using A, B, C, D, or F, with A being the best and F being the worst)? Why? And what would you change?

Butkovitz: F. Cash bail unfairly removes people from their communities and their jobs. Stop and frisk creates unnecessary confrontations be applied to help the most at-risk individuals avert serious crimes. There should be a program of real protection of victims from intimidation and retaliation, for example: safe houses.

Kenney: I would give it a B. We’ve made great strides as of late. We’ve dramatically reduced our local jail population by 45%, decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, and have made real progress towards eliminating cash bail. These are major steps forward but we certainly still have more work to do.

Some of what we still need to do involves better addressing the racial disparities in our justice system, reducing the number of people held in jail on a probation detainer, and reducing the number of people incarcerated pretrial. We want to lower our jail population even further.

Williams: D. In Philadelphia, race and economic status still disproportionately affect whether one will be incarcerated of freed. This is unacceptable.

I support comprehensive criminal-justice reform. As state senator, I was a prime sponsor of Pennsylvania’s clean-slate legislation. I am currently a sponsor of probation-reform legislation to make probation rules fair and consistent. As mayor, I will work to ensure that reforms are implemented in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner.

• What three things would you do in an effort to reduce homicides and gun violence in the city?

Butkovitz: Hire a large cadre of mentors to focus on intervention with people who are at risk of violence. Sufficient police presence to deter open shootings (Operation Sunrise). Adequately-resourced task force to focus on locating and confiscating illegal guns.

Kenney: Harrisburg must allow us to enforce our own gun control laws so we can stop the flow of guns into our neighborhoods. We’re implementing a comprehensive violence prevention plan with Neighborhood Resource Centers for individuals on probation, and an expanded Community Crisis Intervention Program to serve high-risk communities.

Williams: As state senator, I established the Philadelphia Illegal Gun Task Force. As mayor, I’ll work with my ex-colleagues in Harrisburg to find constitutional ways to reduce the availability of guns and declare a state of violence emergency to empower the police commissioner to coordinate an integrated approach to reducing violence.

• Do you support opening a safe-injection site in the city? Why? If so, where would you propose the site to be located?

Butkovitz: No. The police resources required would make it impossible to provide protection to the rest of Philadelphia. It condemns the neighborhood that would host this site to be a magnet for crime and social disintegration. We should increase resources for addiction treatment that works.

Kenney: The evidence shows that safe-injection sites can save lives, and help reduce the negative impacts the opioid epidemic has wrought on some Philadelphia neighborhoods. Not only do supervised injection sites help prevent deaths from drug overdoses, they also help prevent the spread of infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

The City won’t be running any of these sites. It’s ultimately up to a private operator to suggest where they would like to locate one.

Williams: There is no safe way to inject heroin. Creating a facility for people to use illegal drugs will attract dysfunction to the city neighborhood where it is located. Instead, we need to lower the barriers to entry and expand the capacity of high-quality recovery programs including medication-assisted treatment programs.

• Would you vote to repeal or change the 1.5-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax? Or do you support the beverage tax? Why? If you intend to support amending or repealing the tax, what is your plan to replace the revenue from the tax that pays for pre-kindergarten, Community Schools, and renovations of public spaces?

Butkovitz: As Mayor, I would recommend that Council repeal it. It was enacted as a punitive measure to eliminate Philadelphia jobs. The city has a substantial surplus that could fund the programs designated for the beverage tax. Most beverage tax revenues have not been used for pre-K or community schools.

The city reaped a $400M windfall from its outrageously high real estate tax reassessments. There are many times the amount of money needed for the pre-K and community school programs within that surplus.

Kenney: I am a proud supporter of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. It has allowed 4,000 children to benefit from free, quality pre-K, created 12 Community Schools to provide essential services and resources to high-risk neighborhoods, and funded Rebuild, the largest infrastructure program in Philadelphia’s history.

Williams: The Soda Tax disproportionately impacts low-income residents and low-margin food retailers. It is poor tax policy. We should repeal the tax and fund the programs it supports by better managing city overtime and recognizing currently projected increased tax collections from the city’s broad-based taxes.

We can manage city overtime better (the city has overspent overtime each year in recent years – by $44M+ last year), realize increased tax collections as current-year tax collections are outpacing the city’s estimates and invest a portion of the city’s projected quarter-billion surplus to fund these worthy programs.

• Would you support, alter or repeal the 10-year tax abatement? Briefly elaborate.

Butkovitz: Alter the 10-year tax abatement by restricting it to neighborhoods which need subsidy in order for development. Should the city institute rent control to regulate the amount landlords can charge renters? Numerous studies have proven rent control doesn’t work, however housing assistance vouchers (similar to food stamps) are helpful because they help people meet their basic needs and reflect the urgency of those who need housing assistance. I do support programs that assist those who need housing assistance while encouraging development.

Kenney: We conducted a recent study which found that while there can be short-term gains depending on the modification chosen, over the long-term revenues will be higher if the abatement is left in place. However, I remain open to discussing potential changes to the abatement.

Williams: I would end the 10-year abatement in its current form. It presents equity problems and denies money to schools. Changing the abatement — reducing the term, making it solely for rehabs, or modifying the state Constitutional to phase it out in certain areas — must be part of any taxation discussion.

• What three things would you do to manage gentrification and increase affordable housing?

Butkovitz: Incentivize mixed-use developments with housing that reflects different needs and diverse income groups, with a focus on workforce/middle class housing. 

Stop wild inflation in real estate taxes.

Provide tax relief to long-term residents in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Kenney: We’re going to keep generating new revenue for the Housing Trust Fund by allocating the first year of revenue from expiring abatement properties. We’ll continue providing property tax relief to low-income homeowners. We’ll also keep expanding access to home repairs for low-income families.

Williams: Fix our regressive city assessments so assessments are accurate and homeowners are not taxed out of their homes; incentivize development of affordable rental units; engage the city’s Human Relation Commission in efforts to intervene in the resolution of neighborhood disputes to prevent them from escalating and leading to larger problems.

• Should the city institute rent control to regulate the amount landlords can charge renters?

Butkovitz: Did not answer

Kenney: Preserving housing affordability in our neighborhoods is a key priority. With regards to rent control specifically, we would have to study the impacts it could have on disrupting our housing market. However, we do support providing shallow rent subsidies for renters.

Williams: There are more effective and equitable ways — incentivizing creation of more affordable units as a zoning bonus or through community-benefit agreements with large developers, and reducing minimum parking requirements for residential developments to drive down construction/rental costs — to make renting more affordable.

• Would you support a moratorium on sheriff sales? Why?

Butkovitz: No, Judge Darnell Jones demonstrated a very effective program for saving people's’ homes. We should have a special Court for real estate delinquencies that focuses on the potential for work outs rather than foreclosures. 

Kenney: There are a number of relief programs available to homeowners who fall behind on either their mortgage or real estate tax payments. Sheriff sales are the last resort. In most cases, the financial issue that brought the house to sheriff sale is usually resolved and the home is not sold.

Williams: I would support a temporary moratorium on sheriff sales to conduct a review of the process by the city controller to ensure that sheriff sale efforts are not victimizing low-income Philadelphians.

• How will you ensure more Black and minority-owned businesses will receive more city contracts?

Butkovitz: Unlike Mayor Kenney, I will expand Black and minority-owned contracts, not cut them. Expanding access to capital for Black and minority-owned business so they can grow and become unshackled from their general contractor partners. Help with the ICIC inner city capital program to connect minority entrepreneurs with Wall Street financing.

Kenney: Our Office of Economic Opportunity works to increase the number of M/W/DSBEs on its registry and help these firms build their capacity to be more competitive for larger City contracts. We will continue to reduce barriers to contracting for Black and minority-owned businesses.

Williams: The mayor displaced the city’s largest African American prime contractors, dramatically reducing African-American contracting. As mayor, I will be transparent about reporting contracting diversity. The city’s diversity programs should no longer measure success based solely on spending. Success should be measured by business growth, financial stability and access to capital.

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