A New Term Begins in City Council Tomorrow
After a 2019 that saw an unprecedented number of candidates for City Council, the November election of four newcomers, and an inauguration in North Philadelphia before 3,000 people, a new term in Council begins tomorrow with the first Stated Meeting of 2020.
Four new Council Members are certain to draw a high level of interest. They are:
Gilmore Richardson, Thomas and Gauthier are Democrats, and were nominated by voters in the primary last Spring. They won seats by wide margins in November in a city where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than 6-1.
Brooks won election in an upset in November as a member of the Working Families Party. She defeated Republican At Large incumbent Al Taubenberger, and became the first third-party candidate to win election to Council in 100 years since Council adopted a modern legislative format.
There are 13 returning Members of Council who won re-election. They are:
District Members: Mark Squilla (1st), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd), Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th), Darrell L. Clarke (5th), Bobby Henon (6th), Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez (7th), Cindy Bass (8th), Cherelle Parker (9th) and Brian O’Neill (10th).
Council and the Mayor Inaugurated at The Met in North Philly
Council’s session was preceded by the Investiture of Council Members, the Inauguration of Mayor Jim Kenney to a second term, and the swearing in of judges, City Commissioners, the Sheriff and Register of Wills, held January 6th.
The Investiture and Inauguration ceremonies took place at a new venue this year – The Met, the restored opera house turned concert hall on North Broad Street. An estimated 3,000 attendees packed the hall and saw inaugural addresses by Mayor Kenney and Council President Clarke.
In his speech, Mayor Kenney focused on the wave of gun violence marring life in too many Philadelphia neighborhoods, vowing to do everything in his power to reduce and prevent violence in his four-year term.
“The hardest part of this job for me has been addressing the senseless and unspeakable violence that happens on our streets every day,” the mayor said. “Talking to the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, of the young men and women cut down on the streets of Philadelphia has left deep scars on our communities, and frankly, on me personally.”
Kenney promised to use “every tool and resource at our disposal to make sure more families do not suffer the same fate,” and said his administration was deploying an array of anti-violence programs to reduce shootings and homicides in Philadelphia, which have reached their highest levels in a decade.
In his inaugural address, Council President Clarke had a laser-focus on the problem he called the single most important one facing Philadelphia: Poverty. Clarke called for urgent action to lower poverty from every sector of the city.
“We are home to 400,000 people living in poverty – that’s one of every four Philadelphians,” Clarke said in his speech. “We are the poorest big city in America. That is simple unacceptable to me, and I hope, to every person in this room.”
Clarke detailed Council’s work so far – issuing a report in 2019, Narrowing The Gap, that focused on best practices nationally to address poverty, as well as creating a Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention, led by Councilmember Quiñones Sánchez and three others, that met last Fall throughout the city to develop ideas to lower poverty citywide.
“In the 1960s, the country rallied together to send a man to the moon. Everyone – academics, engineers, political leaders – worked together and America achieved its moonshot,” Clarke said.
Clarke called for a citywide collaboration involving the business community, universities and colleges, non-profits, city government and citizens, working together on actionable ideas to lift 100,000 people out of poverty by 2024.
“This is our city’s Moonshot moment,” Clarke said.
A New Leadership Team in Council
In addition to the swearing in of a new Council and the mayor, Council reorganized itself and elected a new leadership team.
Returned for a third term as Council President was Clarke, who told his colleagues he was honored to continue serving the people of Philadelphia as Council President. “To my colleagues on Council – some old and some new – thank you for trusting me with this privilege,” Clarke said.
Council elected a new Majority Leader, second-term Councilmember Cherelle Parker, who represents the 9th District in Northwest Philadelphia. Parker, a former leader of the Philadelphia House delegation in Harrisburg, told her colleagues she too believes that poverty and violence should be Council’s top priorities.
“When you look back over the past four years of the body of work of City Council, I think we have a great track record,” Parker said. “I’m talking about work as a collective, and so will continue to work together to be as unified as we possibly can.”
As Parker took her oath as Majority Leader, joining her onstage were two longtime mentors, former Councilmember Marian Tasco and Congressman Dwight Evans.
Also named to Council’s new leadership team: Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr., who will serve as Majority Whip, and Councilmember Mark Squilla, as Deputy Whip.
Yesterday, Council released a list of all assignments to standing committees, including the appointments of committee chairs. As governed by Council’s rules, Council President Clarke made those appointments following consultation with Council’s leadership team.
What’s Next for Council?
Just before year’s end, Mayor Kenney exercised a rarely-used mayoral strategy – the pocket veto – to not approve six bills passed by Council at its final session of 2019. Several of those bills appear certain to be re-introduced – one as soon as tomorrow.
Councilmember Domb’s legislation that would give a wage tax credit to qualifying Philadelphia workers living at or below the poverty line will be re-introduced tomorrow, Domb said at a press conference yesterday at City Hall.
“Philadelphia should not be the largest city taxing its poor higher than every other city in the country,” Domb said. “In an effort to move the needle on the city’s stagnant 25 percent poverty rate, I will reintroduce the bill to help the 150,000 Philadelphians [workers and families] living in poverty.”
The proposal would initially reduce the city’s wage tax for all eligible workers to approximately 1.5% starting July 1 for tax year 2020, then cut it to zero after @PICA_Authority sunsets in 2023. https://t.co/UkiduUFFU0
— Mike D’Onofrio (@MikeDonofrio_) January 22, 2020
A second bill pocket-vetoed by the mayor – legislation increasing the city’s homestead exemption to help longtime homeowners struggling with rising property assessments and higher taxes due to gentrification – is also likely to be re-introduced soon. The homestead exemption increase legislation – from $45,000 up to $50,000 – was originally introduced by Councilmember Johnson for Council President Clarke.
Both the Domb wage tax credit bill and the homestead exemption legislation were approved unanimously last month by Council.
Policy Discussions Underway
The 3rd, 4th and 5th floors were abuzz already last week as newcomers and veterans alike were scheduling briefings for Council members and staff on various issues – legislative soundings on what may be coming next in Council.
Councilmembers Gym and Gauthier hosted one such briefing last week with a pair of environmental groups to brainstorm their agenda for a “Green New Deal” for Philadelphia. Some of the ideas surfacing include getting Philadelphia to a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2030, implementing green stormwater infrastructure and pursuing carbon-free public transportation.
Thanks to Council Members Jamie Gauthier and Helen Gym for meeting with us! pic.twitter.com/zTftiEl5a9
— PennFuture (@PennFuture) January 16, 2020
Councilmember Green scheduled three briefings for February – one to discuss the operations of the Department of Licenses & Inspections, one to hear details on the operations of the Philadelphia Gas Works, and a third to brief Council and staff on Philadelphia Legal Assistance.
Councilmember Bass scheduled a briefing for this week for members and staff to discuss the mayor’s executive order this month that establishes a Mayor’s Office of Children and Families, to be headed by existing DHS Secretary Cynthia Figueroa. This new office will oversee DHS and also the Mayor’s Office of Education.
Inside the Rail …
In our last Inside the Rail last month, we saluted the departure of outgoing PIDC Chief John Grady, an excellent economic development leader leaving to join Wexford Science & Technology. For the first Inside the Rail of 2020, it seems appropriate to congratulate the newly-named head of PIDC – longtime PIDC executive Anne Bovaird Nevins. Congratulations Anne!
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