Good morning! I want to thank everyone who came here today for the Investiture and Organization of City Council. This is democracy in action. We hope you find it enjoyable and interesting.
We are proud to bring this inauguration to the Met Philadelphia for the first time, and to celebrate the continuation of the North Broad Street Renaissance in North Philadelphia.
Before we begin, I’d like to take a moment to express my gratitude and appreciation to four members who are leaving City Council today.
Councilmembers At Large Bill Greenlee, Blondell Reynolds Brown and Al Taubenberger, and Third District Councilmember Jannie Blackwell. These members are not just trusted colleagues, they are friends.
On behalf of Council, please join me in thanking them one last time for their decades of service to the City of Philadelphia.
I also want to acknowledge four newly-elected members of Council being sworn in today.
At Large Councilmembers Kathy Gilmore Richardson, Isaiah Thomas and Kendra Brooks, and Third District Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. The energy and passion they have already displayed prior to today is invigorating, and we warmly welcome them to City Council.
Lastly, it is truly my honor to continue serving the people of Philadelphia as President of City Council. To my colleagues on Council – some old friends and some new ones – thank you for trusting me with this privilege.
Now, the work begins.
Four years ago, I stood on stage at our inauguration and made a number of pledges as we sought new ways to grow our city’s economy while helping more Philadelphians participate in that growth. We have made real progress – but we still have more work to do.
I said we would unveil a comprehensive energy strategy to help homeowners, businesses and city government increase efficiencies, reduce costs and create 10,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Well, we are not at 10,000 jobs — yet – but I am pleased to report the work of our Philadelphia Energy Authority has led to the creation of over 1,000 jobs. We’re still on pace to reach our jobs goal and more energy-efficient projects are coming on board.
More Philadelphians have installed solar systems in their homes, and over $100 million has been invested by companies and government agencies to retrofit their buildings to become more energy-efficient.
Our comprehensive energy strategy is saving energy, reducing utility bills and creating jobs.
We promised to continue our efforts to ensure equitable growth throughout Philadelphia, and to make sure every neighborhood is a community of choice.
While we have much more work to do, we can report progress here as well.
Our Philly First Home initiative, which provides onetime grants to help first-time homebuyers afford the down payment and closing costs on their home, is working extremely well.
In just six months, this program has helped nearly 900 homebuyers achieve their dream – buying a home in Philadelphia.
This program is helping to stabilize our “middle neighborhoods” – and returning money to the city budget, too. In return for $8 million in grants, these homebuyers have paid over $4.5 million to the city in real estate transfer taxes. That’s nearly a 60 percent return on the city’s investment. That’s a win-win.
This is no time to rest on our laurels, however.
We must build on all the positive momentum happening in Philadelphia, particularly in our downtown area. From the Comcast Technology Center to the FMC Tower in West Philly, our skyline is growing, our economy is booming, and cranes are everywhere.
Our world-class academic institutions, Temple and Penn, Drexel, LaSalle and St. Joe’s, are producing thousands of college graduates ready to take on the world.
Increasingly, those graduates are staying in Philly, drawn to our neighborhoods, our affordability, and a vibrant arts and culture and restaurant scene that continues to grow.
That momentum is real, and we should take a moment to celebrate it.
But it is not the only story happening in Philadelphia.
We also are home to 400,000 people living in poverty – that’s one of every four Philadelphians. We are the poorest big city in America, with a poverty rate hovering around 24 percent.
That is simply unacceptable to me, and I hope, to every person in this room. Last year, City Council took its first steps to address this significant problem.
First, Council released a report, “Narrowing the Gap,” a series of strategies aimed at alleviating poverty in Philadelphia based on national best practices and programs.
Next, Council created a Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention. We put top people in charge – Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Eva Gladstein of the Kenney administration, Sharmain Matlock Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition and Mel Wells of One Day At A Time.
This past Fall, the Special Committee met at City Hall and in neighborhoods around Philadelphia. Hundreds of citizens and stakeholders participated, lending their best ideas to create jobs and develop other strategies.
Philadelphians currently are eligible for over $450 million in federal and state benefits. But for various reasons, they’re not receiving them. We’re working with experts to develop an actionable plan to get these benefits to eligible Philadelphians.
Can you imagine the impact on poverty we’ll have by achieving that goal?
Soon, the Special Committee will meet again to issue a complete set of actionable recommendations for the city to help lift 100,000 people out of poverty by 2024.
As I like to say, in the 1960s, the country rallied together to send a man to the moon. Everyone – academics, engineers, political leaders, everybody – worked together and America achieved its “MOONSHOT”.
This is our city’s Moonshot moment.
I am calling on everyone – the business community, our top universities and colleges, non-profit organizations, city government and all our citizens – to work together to achieve this goal. That’s an effort worthy of a world-class city.
That is just the beginning of what we can and must do, working together.
Much attention was paid a year or so ago to the city’s efforts to attract Amazon to Philadelphia. We didn’t win that competition, but we did learn what happens when the business community and local government works together. Philadelphia and Pennsylvania put together a very competitive bid for Amazon and all the jobs that went with it.
We need to keep working collaboratively – the Mayor’s Office and City Council, the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, our academic and non-profit leaders – to attract more companies and jobs to Philadelphia.
We may not have gotten Amazon – Number 5 on the Fortune 500 list. But why can’t we work together and attract companies from the Fortune 1000 list to Philadelphia?
One good example is our growing health care sector. Companies like Independence Blue Cross, Penn Medicine and Temple Health employ thousands of people in Philadelphia. But what about all the other companies emerging in the biosciences and life sciences fields?
We need to work together to attract more of these companies to the city. It means jobs and opportunity for all our citizens.
While we’re talking about collaboration, let’s put to rest once and for all any notion that City Council is somehow “anti-business.”
City Council represents a wide array of constituencies, from domestic workers to the largest corporations in the city.
Every constituency deserves equity and fairness under the law, and Council works to balance those interests every day, in each bill or piece of legislation it approves. That is our job.
We are for workers and for job-creating companies and for equity and opportunity for every individual and industry in Philadelphia.
When we work together, we achieve these goals. When we stand divided, we achieve none of them.
Our recent reform to the city’s tax abatement program is a good example.
Some stakeholders wanted us to take no action to reform the abatement program, which is credited with helping to ignite a building boom in our city over the past decade. Other stakeholders wanted us to do away with the abatement entirely.
What Council did was get to work. Our staff carefully studied the history and impact of the abatement.
In the end, we altered the abatement for new residential construction over the next decade – generating a projected $300 million in additional revenues for our public schools and essential city services. We kept the abatement for commercial construction – which generates jobs in our city.
We balanced competing interests, and did our jobs.
As we focus on an economic agenda that creates good-paying jobs for everyone in our city, we also must pay attention to a growing gap between the jobs created by our technology-centered economy, and the skills possessed by adults in our city.
This skills gap is one of the many issues associated with income inequality in Philadelphia. We must narrow that skills gap.
We need more adult education classes and curriculums offered to citizens across our city. The Community College of Philadelphia is playing a role, but we need more access and classrooms for adults who want to work, but need to learn the skills to get the technology and healthcare jobs of today.
On a recent trip to Baltimore, I met with Mayor Young and learned what they’re doing on this issue. By the end of this year, 75 percent of all Baltimore’s public schools will be community schools, and over a half of them offer robust financial literacy, job training, and workforce development for the adults living in that neighborhood.
Our expansion of community schools in Philadelphia is encouraging, and Mayor Kenney deserves credit for that progress. But we can and must do more to serve the needs of the entire family if we’re going to be successful and narrow that skills gap.
Another issue that arises from a lack of economic opportunity is crime. Although violent crime declined slightly in Philadelphia last year, shootings and homicides did not.
In addition to a homicide total as high as it’s been in over a decade, more than 100 people younger than 18 were shot in our city last year. Think about that for a moment. That includes infants, toddlers, school-age children.
This level of gun violence is simply unacceptable. While City Council has taken action to protect our citizens – prohibiting guns at playgrounds, making it simpler to remove guns from dangerous individuals, and appropriating more funds to violence-prevention programs – we must do more.
We will support our new police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, when she arrives next month. But as she said herself last week, she cannot do this alone. She needs all our help.
We can make our neighborhoods safer, but we must work together to achieve that goal.
These issues all intersect with each other. 400,000 people living in poverty. A growing skills gap for people who want to work, but lack the skills needed in today’s economy. A lack of hope. Too many guns on our streets. Too many people willing to use them.
To every citizen out there watching this inauguration today, who might think cynically that nothing will ever change, I simply say this:
There is nothing we cannot achieve if we work together.
Working together, we can lift 100,000 people out of poverty.
Working together, we can create access to adult education that narrows the skills gap and helps individuals get on track to find jobs paying a living wage.
Working together, we can support our new police commissioner and her efforts to reform our criminal justice system, and make our neighborhoods safer for all our citizens.
Let that be our Moonshot.
I am not suggesting the challenges that lie ahead are easy. I am saying that solving these problems – is essential to our future as a city that serves every citizen in Philadelphia.
President Obama said, “When you think about the challenges we face, these are challenges that require us to look forward – not backwards.”
Let’s look forward together and craft solutions that make Philadelphia a more thriving, inclusive and safer city for everyone.
Thank you again for the privilege of serving you.
God bless you all.
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Photo: File Photo, Bill Foster/City of Philadelphia