Most weeks, City Council begins its sessions with several ceremonial resolutions, in which Council honors an individual or community organization for their work to make Philadelphia a better place. These resolutions generally don’t make the news, or even the Weekly Report. Today was different.
Led by Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large), Council approved a resolution honoring Mabel “Chi” Chan, the longtime owner and proprietor of Joy Tsin Lau, perhaps Chinatown’s best-known, longest-operating restaurant.
Surrounded by her fellow Councilmembers, Gym read of Mabel Chan’s life story, of coming to Philadelphia from Hong Kong to join her father in 1974, working alongside him in the family storefront restaurant in North Philadelphia, buying an old factory in Chinatown, renovating and opening Joy Tsin Lau in 1983 – and for 37 years operating the restaurant as a grounding force and community gathering place for members of the city’s growing Asian-American community.
“The restaurant is recognized as aiding the Chinatown community to secure its economic footing in Philadelphia,” the resolution read. “Joy Tsin Lau has always been more than a mere restaurant venture for Ms. Chan. She operates Joy Tsin Lau as a space for community cultivation for individuals who do not have a sense of belonging anywhere else in the city due to language and cultural barriers. This commitment has made Ms. Chan known as a “Second Sister” in the Chinatown community —the big sister who always looks out for everyone.”
When Ms. Chan approached the microphone to speak, she was overcome with emotion and gratitude, for Councilmember Gym, for Council and for the city that gradually opened its arms to her and her family over the last four decades.
As New Police Commissioner Arrives, Council Remains Focused on Reducing Gun Violence
On Monday, the much-awaited arrival of the city’s new Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, took place and Philadelphia waited to see what impact the new top cop might have on the city’s escalating gun violence problem.
City Council was no different than anyone else, and members went out of their way throughout the week to greet and encourage the new Commissioner. But Council remained focused on its own violence prevention work as well.
Tuesday evening, Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing at a church in West Philadelphia, where an overflow crowd of 400 people heard Council and community activist and radio personality Solomon Jones talk about what can be done to reduce a gun violence epidemic that saw 356 Philadelphians killed last year, and a homicide rate in early 2020 running alarmingly high until just recently. Working with others in the community, Jones has created a young male engagement outreach group known as #ManUpPHL, which engages at-risk young men in mentoring, education, job training and whatever steps are needed to steer them away from a path towards violence, guns and death. This hearing came at the request of Councilmember Derek Green (At Large), who introduced a resolution on #ManUpPHL last month.
Nine members of Council – a quorum – came out to Christian Stronghold Baptist Church at 47th and Lancaster and remained there for several hours, listening to Jones and other citizens, asking Council for more resources for their community anti-violence engagement work. The citizens remained as well.
“I haven’t felt this optimistic on this issue since the Million Moms March,” Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), the committee’s chair, told the crowd.
A day later, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), vice chair of the Public Safety committee, held a round-table discussion with a mixture of gun violence victims, survivors and advocates working on these issues at City Hall.
Should Graduates of City Career and Technical Education Programs Receive Preference for City Employment?
Sometimes, issues that seem relatively straight-forward can take a sudden turn in City Council. That seemed to happen when a resolution and ordinance to change the city’s Home Rule Charter, to award a preference in civil service employment exams to qualified graduates of a Career Technical Education program in the city’s public schools, came under criticism from the city’s veterans community, which also receives a preference for city employment.
The CTE employment preference was introduced by Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. But at a recent Council hearing on the bill, Councilmember David Oh (At Large), a military veteran and staunch advocate for that community, objected to the new preference. In Council on Thursday, a crowd of veterans testified, urging Council to keep the preferences just the way they are.
Councilmember Gilmore Richardson told her colleagues she was holding her legislation until she met with all interested stakeholders and would bring the issue back to Council after that. Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District) spoke up, commending Gilmore Richardson for her work ethic and attention to detail and listening to all parties as her work on the legislation continues.
Other Legislative Action in Council This Week …
- Council Approves Measure To Create Permanent Department of Labor to Enforce City Worker Protection Laws. Council passed Councilmembers Gym and Bobby Henon (6th District)’s legislation to create a permanent Department of Labor and Board of Labor Standards with expanded resources, staff and investigatory powers. The Department would enforce city labor laws, resolve disputes between workers and employers, and issue fines and penalties as needed. A key focus is overseeing sexual harassment and discrimination complaints within city agencies. The law would change the Home Rule Charter, and is now up for a vote on the April 28 primary ballot.
- At Mayor Kenney’s Request, Council Introduces Bill to Ban the Use of Chemical Linked to Last Year’s Refinery Explosion and Fire. Councilmember Johnson introduced legislation at the mayor’s request to ban the use of hydrogen fluoride in fuel processing. The bill is intended to safeguard against public safety and health risks posed by the prior use of HF at the refinery complex in South Philadelphia. The refinery closed after the fire, and its owner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, entered bankruptcy. As a new owner’s bid works its way through bankruptcy proceedings, Johnson made clear yesterday that he planned to work closely with Council’s Committee on the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large), to hold hearings on the refinery’s future use and redevelopment.
- Closing of a West Philadelphia Hospital’s Intake Unit Draws Scrutiny. Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, a longtime health care provider in West Philadelphia, has announced that its inpatient and acute-care services, along with its emergency room, will shut down. That drew the attention of Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), who said in floor remarks that the closures at Mercy Hospital may have a “dramatic and detrimental impact on the ability of West and Southwest Philadelphians to access medical care in our city.”Gauthier cited sobering facts: In 2018, Mercy Hospital had 7,680 admissions, and 48,000 visits to the Emergency Department. “That means thousands of people will now have to travel farther away, and wait longer, to see a doctor when they are experiencing an emergency,” she noted. Gauthier said the Mercy closures are reminiscent of the closure of Hahnemann last year, and the closure of St. Joseph’s in North Philadelphia in 2016. “All struggling urban hospitals serving mostly black and brown communities in Philadelphia. But black and brown communities are entitled to high quality health care, and to fair treatment by our healthcare system. And hospital workers are entitled to fair treatment, too.” The freshwoman Councilmember vowed to scrutinize further actions at Mercy Hospital.
Inside the Rail …
Even as Council grapples daily with the problems associated with crime and gun violence in too many Philadelphia neighborhoods, rays of light and hope occasionally shine through. A resolution by Councilmember Johnson, honoring a young rap group for its music focused on positive messages and anti-violence, was one such moment.
Johnson honored and brought to Council the “Young Flames,” a group of young rap musicians, whose song “Guns Down,” was recently featured on 6ABC. The resolution noted that the Young Flames’ music also advocates against substance abuse and for academic success and personal responsibility. The councilmember brought the young musicians to Council today and honored them by name: Safee Johnson, Kaiear McGhee, Kaaliq McGhee, Ma’kye McNeil, Jahmill Meadows, Amir Crawford, Jaden Barasky, Bahij Goodwin, Asir Bagwell, Tyree Reaves. All ten members are residents of South Philadelphia and students at Universal Institute Charter School.
The next Stated Meeting of City Council will take place on Thursday, February 20th, at 10 a.m. in Council’s chamber on the 4th floor at City Hall.