March 31, 2023
Some laws are simply outside the mayor's jurisdiction, including the ones governing hot-button issues like abortion access and a $15 minimum wage.
Only the state or federal government can control those rights for all Philadelphians. But since many residents are finding their paychecks stretched thin and fearing the loss of their reproductive rights after the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Dobbs v. Jackson decision last summer, we asked the candidates for Philadelphia mayor what they would do to address these issues, within the limits of office.
Since this is the last of our mayoral questionnaires, we also invited them to share additional priorities for their administrations.
Six politicians on the ballot for the May 16 primary replied via email, including David Oh, the former councilmember at-large who is the lone candidate on the Republican ballot.
Warren Bloom, Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, James DeLeon, Cherelle Parker and Delscia Gray did not respond to requests to participate, but this article will be updated if any of these candidates opt to submit answers to our questions. (Editor's Note: Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Derek Green dropped out of the mayoral race after this questionnaire was published. The candidates' responses were lightly edited only for style and formatting.)
ALLAN DOMB: I am pro-choice and am deeply disturbed by the decision by the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case. In the unlikely event that access to abortion is restricted at either the state or federal level, I will work with health professionals to ensure access to reproductive health care, including abortion, continues in our city.
DEREK GREEN: I will always be an outspoken advocate for a woman's right to choose, but I will be sure to use my role as mayor to ensure that women in Philadelphia and around the Commonwealth have access to the health care services they need when making those important, personal decisions. I can do that by working through our state delegation in Harrisburg, under the leadership of Gov. Josh Shapiro and House Speaker Joanna McClinton.
HELEN GYM: Abortion is still legal here in Philadelphia, and we're going to do everything we can to keep it that way. The end of federal protections for the right to an abortion means cities like ours, that support bodily autonomy and human dignity, must jump into action. That's why, as soon as the Dobbs decision leaked last year, we convened abortion providers, advocates, and reproductive justice organizations to hear what they needed and what we could do.
In response, I led and passed a comprehensive package that defends abortion access and reproductive care here in Philadelphia from the threats across the country. The legislation I introduced bars anyone from voluntarily sharing information related to people seeking or providing reproductive health care when it would be used to criminalize or penalize care that is legal in Pennsylvania. With this, Philadelphia has enacted one of the strongest privacy laws in the country to protect abortion as a fundamental right.
Our package also mobilizes our city government to protect abortions. That means restricting the use of any municipal resources to assist out-of-state investigation, lawsuits, or prosecution related to abortions. It means supporting a public health education campaign to improve awareness of trusted abortion and reproductive health care options — we have a responsibility to promote clear messaging around how to obtain safe and reliable medical information and care.
It means supporting further allocation of additional funding to cover the cost of abortion and reproductive health care. As clinics face increased demand from patients from out-of-state and many Philadelphians still face economic barriers to obtaining critical health care, the city must commit further funds to support clinics and ensure access to care.
And we must continue working with providers to increase safety at abortion clinics and advance privacy protections. As health care workers face escalating violence and harassment, as well as out-of-state prosecution, the city must work with providers to safeguard those on the front lines of abortion care.
We have a responsibility as city government to step up and defend this critical right — especially in Pennsylvania, which has already become the primary source for abortion care for neighboring states where extremist legislation has limited this fundamental right. Together, we will continue taking proactive steps to defend abortion rights and protect patients and providers.
DAVID OH: Reproductive rights are a matter of federal and state law. City government lacks authority to make laws on these issues. However, the city upholds and enforces these laws. As Mayor, I will ensure that federal and state laws regarding reproductive rights are enforced in Philadelphia.
MARIA QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: I worked very hard to elect Gov. Shapiro and a Democratic majority in Harrisburg because this issue is essential to the health of our city. As mayor, I will ensure that all private health data in city systems is protected so it cannot be used against women by other government entities. I will ensure that access to health care in our city health facilities continues and ensure that abortion services are available to all who want them.
REBECCA RHYNHART: As controller, reproductive health care was outside the jurisdiction of my office. However, I used my platform as a public official to issue a statement denouncing the overturning of the abortion rights previously enshrined in Roe v. Wade. As mayor, I would continue to be an advocate for our residents' reproductive freedom.
ALLAN DOMB: I support increasing the base wage to at least $15 an hour. I was proud to support an increase when Council approved a minimum wage hike on the ballot in 2019 and in support of a higher minimum wage for all municipal workers.
However, I do not believe that increasing the minimum wage is the most effective way to increase wages. As the pandemic has unequivocally shown us, when there is an increase in demand for workers, wages rise and benefits improve. I believe the next mayor must focus on expanding the number of companies hiring city residents, most importantly by increasing the number of successful entrepreneurs in neighborhoods. The city must, of course, do more to prepare workers for those jobs through new training and education programs and support entrepreneurs who will hire from their neighborhoods.
DEREK GREEN: Yes, the best way to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is for the commonwealth to go ahead and raise it, preferably indexed to inflation. However, yes, if the General Assembly opted to remove the existing preemption for higher municipal minimum wage rates, I would support making Philadelphia more in line with those across the Northeast, all of which are higher than our outdated rate. Further, as a past president of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, I will rally other mayors from around the commonwealth to lobby the General Assembly to raise the minimum wage.
HELEN GYM: Pennsylvania's minimum wage of $7.25/hour, and $2.83/hour for tipped workers, is a poverty wage. I will continue to fight for a living wage in Harrisburg, but I have acted creatively at the local level. I passed the most expansive Fair Workweek law in the nation to guarantee stable schedules and put part-time hourly workers on a path to full-time hours. I established a formal Department of Labor to enforce City wage laws and prevent wage theft — this department has already won tens of thousands of dollars for Philadelphia workers.
I also believe in the elimination of the current poverty wage for tipped workers. Everyone deserves a fair wage to inclusively grow our economy and pull families out of poverty. If workers earn tips on top of that, all the better – but we've created a subclass of employees through this system that is ripe for exploitation. We must ensure that one job is enough, and address the pernicious income disparities seen across our city, state, and nation.
DAVID OH: Yes. But increasing minimum wage simply to increase it can have the unintended effect of increasing inflation and reducing jobs in the city. Increasing minimum wage is a matter of state law. Increasing wages through increased jobs in a growing economy is the responsibility of the mayor. As mayor, I would be very active in attracting good jobs to Philadelphia.
MARIA QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: Yes. I authored Philadelphia's original 21st Century Wage legislation, raising wages for city workers and city contractors to $15/hour, lifting thousands of families out of poverty. I stood with airport workers, SEIU, and UNITE HERE to win wage increases and better working conditions for thousands of airport workers who were making poverty wages. All workers should make a living wage.
REBECCA RHYNHART: One job should be enough for all Philadelphians to pay their bills and feed their families. I would absolutely support Philadelphia raising the minimum wage if the Pennsylvanian preemption statute is removed. In the interim I support the living wage requirement for employers that do business with the city and believe the wage should be increased in alignment with the Consumer Price Index each year. Though that ordinance only covers businesses that do work with the city, my administration will work with the Chamber of Commerce to encourage any business in Philadelphia to provide its employees with a living wage.
ALLAN DOMB: My biggest priority will be providing real leadership in the mayor's office. Our current mayor has simply failed to lead. In addition to addressing community safety, reducing poverty through job creation, improving education outcomes, expanding access to affordable housing and providing high level city services, I will make Philadelphia the most transparent big city in the country. I believe it is essential that city government operate openly and honestly with citizens and increase access to public information. Only then can government be fully accountable and transparent. As mayor, I will make accountability and transparency more than just buzzwords by expanding Open Data Philly and require all city departments to monitor, evaluate, and report on their respective programs and to transfer the information in a responsible and timely manner to the Office of Information and Technology for the purposes of sharing on Open Data Philly.
Philadelphia needs a cheerleader in the mayor's office. Someone who mirrors the pride and passion of the people of this city. A leader who believes that — despite our many challenges — better days are ahead. I believe in Philadelphia.
DEREK GREEN: Working people deserve dignity and freedom from fear, which is why my mayoral agenda prioritizes public safety, shared economic development, and municipal reform. My top priority upon taking office is restoring public safety across our city. All of our residents deserve freedom from the fear of gun violence. And the city cannot reach its full potential for growth if prospective tourists, businesses, students, and residents are reluctant to come here on account of a record murder rate. We need a carrot and stick approach to the people causing the violence and a shield and sword strategy for the neighbors victimized by it. An honest paycheck needs to be more than a rhetorical alternative for shooters and street dealers. But they also need to know what the consequences for gun violence are swift and certain. Increasing job prospects and street patrols are two sides of the same coin. Meanwhile, residents should expect more and deserve better from our city and we should empower citizens and invest in our neighborhoods. Reclaiming public spaces, protecting pathways to transit, and ensuring public order are critical pieces of a strategy created and executed in partnership with the community.
While a component of my public safety planning, shared economic development is critical in its own right. Philadelphians deserve to live with dignity. The best way to achieve that just goal is to ensure that able adults are capable and paired with well-paying jobs. My past policy work has prioritized ways to spur business activity, growth, retention, and location here. Building on those efforts and our existing strengths — things like hospitality, biolife sciences, and universities, among many others — can not only reduce our rate of poverty, but reduce the actual number of residents who live in poverty.
As we find ways to make the city more safe and more prosperous, we also need to ensure that the actual municipality is functioning as best it can. The pandemic strained public service workers and systems across the country, which increases the importance of not just broad alignment with worker compensation desires, but active partnership between bureaucratic management and line city employees, starting at the top. We should account not only for whether trash is picked up and if L&I inspections are happening, but if our haulers are safe and our inspectors are retained long-term.
HELEN GYM: I didn't have an opportunity in the questions above to share my vision for our public schools. I am the only mayoral candidate who will not only prioritize our public schools but has a plan to deliver the quality school that every child in every neighborhood needs. The city cannot reach its potential if it leaves its children further behind in our school system. Because Philadelphia is the only municipality in the commonwealth without an elected and taxing empowered school district, it is the mayor's responsibility to bring the School District under the wing of the city government and for the city government to be accountable to the public schools.
As mayor, my top priorities are improving literacy K-12, ensuring quality pre-K and broadening access to affordable child care, and addressing mental health and restorative supports in schools to help children and families address the trauma of the last several years. I intend to expand on the school safety zones I advocated for as a councilmember, and focus on safety on public transit and safe routes to and from school. And finally, I am going to focus on at-risk youth and truancy to re-engage young people year round in order to see them through graduation.
As state teaching certifications plummet, I am Philadelphia's loudest cheerleader for recruiting and retaining teachers and educational professionals. I have long supported grow-your-own programs for hiring and retention, and I want to put the full force of the city's college, Community College of Philadelphia, to use on this front.
And finally, I am on a mission to modernize our public schools. It is a disgrace that the School District has had to close one building after another because of unsafe conditions, and we need a plan for immediately modernizing the infrastructure we depend on to support our children. I am proud to have led a clean water campaign that kickstarted a massive $500 million infrastructure investment in upgrading schools, but that must only be the start. Philadelphia's population growth has made public schooling a necessary and essential part of the city's growth strategy. A major investment in school modernization is a promise to Philadelphia families and a new generation that we are looking to our future.
DAVID OH: Other than the topics listed here, I am very focused on job creation and entrepreneurial opportunities, overall economic growth, improving public education, improving quality of life, correcting the tax structure, making Philadelphia a more global city, expanding the creative arts economy and strengthening families.
MARIA QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: In my administration, every single city department will have a public safety plan, an anti-poverty plan, and an inclusion and economic opportunity plan. These areas represent both our greatest challenges and greatest areas of opportunity, where we can bring in national best practices, fund what works through zero-based budgeting, and invest in people to provide equitable access to affordable housing, great schools, and economic opportunity.
As part of my comprehensive public safety plan, we will make communities safer by investing in a CCTV camera system, better lighting, revamped trash collection, and clearing blight. We know these investments make communities safer and I will empower our operational departments to lead this effort. At the same time, we will transform the PPD with a budget audit, deployment reforms, professionalized HR, and investments in technology and forensics to help solve crimes.
Our anti-poverty agenda will grow from the action plan we developed through Council's Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention, using 'The Promise,' our public-private partnership with United Way to expand benefits access, invest in stabilizing working families, provide expungement services and services for returning citizens, and develop innovative affordable housing models.
Our economic development goals focus on the big picture of fully building out Philadelphia over the next 10 years and getting to 2 million residents. I will pursue further reforms to create a fairer tax code that lifts the burden from small businesses, reducing regulatory hurdles and red tape, aggressively pursuing the competitive federal funding that we may be leaving on the table, and lobbying our new governor to bring more state funding to Philadelphia, which is the economic engine of the commonwealth.
Finally, our hard-won local control of our schools, combined with the influx of federal pandemic relief dollars, represents a tremendous opportunity to invest in our students. As we work with our new superintendent to develop a strategic plan for the coming decade, we must face the significant challenge of helping students, families, and school communities recover the losses resulting from pandemic school closures.
Success means a great, walkable elementary school in every single neighborhood. It means diverse options for high school students – CTE programs, college prep, specialized offerings, and dual enrollment at CCP. CCP should be free to attend and the workforce development engine of our city. It means reinvigorating our school buildings as the hearts of their neighborhoods, accessible and open on evenings and weekends for diverse offerings of programs that welcome and serve the whole community. Schools are community anchors – post-COVID we have been able to open hundreds of schools in the summer and year-round to increase program offerings, and we should never go back to a time where schools are locked and closed off to the community.
REBECCA RHYNHART: 1. Economic fairness. Our prosperity must be shared. We need to make sure all Philadelphians can access affordable housing, family-sustaining jobs and high-quality public education no matter your income level, race or zip code.
2. High-quality city services. These are the key functional purpose of our local government and we must ensure that we're meeting the needs of our residents at a high standard. This includes timely trash pick up, faster 911 response times and robust programming at our recreation centers and libraries.
3. Fixing our school system. All of our kids deserve a high-quality public education. My vision is for the youth of Philadelphia to have the best opportunities – beginning with nurturing Pre-K, and continuing with well-run, healthy elementary and middle schools that provide students with the skills, habits, and mindsets that will promote life-long learning.
Follow Kristin & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @kristin_hunt
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.