Philadelphia voters will make their way to the polls for the municipal primary election Tuesday May 21 to determine which Democratic mayoral candidate will appear on the general election ballot in November.
Incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney, who took office in 2016, faces two challengers in his bid for re-election. Kenney’s key accomplishments during his current term include the sugary beverage tax and establishing a local board of governance for the Philadelphia Public School District. Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams are running against Kenney in the primary. Here’s how each candidate plans to tackle voters’ concerns.
Public school funding
Williams plans to prioritize funding public schools and setting up other programs to improve the quality of education in Philadelphia under the new local board.
“We have to find a way to fund our public schools without raising property taxes, which our taxpayers are not going to do,” Williams said during the televised debate on NBC last week. “We need to find ways to get young teachers to come back to Philadelphia.”
Butkovitz emphasizes the role of schools in how families make decisions on where to live.
“The more our schools improve, the more people will stay in our city,” he said.
Kenney said he would maintain current programs and follow board president Superintendent Dr. William Hite’s leadership.
Business taxes & sugary beverage tax
Kenney defends the impacts of the sugary beverage tax by emphasizing that it’s a voluntary tax and has health benefits backed by public health officials. Sugary beverage sales in Philadelphia are down 51 percent, but Kenney is skeptical about the impacts on beverage companies.
“It’s likely that if you buy bottled water instead of soda, it’s the same company you’re buying from anyway,” he said “I don’t know how there’s a loss of business or jobs from people switching from one product to another.”
Both Butkovitz and Williams said they would get rid of the soda tax, noting the city’s budget surplus and how the tax primarily affects poorer neighborhoods. Kenney fears significant budget cuts and a decline in city services if other taxes are lowered in addition to eliminating the soda tax.
Safe injection sites
Kenney is currently exploring how to open an overdose prevention center, which would be operated by a separate nonprofit organization. The Department of Justice threatened legal action against the city if a safe injection site opened.
“We need to figure out what to tell our police to do when someone enters one of these facilities and they have drugs on them,” Kenney said. “There are some legal issues we need to straighten out.”
Both Butkovitz and Williams said they would halt all efforts dedicated to opening a safe injection injection site, and focus on increasing addiction outreach in existing public centers such as libraries and fire stations.
If the three candidates can come together on one issue, it is protecting Philly’s sanctuary city status. Kenney, Williams and Butkovitz agree that maintaining this encourages residents to work with police and report crimes regardless of immigration status.
The general election is November 5, 2019.