As my term begins to come to a close, much will be said about our city’s path forward. While Philadelphia, like every major city, faces immense challenges — most pressingly the gun violence crisis plaguing cities across the country — we’ve also achieved major milestones and have put our city on a path for a promising future.
Reducing the pervasive gun violence impacting our city is my top priority as mayor. I share the frustration that we all feel in the search for solutions, especially in the face of federal and state laws that too often prioritize the interests of the gun lobby over keeping residents safe.
Perception matters, so let me begin by assuring our citizens that I am eager to lead this fight. Let there be no misunderstanding: Having been resoundingly elected twice as mayor by the citizens of Philadelphia is the greatest honor of my life, and I consider it a privilege to work every day from now until the end of my term in January 2024 to improve the lives of my fellow Philadelphians.
As mayor, I recognize the terrible toll gun violence has taken on far too many lives, particularly among our young people. Fueled by lurid press headlines, gun violence also has created a sense of unease and frustration among residents and business owners. We need to do more to address this issue and reduce violence, and we will do more.
But while we acknowledge these concerns, I also urge my fellow residents to recognize that, despite these concerns, Philadelphia remains a city on the rise. Thanks in large part to the resilience of our people, our city has largely recovered from a pandemic that devastated our economy and turned our lives upside down for most of the last two years.
On gun violence, the city is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue.
We have dedicated more money to fighting gun violence — $340 million in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years — than any administration in history. These efforts include: a renewed commitment to getting guns off the streets, which led to the seizure of more than 6,000 firearms last year (and we’re on track to match that this year); creating a new nonfatal shooting investigations group that is increasing clearance rates for nonfatal shootings; launching an innovative gun violence DNA program to improve the effectiveness of investigations; and working with state and federal law enforcement to track and capture Philadelphia’s most violent offenders. This work does not solve the problem overnight, but it is producing results already, as evidenced by the arrests of multiple suspects in the tragic Roxborough High School shooting.
Here’s one other fact about our gun violence prevention and intervention work: It hasn’t been enough.
We continue to work with partners both inside and outside of government to get results. Solutions are not simple, and making an immediate impact requires effective, targeted approaches for those most likely to commit or become a victim of violence, and we are appreciative of the civic coalition that is working with us to deepen and strengthen our intervention work.
Reducing gun violence demands creativity, cooperation, and tireless dedication from those of us who are privileged to serve as elected leaders.
I say again: Philadelphia’s future cannot be defined by screaming headlines. The reality is that our city is making a remarkable recovery. Investment continues to pour into the city, as evidenced by the surge in life sciences research at places like the Navy Yard and University City. The city’s bond rating, long mired in “junk bond” status, has been raised to A level, a designation once thought impossible for Philadelphia. Building permits continue to rise, despite the pandemic’s impact. And the city’s pension fund, once thought to be all but unfixable, is now projected to be fully funded in the near future.
Under the Rebuild program, made possible by the beverage tax that we enacted with overwhelming support from City Council, we are revitalizing neighborhoods across the city. What’s more, 62% of the contract dollars have been awarded to diverse businesses. Rebuild’s transformative impact will be felt in communities for generations to come.
The beverage tax also is funding PHLpreK, which has served more than 13,000 children over the last five years and has expanded to fund free, quality pre-K for up to 4,300 students annually — a successful and growing investment in our children’s future.
And not least, our tourism industry is thriving again, with our region having recovered to more than 80% of its pre-pandemic peak. A key indicator of our recovery is the continued growth of Philadelphia’s renowned restaurant scene, including the opening of two dozen new restaurants this fall alone.
So let me say again: I will work to address gun violence and create a safer Philadelphia every remaining day of my term in office. It is my number one priority.
But at the same time, let’s remember that Philadelphia remains a city whose future is worth fighting for.
And I am energized to lead the fight.
Jim Kenney is the 99th mayor of Philadelphia.