Home of the Liberty Bell, cheesesteaks, and many wonderful Eastern students and staff members, Philadelphia contains a multitude of characteristics that makes it so unique from other major cities. On March 4, the Eastern community received the opportunity to take part in a question and answer zoom session with Philadelphia Mayor, Jim Kenney. While this event was initially for students in the Introduction to the City class, Dr. Johnson, the professor of the course, opened this event to the larger Eastern community. This event provided a special opportunity for the Eastern community to have a conversation with the Mayor of the sixth largest city in the United States.
Mayor Kenney is the 99th Mayor of Philadelphia, stepping into office in 2016. While in office, Mayor Kenney has engaged in numerous ventures that aimed to benefit Philadelphians. Specifically, Philadelphia became one of the first major cities to implement a tax on sweetened beverages in 2017. Although this taxation was controversial, Mayor Kenney has used funds from the soda tax to take on anti-poverty initiatives, such as expanding the accessibility to free, high-quality pre-K opportunities. Mayor Kenney has also used the soda tax funds to invest in parks, playgrounds, recreation facilities, and libraries.
At the beginning of the Zoom meeting with Mayor Kenney, attendees were asked to comment on their favorite things about Philadelphia. Students noted the beautiful street art, rich history, population diversity, and many other aspects that contribute to the beauty of Philadelphia.
On the flipside, Mayor Kenney has been recognized to have supported and/or stayed silent on issues that have negatively impacted many Philadelphians. During the Zoom meeting, many Eastern students expressed their concerns with both actions and inactions of the Philadelphia mayor.
Mayor Kenney shared his regrets of agreeing that police could use tear gas on demonstrators that were protesting against police brutality. For attendees, especially those who live in communities that were directly affected by this, this decision to use tear gas caused much harm. He went on to apologize for authorizing this tear gassing and declared that this action was one of his biggest regrets while in office.
As the meeting progressed, Mayor Kenney asked students to note aspects of Philadelphia that they believe need to change. Students shared how injustices, such as gentrification, police brutality, and anti-homeless architecture, needed to be uprooted and changed. Many attendees expressed that police reform requires directing more funding towards resources, specifically social services. Rather than responding to this critique directly, he seemed to have avoided the question altogether.
Eastern student, Kathleen O’Keeffe, shared both her gratitude towards the Mayor’s presence as well as her wishes, “It was nice he took the time to speak with us. I just wish he would be authentic about his position on complex issues. Instead, it felt like he would have agreed with whatever we said, and never thought about it again” O’Keeffe stated.
Overall, it is with gratitude that Mayor Kenney put aside time to speak with the Eastern community. A huge thank you also goes out to Dr. Johnson for organizing this event and allowing the entire Eastern community to be included. It is important to note that the Eastern community did not shy away from raising difficult questions and critiques. To all those who joined, asked questions, vocalized their ideas, and listened: thank you.