Politics & Government

Opinion: To Truly Stay Engaged and Informed, Make City Council Live Mandatory Audio-Listening Right Now

todaySeptember 7, 2023

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By Ernest Owens 

It was a sizzling political summer that’s about to be an even more action-packed fall — so stay cool and pack light. 

When City Council ended its spring session, Philadelphia was on the brink of a new horizon: the city’s Democratic Party elected the first woman as its nominee for mayor, the Council passed a budget that was favorable to the business community, and gun violence remained a stain on our societal progress. 

Now days before City Council returns for its fall session, we face new realities: Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has resigned, some notable Democrats have converted into supporters for Republican mayoral candidate David Oh and there’s a new heated contest in the upcoming race for council president.

With gun violence numbers lower than they were a year ago, but faith in our political system as it stands still lackluster – our collective need to speak truth to power and demand accountability from those who hold the bulk of it is needed now more than ever. If there was ever a time to listen to City Council Live on WURD Radio, this would be it. 


Money matters: Philadelphia’s budget

Right now, we’re in the midst of the most consequential local election cycle in recent memory. A new mayor, city council president, and city council all at the same time isn’t anything to sneeze about. In a city that’s witnessing our skyline changing faster than our public schools are improving – those in City Hall can no longer be let off the hook. This June, City Council passed a $6.2 billion budget that included roughly $32 million in tax cuts – a decision that has caused quite a bit of political division. 

“We are putting millions back into the pockets of mega-corporations,” Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, the lone elected official to vote against the budget, told Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. “This budget is a slap in the face to our working-class Black and brown residents who begged City Hall for the resources they need to live in clean, green and safe blocks.”

We’ll see how councilmembers respond this fall when they have the opportunity to push for more money during the mid-year budget transfer process — an avenue that allows them to make some budgetary changes that can focus on initiatives they care about.


Who’s who on the Council

It will also be interesting to see how councilmembers jockeying for City Council President will treat each other during the return of the fall session. So far, serious politicians seeking the top spot include District Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones and Michael Driscoll, as well as City Councilmember at Large Mark Squilla. 

Based on conversations with political insiders, it’s clear that there’s no frontrunner. Some predict that the race will be between Johnson and Jones – two longtime Councilmembers who have sway from union (Johnson) and establishment ties (Curtis). Newly elected Driscoll appears to be a surprise (and arguably longshot) pick, with veteran councilmember Squilla serving as a compromise option if supporters of Johnson and Curtis can’t get enough votes to win. Either way, expect to hear longer speeches (and in-person politicking with their colleagues) from these men this fall. 

For my part, I would like to ask Councilmember Squilla how he plans to lead in the role in the middle of a contentious battle between developers and longtime residents over the 76ers proposed revitalization of Chinatown – or ask Councilmember Johnson about how he can stay focused on the top job amid ongoing coverage of his past controversies. I would also like to ask Councilmember Jones how he plans to avoid being a status-quo-leader if elected to the role, – or ask Councilmember Driscoll how he plans to be Council President when he hasn’t served a full term.

Even though the Democratic primary is over, we still have a general election on Tuesday, November 7th. This election will finally fix the gaps in our current council makeup. Right now, only 15 of the 17 elected seats are occupied (Democrat Helen Gym and Republican David Oh resigned after last year’s special election that could have elected their replacements). This upcoming general election could see the possibility of no Republican Councilmembers at Large if Oh’s seat is replaced by third-party candidate Nicolas O’Rourke of the Working Families Party (WFP). With current WFP member Kendra Brooks in City Council, the second minority at large seat could go to O’Rourke, who’s running for a second time – potentially changing the political direction of City Council indefinitely. 


Stay tuned this fall

As the proud host of City Council Live on WURD, I plan to explore these current issues and more. My background as a political journalist has given me exposure to the backdoor conversations, and ambition that often define Philly politics. Every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (and sometimes longer when the session persists), I’ll be interviewing the elected officials that we employ through our taxpayer dollars. It’s important to note that sometimes they – and even us – can forget that their power comes from the people and our wallets. 

Philadelphia City Council is the people’s house – our show on WURD is yours as well. Now more than ever, we have the ability to shape the direction of our city for the better. Civic engagement is desperately needed to hold our elected officials accountable and demand more for our communities, public schools, children and elders. With millions of dollars being spent on our public safety, it’s high time we inquire more about its effectiveness – especially with the abrupt departure of Police Commissioner Outlaw. 

As we await the election of a new Council President, now is the right time to ask these aspiring leaders the tough questions on preparedness, temperament and competence. On City Council Live, I don’t plan to shy away from the political topics that Black Philly residents are talking about in the barbershop, mosque, board room and block party. 

On Thursday, Sept. 14, City Council returns – and so does WURD with the questions and commentary that reflects the voices, concerns and ideas of our listeners. Tune in and prepare to listen to a show that’s not beating around the bush when it comes to the important issues shaping City Hall.

I’ll be there, hope to hear from you soon!

Written by: Dylan Lewis

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