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Primary Ballot Questions: A pro and con for each to help you decide how to vote | Opinion

To help voters make up their minds, the Inquirer asked eight locals to share why they’re voting “yes” or “no” on these ballot questions.

The hand of a woman putting a ballot in the ballot box. Close-up image of ballot and the ballot box.
The hand of a woman putting a ballot in the ballot box. Close-up image of ballot and the ballot box.Read morehyejin kang / Getty Images/iStockphoto

In addition to choosing a mayor, district and at-large City Council members, city commissioners, register of wills, and multiple judges on May 21, voters will also vote on four proposed charter changes. To help voters make up their minds, The Inquirer asked eight locals to share why they’re voting yes or no on these ballot questions.

» Read what the Inquirer Editorial Board recommends on ballot questions

» Read the Inquirer’s Voter’s Guide for the 2019 Philadelphia primary

YES: Making the Charter gender neutral will bring it into the 21st Century

By Stu Bykofsky, Inquirer columnist

Hi, “boys” and “girls,” I’m the Friendly Grammarian (not the angry guy who occasionally appears here).

It seems some bureaucrat with too much jawn on their hands read the 1951 Philadelphia Home Rule Charter and found some of it is out of date.

First, here’s a bit of trickery. In the sentence above I pulled a grammatical shuffle by using the plural their to refer to the singular bureaucrat because I didn’t want to tie myself in linguistic knots by saying “too much jawn on his or her hands.” That brings me back to the charter, which uses terms such as Councilman and Councilmanic, which seem sexist, and gawd forbid, not “inclusive.”

A historical oddity: The charter was adopted in 1951, the same year Constance Dallas was elected as Council’s first female member. She insisted on being called councilman because councilwoman did not appear in the charter.

Since that time, actresses have become “actors,” stewardesses have transformed into “flight attendants,” and waiters and waitresses now are “servers.”

Ballot Question 1 breaks no new ground.

Ditching councilmen and councilwomen won’t hurt a bit. What term of art would replace them? Councilperson? Ugh. How about Councilor?

Making the charter gender-neutral will bring it into the 21st century. It will cost us nothing, unlike some of the other ballot questions (which the editor asked me to steer away from). Vote yes on Ballot Question 1.

NO: Don’t vote to manipulate words for political correctness

By Christine Flowers, Inquirer columnist

When Neil Armstrong descended onto the moon’s surface 50 years ago this summer, he did not say, “One small step for man … or woman. One giant leap for man … or womankind.” If he had, Buzz Aldrin would have laughed himself silly and climbed back into the lunar module without taking his own moonwalk. There was a time when language was presumed to include both genders without having to have the minutiae spelled out.

That was then.

Now we’ve entered the age of political correctness, where identity has become a straitjacket, mandating codes and customs that are both unnecessary and ridiculous. Ballot Question 1 proposes changes to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter that will remove gender-specific terms like Councilman and replace them with words like Councilmember. The Inquirer Editorial Board supports this measure, writing that “there is no reason for gender to be a part of the way we describe leadership in our city.” I totally agree with that sentiment, and for that reason, would vote no on the proposed charter change.

When I look at Jannie Blackwell or Helen Gym, I know that I am looking at a woman. The fact that they have the word Councilman before their names does not confuse me, offend me, or lead me to believe that they occupy any lesser legal or institutional status. This sense that if we don’t use gender-neutral terms we are being disrespectful is based upon the fallacy that titles are more important than substance.

Manipulating or weaponizing words to advance politically correct agendas is not something we should worry about — or be voting on. Only the most hypersensitive Philadelphians would be worried about the use of the word Councilman when applied to a woman. To paraphrase a great man, it’s about the content of our character, not the spelling of our titles. Vote no on Ballot Question 1.

YES: Building bridges to immigrant community makes Philly stronger

By Blanca Pacheco, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s government must be accessible. Elected officials must listen and work to make sure people’s needs are addressed. The Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA) is a part of the mayor’s office that does that. However, this office exists only by executive order of the mayor, which means that if a new mayor takes power and wants to end it, they could do that. On May 21, we have an opportunity to make OIA a permanent part of Philadelphia.

OIA’s work with immigrants has both alleviated some of the racist and violent daily attacks by the president and has opened the door to create positive change to make Philadelphia more welcoming. Working with grassroots organizations is their biggest strength right now. They worked hand in hand to help end ICE’s access to the Police Department’s Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System. They conducted a thoughtful community engagement process and research to launch municipal IDs in Philly. And they helped build community relations with law enforcement to open the possibility to report police abuses and harassment both in the streets and at courts.

OIA employees are bridge-builders and early on understood the importance of building trust with immigrant communities, grassroots organizations, and businesses in order to address real challenges immigrants face. OIA understands and values all the contributions the immigrant community adds to the progress of Philadelphia. Immigrants bring rich culture, entrepreneurship, and humanism and have a lot to teach the city about how we can all live collectively, loving and supporting one another from a place of abundance.

OIA benefits the immigrant community and all residents. Vote yes on Ballot Question 2 to make it a permanent office so we can continue working collaboratively to bring more positive changes to our city, a place thousands of immigrants call home.

NO: Local government has no purview on immigration law or policy

By Albert Eisenberg, political consultant

To borrow a term from the financial guru Suze Orman, the pertinent question for voters when deciding on any expansion of government is “Can I afford it?”

In Philadelphia, a city that is among the most overtaxed and the most impoverished in the nation, the answer is “probably not.”

As to the specific question of the creation of a permanent Office of Immigrant Affairs, on its merits the proposal makes no sense; local government has absolutely no purview as to immigration law or policy. At most, the proposed office would be a board composed of volunteers to represent the immigrant community (many would happily serve for free) – it should not become yet another holding place for taxpayer-funded bureaucrats for the mayor to stock with cronies or do-nothings.

Mayor Kenney, & Co. want nothing more than the creation of a Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs because it gives them an excuse to do what they like best: bloviate on national issues to distract from their complete mismanagement and lack of ideas when it comes to the actual business of running our city, home of third-rate schools and a looming pensions crisis that could make Philadelphia the next Detroit and bankrupt a generation of retirees in so doing. According to them, the creation of such an office would be its own accomplishment – funded, of course, by the people of Philadelphia.

One final point for voters considering Ballot Question 2: You can support immigrants and still oppose a taxpayer-funded office at a local level with no mandate.

Voters incensed by national issues or ignorant to the concept of federalism will be tempted to vote yes on the creation of a Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs. Nonetheless, they should avoid temptation and vote no on Ballot Question 2.

YES: Many working people earn wages so low that they live in poverty

By Kati Sipp, labor organizer

In 2008, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania was $7.25 an hour, the same place it stands today.

At 40 hours per week, working 52 weeks per year, a person who is paid the minimum wage can expect to earn just $15,080 a year. About 25 percent of Philadelphia households earned that much or less, in 2017, the last year for which data are available.

In 2019, Philadelphia is one of the poorest big cities in America. Many factors contribute to the city’s poverty rate, and not everyone who is poor is able to work. (Nor should they — do you really want your 80-year-old grandmother in the workforce after she spent her life of working low-wage jobs?) Nevertheless, the fact is many working people earn wages so low that they live in poverty. With a minimum wage that’s been stuck at $7.25 per hour for more than 10 years, thousands of working people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food in the refrigerator.

In 2006, when the legislature raised the minimum wage to its current level, it also removed the city’s power to raise wages. That decision (known as preemption) needs to be overturned, so the City Council can insist that employers improve low wages.

Send a message to Harrisburg, to the Chamber of Commerce, and to Council itself that Philadelphians support their neighbors, their families, and themselves, and are committed to moving every neighborhood forward — not just Center City. Vote yes on Ballot Question 3.

NO: Government-mandated wage increases lead to job loss

By Gene Barr, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry

Helping lift families out of poverty should be a universal priority. Unfortunately some lawmakers and advocates myopically pursue government-mandated wage increases that result in unintended consequences that negatively impact the very people these policies aim to help.

Countless nonpartisan studies have shown these policies lead to negative impacts on employment, including job loss. The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office found that increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour would lead to the loss of 34,000 jobs throughout the commonwealth. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office predicted 500,000 lost jobs nationwide if the minimum wage was increased to $10.10, possibly up to one million. Entry-level workers and small businesses bear the brunt of these well-intended but misguided efforts.

After the last minimum-wage increase, an Inquirer article stated: “With the minimum wage increase making it difficult for businesses to hire, an estimated 1,100 young people would not be able to find summer jobs.” We all should be concerned at the prospect of fewer employment opportunities for young Pennsylvanians, for whom these part-time jobs are often where lifelong workplace and employability skills are acquired.

No one disputes that some individuals benefit from mandated wage increases; but the fact is, others end up being hurt.

We encourage lawmakers at all levels of government to pursue targeted policies that effectively assist low-income families without risking job loss. For example, numerous states have implemented a state Earned Income Tax Credit to supplement the federal program, which targets support to lower-income working parents. Even bringing more awareness to the federal program would be constructive. According to the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in previous years over 50,000 EITC-eligible Philadelphians never applied leaving over $131 million on the table. Minimum-wage advocates have expended tremendous time and resources that perhaps could have been better utilized helping Pennsylvanians benefit from existing programs. Vote no on Ballot Question 3.

YES: Public safety officers will enhance Philadelphians’ quality of life

By Darrell L. Clarke, City Council president*

Philadelphia faces two main public safety challenges: Persistent violent crime enabled by the under-regulated flow of firearms in our region, and an increase in traffic congestion and collisions spurred in part by population and economic growth.

On May 21, Philadelphians will have a chance to authorize a new class of protectors, Public Safety Enforcement Officers, by voting yes on Ballot Question 4.

Authorizing Public Safety Enforcement Officers to serve in coordination with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) promises to enhance all our quality of life. Safety officers would support the PPD and help with traffic control, enforce laws and regulations in our neighborhoods, and allow PPD supervisors to more strategically deploy police and resources to deter and address serious and violent crime.

Public Safety Enforcement Officers will not have the power to arrest or carry firearms. If the measure is approved by voters, Council will work with the administration and PPD to ensure this new workforce reflects the diversity of our population and undergoes antibias training.

Ballot Question 4 is supported by a broad coalition that includes Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Mayor Jim Kenney, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the Center City District, and the Pennsylvania AARP.

Reckless driving, runaway construction, the addiction crisis, and gun violence harm Philadelphians every day. After reviewing similar initiatives in cities like New York and Washington, I have concluded that here at home, the nation’s most historically significant city can better thrive through the growth we are experiencing if we take decisive action now.

Everyone deserves a reasonable expectation of safety, no matter where they live. Vote yes on Ballot Question 4.

* It is the Inquirer Editorial Board’s policy to avoid publishing opinion pieces from candidates within 30 days of the election in which they are running. Because Councilman Clarke is running unopposed in the 5th District in this primary, we allowed this exception.

NO: Creating a new class of officer without the proper training endangers police

By State Rep. Martina White

The concept of adding more officers to the streets of Philadelphia is a good one, and so are the goals of Vision Zero, the city’s safe streets initiative.

Vision Zero wants to radically reduce the number and severity of traffic crashes that occur in Philadelphia each year with the goal of reaching zero traffic deaths. To get there, supporters of Vision Zero hope that adding unarmed Public Safety Enforcement Officers to the streets will free up rank-and-file officers to pursue more serious offenses.

The idea is a noble one — but it is untested and fraught with danger.

One of the most dangerous situations any officers can find themselves in is during a traffic stop. You never know who is behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. Officers have no way of knowing if the motorist is armed, on narcotics, or on the run from a crime scene.

These new officers would likely find themselves in perilous situations with no way to defend themselves, while the suspect would see only a police officer, armed or not.

While we need more officers on the street, we want them fully trained, armed to protect themselves or civilians, and able to make arrests.

Creating a new class of officer without the proper training in handling weapons or making arrests will place these officers in harm’s way.

Yes, we need more police. But let’s make them officers fully trained to protect us against whatever danger they may encounter. Vote no on Ballot Question 4.