By Michael A. Nutter
While many of us are rightly focused on the holiday season and helping the less fortunate among us, there's another season upon us, one that is critically important to the civic life of our city. Next year, Philadelphians must select a new mayor, someone who, if elected twice, will guide the city through the start of the next decade.
After more than 20 years in public office, one of the main things I have witnessed is the tremendous scope, authority, and responsibility that come with serving as mayor of the fifth-largest city in the United States. People near and far, businesses and other governments, watch and listen to what happens here.
And why wouldn't they? Philadelphia is a national and global leader in education, medicine, scientific research, sustainability, and energy efficiency. We're home to a vibrant start-up tech community and a hospitality industry linked to our art and historical treasures. With the recession over, our economy is surging and population is growing.
The choice of a new city chief executive officer will have a significant impact on the direction and pace of change and progress toward a universally shared goal of creating a prosperous Philadelphia that benefits all its residents.
I commend the announced mayoral candidates for their courage and commitment to run for this office. Each of them will tell his or her personal story, describe the current state of affairs in our city, and offer policies and promises, all geared toward moving Philadelphia toward greater prosperity and health.
As candidates offer their visions and concrete agendas, Philadelphians should evaluate the credibility and feasibility of their platforms based on the facts, not political fiction or electoral rhetoric.
In support of that evaluation, I believe that over the last seven years, my administration, with significant City Council cooperation, has built a strong foundation for the future.
With more than a quarter of the city's population living in poverty, my team from the start recognized that we must make our neighborhoods safer; that tax reform and workforce development create more jobs; that government must act with integrity and transparently to attract new businesses; that breaking the cycle of poverty starts with a strong public education system; and that a sustainable, green economy and infrastructure will grow the number of residents and workers.
In my view, here are some of critical facts and benchmarks for the candidates:
Public safety: Homicides are down 35 percent since I took office. Last year, we recorded the lowest number (247) since 1967. Overall, violent crime is down 15 percent since 2007. The next mayor must have a plan to continue the emphasis on crime reduction and focus on ensuring that police-community relations continue to improve so citizens feel more confident in reporting crime.
Public education: We've seen the high school graduation rate climb from 53 percent in 2007 to 65 percent. The college attainment rate has increased from 18 percent in 2007 to more than 25 percent. While the city has increased school funding by $357 million per year, the state has cut funding. The next mayor must push hard in Harrisburg for a student-based, full and fair funding formula for public schools. It must be No. 1 on the candidates' agenda.
Jobs and economy: We've reduced wage and business taxes and reformed the latter, creating incentives for new small businesses. We've encouraged minority- and women-owned businesses by helping them compete for more than 25 percent of the city's annual contracting. We've seen more businesses moving, expanding, and investing here and more jobs created. Since January 2013, about $8.5 billion in projects have been completed, started, or announced, and more are coming in the next year. Property owners are benefitting from a new zoning code and a new property-assessment system that ended political favoritism for a transparent, professional system. Every candidate should have a detailed proposal for future job growth.
Ethics and integrity: Instead of being continually investigated by the FBI, we've worked with local and federal prosecutors to root out wrongdoing. Together, a beefed-up Inspector General's Office has recovered almost $46 million since 2008. The Philly311 Call Center has handled millions of requests, linking residents to the services they deserve. And we've put huge amounts of data online through our open data program. We created a chief integrity officer position, which has made a big difference, internally and externally. Ethics is a critical issue for the city, and all candidates should definitively commit to maintaining an ethical government.
Sustainability: Philadelphia is now one of the greenest cities in America, tripling curbside recycling, reducing municipal energy consumption by 14 percent, and signing historic agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that is greening hundreds of acres and reducing stormwater runoff. Through our Greenworks plan, we are preparing for climate change.
In the last seven years, we have carefully managed city resources to benefit taxpayers:
We now have union contracts with raises for our employees, significant pension reform, and health-care savings.
We've learned to do more with fewer city employees.
We're collecting delinquent taxes at higher rates than ever before.
We've secured an A bond rating from all three of the major rating agencies, including an A-plus from Standard & Poor's.
Mayoral candidates should be carefully vetted on their vision, methods of achieving that vision, and ability to lead and unite us as a city. My administration has made significant progress, but there's much more to be done in the next decade. Let the debate begin, but let us not forget where we started, and where we are today.