Dear Jim Kenney: 48 Philadelphians on How Our New Mayor Can Make the City Great

We knew that folks from West Philly to the Northeast and all points in between would have advice for our new mayor and strong opinions on the state of the city. So we asked 48 of them. And we weren’t disappointed.


All photographs by Josh Pelta-Heller and Tiayrra Bradley

Kimyona Evans
22, West philly; sales associateIf there were more programs for younger kids, starting from eighth grade to high school, I feel like there’d be less violence. If they have something to do other than run outside, they wouldn’t be in trouble.

Jake Cline
23, Glenside; construction workerNot enough treatment for people who are struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. That’s what I see, you know. I was an addict before, and it sucked.

Pak-Wing Fok
36, Washington Square West; professor, University of DelawareThe one thing that I find disappointing is the trash collection. People just leave the rubbish on the sidewalks. In Seoul, they have to use government-mandated bags, which are strong and don’t tear. Seoul is a very clean city, so maybe that’s one way to do it.

Osman Zubair
22, Northeast philly; student, Temple UniversityThe Mayor should help the school district. Fights happen every day. They don’t have enough manpower because of budget cuts, and a lot of kids are afraid that they can’t get the education they need.

Naaman Harris
30, homeless; unemployedI don’t know if anybody could change the crime in Philadelphia. There’s so much killing, and people want to sell drugs, go out and rob, shoot people. It’s getting worse.

Rochelle Keyhan
30, Grad Hospital; executive director, Feminist Public WorksHe should continue being the excellent listener that he has been on City Council. You could tell he had such a genuine concern for the needs of the Philadelphians he was talking to and representing. I’m excited.

Troy Crichton
31, Northern Liberties; public defenderBail reform. We have lots of people held in prison simply for being poor. You have people sitting three, four, five months before they can get some money together, which results in losing their jobs, losing their kids, losing their pets.

Kimyetta King
46, West Oak Lane; police officerThe city is disgusting-looking. The only area that looks nice is the area that the tourists go to. That’s a tradition for Philadelphia. Money is always put into only what the public will see. The outer neighborhoods are always neglected.

Anuj Gupta
42, Mount Airy; GM, Reading Terminal MarketEmbrace the growing diversity of our city, both the millennial population and our immigrants. Make them feel vested in our city. They are the ones turning neighborhoods around in partnership with folks who have been here for a long time. That’s how we’re going to continue to grow.

Grace Hong
16, Germantown; student, SLA beeberIf you’re a leader, you should stay open-minded for what the people need and really listen to others. If you’re close-minded, you don’t have any space to grow. You’re only thinking about what you want to think.

Thomas Austin Spain
27, North Philly; entertainerPut another tax on cigarettes so the money can go to schools. And really think about SEPTA, too, because SEPTA goes on strike almost every time there’s a contract negotiation, and it shuts the city down.

Mimi Bell
19, West Philly; student, Art Institute of PhiladelphiaI’m from Baltimore, so a comparison between Baltimore and Philly is like night and day. I think Philly has grown in the year I’ve been here. I can just see cleaner streets; everyone’s getting more jobs and opportunities. That’s a good thing.

Jenny Carpenter
53, Bella Vista; student teacherThe classroom size is just too big. I see over 200 kids every day — six sections with at least 33 kids. The kids want to learn and the teachers want to teach, but we really can’t reach all of the students. My question for the Mayor is, can you reduce class size?

Dwayne Ross
35, North philly; barberThe Mayor should deal with some ’hood figures, people that have respect in the neighborhoods. I don’t care if they’re eight-time felons. He’s going to have to build rapport and find out exactly what’s the problem and what’s the solution.

Drew Callaghan
59, Bella Vista; photographerThe city really needs to get control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. They need to get friendly. There’s no reason for the Parking Authority to be cruel in the way they treat people. A lot of times I feel it’s law enforcement for profit.

Marangeli Mejia-Rabell
47, Rittenhouse; nonprofit administratorThe sanctuary-city status really makes Philadelphia that welcoming city, that City of Brotherly Love that we so much want and respect. I have been here for almost 28 years and I come from Puerto Rico, so I feel like it’s really important.

Andrew Noonan
25, University City; student, University of PennsylvaniaI’ve noticed murals popping up around the city, and I really like that. It infuses that Philadelphia culture into it, kind of like artsy street art. In general, the city’s in disrepair. We need a beautification of the city.

Taequan Dawkins
20, North Philly; photographerIt comes down to recreational resources. When Mayor Nutter came into office, I saw a whole lot of places being shut down: city pools, sports teams. It’s really easy to influence a kid at that point in life, so if they’re surrounded by positive things, hopefully they make positive decisions.

Kathryn Casey
60, Rittenhouse; paralegalMayor Kenney is pro-union, and I’m glad about that. What I really am concerned about is how the city workers, the firefighters, the teachers and the policemen are treated. They should be paid more. They should have fair contracts.

Thomas Nailor
25, Center City; social services employeeDon’t get caught up with just Center City folks and your buddies in South Philly and union guys. Make sure everybody who’s here has something to be proud of.

Will Williams
20, Overbrook; retailCenter City is getting a lot better, but in areas around 12th and Lehigh where my grandmother lives, it’s not really getting that much better. Make Philly better for the citizens, not the tourists.

Albert Fung
45, Fishtown; yoga instructor/artistI have a young son, and I’m seeing the schools around where I live getting better. The neighborhood is nicer and more livable. I have mixed feelings about gentrification, but I think that having energetic people move into the neighborhood is overall a good thing.

Abbey Biery
30, Chinatown; cake decoratorTry your best! And fix the potholes.

James Holland
29, South Philly; retailThey could have better policies to make sure everybody doesn’t get welfare. Find out if people are really being honest about their situations. Some people get cash assistance that they shouldn’t get, and some people that really need it get denied.

Steven Share
34, Queen Village; community organizer The neighborhoods are expanding. There’s a draw for young professionals — the influx of young people, shopping, dining, culture. I’m a Philadelphia native. I moved away for 13 years, and I just moved back because the city’s blowing up.

Jamie Gauthier
37, West Philly; executive director, Sustainable Business Network of greater Philadelphia Focus on the development of neighborhood commercial corridors. Our downtown has been doing fantastically. Our neighborhoods are still hurting.

Scott Swank
74, Fitler Square; retiredI went to Penn back in the ’60s and early ’70s, so comparing then to now in terms of restaurants, transportation, a lot of the basic things, the improvements are immense. It’s one of the reasons I moved back here — so I could enjoy that quality of life.

Katelyn Brothwell
26, Washington Square West; ICU nurseFix the PPA. The tickets are really outrageous. They tow your car without any real indication, and getting in touch with them is really hard. It’s a real burden for people who live here.

Sunanda Ghosh
41, Logan Square; fund-raising consultantFor some, the city is better: more restaurants, bars, parks. But for others, it’s becoming more difficult to live and send their kids to good schools. Many people are invisible. Their perspectives aren’t considered important. I want city life to get better for all Philadelphians, not just for the privileged.

Isaiah Pierce
24, Center City; artistI love all the new faces that are coming in, but I wish everybody would be a little bit more friendly. I’ve got a lot of new neighbors. I’ll say, “Hey, how’s it going?” And they’ll look like, “Why is he speaking to me?”

Margaret Fletcher
71, West Oak Lane; homemakerI’d like to see that the young people are able to go to college affordably. They need the opportunity to work and empower themselves. I feel the Mayor has a lot of input, and I know that it can happen.

Vanessa Werring
35, East Passyunk; gallery directorWe should have more funding for arts in schools. Art is so important in development. It allows children to be really free and open and creative and discover strengths they may not find in other classes like science and math.

Udi Goodjoines
13, West Oak Lane; student, Wagner Middle SchoolThe city is getting worse because of the crime. I see people with guns in their back pocket, back of their pants, standing right next to the corner store. And I get scared, so I might go to a different store.

Denise Gist
58, West philly; disability/unemployed I was born and raised here, and I had the privilege of going to Catholic school. My mother paid for it. It was a great education. But today, the public school system is atrocious. My main concern is the children’s education.

Sarah Grey
35, Fishtown; freelance writer and editorTax the rich. Rein in the police. Open up the streets. I’d love to see that happen all over the city — in the working-class neighborhoods, the neighborhoods of color. Give everybody a chance to open up and talk to one another and create community.

Matthew Washington
38, Olney; construction workerFix the potholes. I keep riding in these streets, and there’s thousands of potholes.

Carl Cherkin
65, Queen Village; business relations vice president, Philadelphia UnionJim Kenney wants to eradicate poverty, improve early childhood education. I’m very optimistic. The Mayor is a man of his convictions, and he will do what he says he’s gonna do. At least he’ll try. He’s a battler. He’s a city kid.

Jonathan Maxim
28, Center City; CEO, Vea FitnessIt’s definitely an up-and-coming entrepreneurial city. I would love to see more community involvement, more government-run events that promote small business and promote starting a business.

Mia-Lia Boua Kiernan
31, South Philly; co-founder, 1Love MovementWe have a lot of values as a city around redemption and rehabilitation and second chances and keeping families together. I don’t think we necessarily match that up with our reentry policies or incarceration policies or immigration and deportation policies.

Esteban Dominguez
21, Juniata; student, Temple UniversityIt’s cool that the Mayor graduated from my high school. St. Joe’s Prep is about family — you look out for each other. And there are high expectations, because kids want to be challenged. I think he’ll take some of that from the Prep and bring it into office.

Shirley Levin
69, West Oak Lane; retiredKeep it moving and help the people. Everybody has campaign promises, but they’re not doing anything. Don’t say what you’re going to do. Do it. Easy as that.

Demetris Whiting
54, North philly; mechanicThe Mayor needs to stress more what we can do to allow us to come together. A lot of people don’t have trust in the system. The system is corrupted because they’re making a lot of money off of people being locked up. It’s almost like a form of slavery.

Dennis Bradwell
60, Southwest Philly; store managerWe need jobs. We need better jobs. Not McDonald’s jobs. It doesn’t make a difference who you are. Race has nothing to do with nothing. Money has no color. I hope Mr. Kenney hears this, and that’s why I voted for him — because I do believe in him.

William Rementer
37, South philly; computer technicianLower the crime rate. But I got a second-degree black belt in tang soo do, just in case.

Yaritza Sierra
27, Northeast philly; actorA neighbor of mine was held up at gunpoint a few blocks from where I live. It used to be a good area. I’m making plans to move, for my daughter’s well-being and for my own. So that says a lot.

Luna Wolfson
19, homeless; artistImprove standards of living for the homeless, especially homeless youth. I’ve seen a huge increase in homeless in the LGBTQ community. Kids are coming out fast, like younger now. They’ve got families who are like, “You’re 18, we don’t need to raise you, get outta here.”

Deena Hessler
75, Rittenhouse; retiredTake Chestnut Street and make it two lanes of traffic, not just for buses and bikes. It causes such a backup with traffic. It’s ridiculous.

Andrew Oliva
27, Chinatown; line cookDon’t fuck up. That’s the best I got, honestly.

Published as “Dear Jim Kenney: 48 Philadelphians Would Like a Moment of Your Time” in the January 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.