Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Guide: Amen Brown
The Centrist Upstart
This profile of Amen Brown is part of our Ultimate Voter’s Guide to the 2023 Philadelphia Mayoral Race. For the full guide and to read more profiles, go here.
The youngest candidate running for the city’s top job (and the only millennial!), 35-year-old State Representative Amen Brown has sought to carve a niche as a centrist in this race, notably on issues like school choice, social services and crime. Makes sense: His moderate leanings — plus a hefty dose of charisma — have served him well so far in his brief political career. In 2022, the West Philly native defeated his more progressive primary challenger, Cass Green, for his first elected office — the House seat repping the 10th District — despite Green’s support from heavy hitters including DA Larry Krasner, Helen Gym and Jamie Gauthier.
In his overwhelmingly Black district, Brown has appealed to voters in marginalized communities who have often clashed with white progressives. (Increasing gentrification in the area has escalated these divides.) In Harrisburg, he’s made a splash as a tougher-on-crime Democrat, pushing a controversial bill that called for mandatory minimums for illegal-gun carriers with prior convictions — a bill that eventually got tabled.
Brown talks about wanting to “bring people together by putting our differences aside” as mayor — and indeed, he’s garnered a rep in his brief time in the capital for collaborating with Republicans and establishment Democrats. “Being a Democrat in Harrisburg is hard,” says Joann Bell, director of the Philadelphia Government Office of lobbying firm Pugliese Associates. “You have to make alliances across the aisle.” Then again, she adds, here, it has also looked like opportunism. Last year, for example, Brown caught heat as one of just two Dems to serve on the House Select Committee that sought to investigate Larry Krasner on trumped-up charges of neglecting his duties. The move appealed to Republicans and angered most Democrats, especially progressives … but also boosted that “tough-on-crime” rep with centrists and conservatives and upped Brown’s profile.
Even so, offers senior principal of public strategies for Cozen O’Connor, Joseph Hill — and despite money from a handful of deep-pocketed-backers — as a young, second-term state Rep who’s made enemies of prominent progressive players and institutions, Brown has a steep climb to the top job: “It’s hard to see him breaking through,” Hill says.
Candidate Crib Sheet
PA State Representative, 10th District
- The closest thing Philly has to an Eric Adams: a Black moderate who might appeal to diverse working-class voters and corporate institutions.
- Name recognition. Thanks to a district shift, Brown has now represented some 80,000 constituents.
- Known for working both sides of the aisle, in policy and fund-raising.
Helped push popular Democratic legislation in Harrisburg — marijuana legalization, eliminating medical co-pays for incarcerated people, stopping Philly sheriff’s sales in the pandemic.
- In January, the Inky reported on “repeated accusations of legal and financial impropriety” in Brown’s business and real estate dealings over the past decade.
- Progressives. The Abolitionist Law Center, Working Families Party, and Human Rights Coalition have protested his tough-on-crime policies.
- Experience. In one interview, Brown didn’t appear to know the size of the city budget, raising questions about his greenness and grasp of city government.
No official endorsements at press time.
Three Big Questions
Who and what is holding Philly back right now, and what will you do about it?
BROWN: The simple and unfortunate answer is current leadership and leadership that has been in place for a long period of time. We’ve lost sight of the real priority — and that is the people. There is so much division at this moment in the city, and it’s a disservice to Philadelphians, especially those who are dealing with various traumas and hardships.
It is well past time for us all to put the egos aside to do what is needed to make a difference for the people we serve. We have to be more connected and collaborate with the various levels of government, especially city and state. No one person can fix this city — it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to rebuild and better the city we all call home. There is so much potential, and we need to tap into our resources, including the everyday people, to develop tangible solutions to the real issues that are plaguing communities. We have to be willing to think outside of the box, to look at solutions beyond legislation, and not just seek to throw money at problems with no accountability or oversight. We need key stakeholders to come together and just ash out what needs to be hashed out in order to move this city forward. While we may not always like each other, there still has to be a level of respect in people’s roles to figure out ways to work together as a united front. We are only as strong as our weakest link.
What is your number one priority as mayor?
My number one priority is public safety and gun violence. If Philadelphians do not feel safe to live, work or raise a family in the city, nothing else matters. If we don’t confront the rampant gun violence and crime plaguing our city, we cannot expect our city and those who live and do business here to succeed and thrive.
In order to keep communities safe, it is going to take a multi-step approach that focuses on prevention, community investment and accountability. There are a number of societal factors that contribute to crime in our communities. I want to create a task force of federal, state and local entities to address gun trafficking, illegal sale of rearms, ghost guns and straw purchases. It saddens me to see videos of young teenagers walking around with guns like a real-life Grand Theft Auto. If elected mayor, I would also create a social media task force to monitor gang-related activities in real time, to intervene and prevent crime from happening. There are different platforms where folks are bragging about how many “bodies” a gang has. We can and should be doing more in this space.
That’s why we must invest in programs that provide youth services, community engagement, mental health care, housing support, job access and placement, and drug- addiction treatment. I have been a strong advocate for such efforts during my time as a state representative. Taking these preventive measures allows for people to have a fighting chance. And while it is important to invest in such programs, it is just as important that we monitor programming to ensure that funds are being spent correctly and to determine what is and is not working to better our efforts. We can have reform and accountability—it does not have to be one or the other.
How do you bring people/power in this city together and build consensus in order to get things done?
As mayor, I would eliminate working in silos and establish regular convenings where the various departments and/or bodies come together to discuss what’s working, where are we lacking, what resources are needed and what changes need to be made. These convenings will produce reports that will be published for public viewing, for transparency. We need the mayor’s administration, the DA’s office, City Council, and other row offices to work hand in hand. We need to create a culture of accountability. We also must make sure that we are doing all that we can to obtain community input, whether it is via public meetings, hearings, surveys or town halls.
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Published as “Amen Brown: The Centrist Upstart” in the April 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.