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Public Safety and Crime Prevention Take Center Stage in Philadelphia Mayoral Race

In Philadelphia, the race to become the city’s 100th mayor is highly contested, and it’s anticipated that the primary election on Tuesday will determine the outcome in this Democratic stronghold. According to local political analysts, five candidates are serious contenders for the Democratic nomination, but none of them has taken a clear lead in the race. Bill Rosenberg, a professor of political science at Drexel University, stated, “It’s basically a dead heat.”

One reason for the tight race is the similarities among the candidates’ résumés. Former city council members Helen Gym, Allan Domb, and Cherelle Parker, and former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart are all in the running. Jeff Brown, a fourth-generation grocer, has positioned himself as a business-savvy outsider and is the only significant candidate with no previous elected experience. Rosenberg believes that no candidate has differentiated themselves in a “dramatic way” on the issues and that voter turnout will be crucial.

Public safety is a top concern in the mayoral race, as it is in other cities. In Philadelphia, 516 people were killed last year, and another 1,788 were wounded by gunfire. Although the numbers are slightly down from record highs in 2021, they are still significantly higher than in 2019. Unlike in Chicago’s recent mayoral race, where the leading candidates had distinct public safety approaches, the gap between Philadelphia’s Democratic candidates is less pronounced.

According to political scientist Michael Sances at Temple University, “There’s really no candidate you could point to that says we should not have more police.” Gym wants to fund mental health first responders to enable the police to focus on solving crimes, emphasizing the need for long-term investment in high-crime neighborhoods. Parker, on the other hand, wants to hire 300 more patrol officers to focus on community policing.

Brown has the support of the local police union and has called for 1,500 more officers on the street, emphasizing the importance of addressing root causes such as structural poverty. Rhynhart intends to declare a citywide emergency to facilitate better coordination of resources among various departments. Domb wants to convene a public safety cabinet that includes local, state, and federal agencies. The candidates’ proposals vary, but most have expressed support for declaring a city emergency around crime.

A nonpartisan poll at the end of April showed a statistical tie between the top five Democratic candidates, with 20% of voters still undecided. A separate Emerson College/PHL 17 survey released on Friday showed a virtual tie between Gym, Parker, and Rhynhart, with Domb and Brown slightly behind. According to the poll, Gym is leading among young voters under 50, while Parker leads among older voters. In a city where 60% of Democrats are Black, Parker is the only African-American candidate in the top five and currently leads among Black voters.

David Oh is the sole Republican candidate and presumptive GOP nominee, but Philadelphia hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1952. The two major party candidates will face off in the general election on November 7th.

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