Mayor-elect Kenney begins meeting constituents

Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney greets guest during a transition town hall meeting at Central High School on Monday.

More than 300 people gathered at Central High School on Monday night to meet Mayor-elect Jim Kenney and tell him what they want for their city.

The town-hall meeting was the first of five Kenney will hold this week and brought together a range of people and priorities, many centered on the North Philadelphia community.

Some offered ideas: Why not let the state run Philadelphia International Airport? How about a competition that gives tax breaks to the cleanest neighborhoods?

Others voiced concerns, largely of a dire need for better schools and safer streets.

"We are in this together," Kenney said, thanking people for attending. "Unless we're together, we'll never make it."

As audience members spoke, Kenney and members of his team took notes, and in some cases got names or collected pamphlets and fliers. It was more a forum for collecting input rather than a way to present concrete ideas or solutions.

Trine Smith, 45, of Southwest Philadelphia, presented Kenney with a thick packet documenting repeated issues she has had with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

"I know it's not Christmas yet, but here you go," she said, approaching the stage to hand Kenney the information.

Kenney won by a large margin in November, but given that only 24 percent of Philadelphia's registered voters turned out, this week presents an opportunity for him to meet many residents he may have missed on the campaign trail. He has said that what he learns this week will influence policy and transition plans.

Ernie Bristow of Logan told Kenney that one of her boys - a high achiever at Samuel Fels High School in the Northeast - was jumped last year while leaving an after-school program.

"He's got a resumé that's out of this world," she said. "And he's jumped on the way home."

Kenney said that when it comes to schools and crime, the whole community's attention is needed.

"Your child and that child and your child," Kenney said, pointing to previous speakers, "they're my kids, too. We're not just one neighborhood."

Kenney emphasized his interest in creating 25 "community schools," which drew great applause. Community schools wrap health and human services, such as medical, dental, vision, behavioral health, and counseling, into the school building.

But not everyone bought it. One man said he had heard a lot of promises about community schools, and wondered what all the research and delay was about.

"People keep saying they're looking into it. Can't we do something now?" he asked.

Kenney said he knows there is skepticism when it comes to city government. "All we have to do is get started," he said. "I think you'll be surprised."

Brad Wilson, 54, a contractor who lives in North Philadelphia, had one request: cleaner streets. He asked that police enforce littering laws and suggested a contest for the cleanest neighborhood.

"Give the winner a property-tax reduction," Wilson said to laughter and applause.

Aisha Childs, 41, who works with the homeless in West Philadelphia, said Kenney must address housing.

"It's paramount," she said. "I have women who go through our program, a year long, all on life skills, and at the end they're ready but there's no housing available."

Members of the immigrant community and several people from the deaf community also made their opinions known.

"Provide interpreters at events, at activities," said Harry Barnum, deaf outreach and advocacy coordinator for Liberty Resources. (Kenney's team had a sign language interpreter at the meeting.)

"Deaf people show up to agencies, and it's a stumbling block. It's 2015 and the city doesn't follow the ADA," Barnum said.

For the most part, the mood was friendly and hopeful. Kenney received a standing ovation when he left the stage.

Krisha Coppedge, who runs a nonprofit in Strawberry Mansion, is among the optimists, for now. She said she would attend every town-hall meeting. An hour isn't much time to hear from people in a city of 1.5 million, she noted.

"I think he's great - reluctantly," she said. "The question is, once you get into office, what happens then? How much are you listening then?"

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506@juliaterruso


Town-Hall Schedule

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney will hold four more town-hall meetings:

Tuesday, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St.

Wednesday, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., School of the Future, 40th Street and Parkside Avenue.

Thursday, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Mayfair Community Center, 2990 St. Vincent St.

Friday, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Strawberry Mansion High School, 3133 Ridge Ave.

Doors will open 30 minutes before the starting time. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to RSVP:

http://kenneyforphiladelphia.com/events/.

Residents also can send their input to the campaign via the website.