The city’s list of hot-button issues for 2018 may look very much like the list for 2017 … and 2007, and even 1997.
But that’s the thing about big cities: problems are complex, ingrained, and rarely fully solved. Rather, they change and evolve enough to constantly demand new solutions.
Philadelphia schools are a perfect example of this. The perennial crises that dog the city’s public schools have taken a more positive shape for next year, with the dissolution of the School Reform Commission — and with it, the ruling that the district is no longer distressed. Creating the right members of a local governance board will require finesse. Mayor Kenney pushed for this, and knows it makes him accountable for the city’s schools. It also makes him prey to exaggerated expectations of what a local board can actually do without any more money to do it.
Other issues include:
Affordable housing. Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez sparked debate by introducing an affordable housing bill that would require developers to include below-market-rate units in residential developments. Housing advocates supported the bill, developers didn’t. It’s now on hold, underscoring the fact that the issue is complicated. Much of the city’s housing stock is old, deteriorating, and dangerous. The most affordable house may be the one someone is already living in. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the safest or healthiest.
Homicides. It’s alarming that while crime rates are dropping across the country, the city’s homicide count has passed the 300 mark for the first time since 2012. As bedeviling as the problem and its underlying causes are, Police Commissioner Richard Ross and Kenney need to declare this as a priority, and fix what can be fixed, like the number of police officers on the streets. (Ross says he has 400 fewer than he needs.)
New district attorney. Larry Krasner, the defense attorney who spent 30 years working on high-profile civil rights cases, now crosses over to the prosecutorial side as Philadelphia’s new district attorney. The question for most is: Will the disruption he has promised throughout his campaign be to the detriment of the office, or its salvation? He is likely to make his mark on the city’s high rates of incarceration; he also needs to try to make a difference in the ongoing plagues of gun violence and opioids.
2018 midterm elections. In a tradition dating back eight decades, the party that holds power in the White House tends to lose seats in the election that occurs halfway through a president’s term. President Trump may be facing the mother of all midterms, a national backlash to a presidency mired in controversy and scandal. That could mean serious trouble for U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan, Ryan Costello, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who represent the Pennsylvania suburbs surrounding Philadelphia.
Amazon. Philadelphia hopes to stand out among the 238 entrants that pitched themselves in October as the best location for Amazon’s second corporate campus, also known as HQ2. Now all the city can do is wait to see if the retailer chooses us for an expansion that could employ 50,000 people. For now, hum along to the song “I Feel Pretty” and hope for the best.