Kenyatta Johnson Challenges the Status Quo
We usually think that political careers have a trajectory towards wider office. A municipal official will move on to work in state government or as a congressperson. But officials representing larger populations can be drawn to the allure of municipal government; serving the people directly and having more agency in moving your agenda forward. Kenyatta Johnson is one such DMO, having left the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to serve on the Philadelphia City Council. He has wasted no time in responding to the issues that persist in his district, and many like it across the nation. The 2nd District will be hosting Democrats from across the nation as we gather in its hotels and halls for the Democratic National Convention. June’s DMO of the Month is working to make sure that when July ends, the people of Philadelphia will continue to benefit from Democratic ideals.
With the annual Memorial Day shootings fresh in the news, articles covering gun violence can seem more perfunctory than outraged. Councilman Johnson fights to replace the banality of daily shooting reports with a culture of pushback against this status quo. Johnson himself founded Peace Not Guns after the murder of his cousin. The group holds local events to help combat gun violence, and connects young people with community groups. He outlawed the sale of 3D printed guns, and warns against the hazard of selling realistic looking model guns to children. Johnson has personally walked his neighborhoods listening to residents and their concerns for public safety. Although many have come to expect gun deaths as a hazard of urban life, leaders like Councilman Johnson help us to reject seeing these casualties as unavoidable.
Another staple of city living Johnson refuses to accept is gentrification. Especially in the 2nd District, resisting the gravity of gentrification is a constant struggle. Councilman Johnson supports LOOP, or Longtime Owner-Occupants of Residential Properties, which provides property tax relief to home owners in gentrifying areas. This March he successfully passed an addition to the bill which extends LOOP until the sale of a home or the death of the owner. These changes ensure that annual tax increases won’t effectively evict longtime residents. More affordable housing is another way to ensure that locals aren't priced out of the 2nd District, and Johnson has secured land specifically for such developments. Vacant lots have also been transformed into LEED certified town homes. These properties are designed with a suite of green amenities, and keep the area evolving alongside contemporary housing trends. More than just developing property, Johnson uses these projects to build up the community in tandem with rising structures. He negotiated with the owners of a newly approved casino to ensure a $12 minimum wage and 50% minority participation throughout construction. As economic forces push residents out of their traditional neighborhoods, local officials like Kenyatta Johnson fight to keep residents in their homes.
More than anything, Councilman Johnson’s leadership focuses on building a more livable community in the 2nd District. For instance, he has invested in public parks as a safe place for children to spend time. Quality, nearby parks are a racial issue, and places like the newly renovated Smith Playground help address the iniquity in free public spaces for communities of color. Johnson negotiated to keep E.M. Stanton Elementary school open, and has brought busloads of Philadelphians into the halls of the state capitol to lobby for better school funding. Open hearings lead by Johnson ensure that locals have a fair say in how their community is managed. These listening sessions target issues like making the Schuylkill River Trail safer and ensuring the Democratic Convention brings lasting value to the 2nd District. Johnson also restored $3 million in funding for the city’s only shelter catering to survivors of abuse. Having a safe bed to sleep in is beyond value, and Councilman Johnson helps more residents sleep better as their neighborhoods grow safer.
A strong community is built through the participation of the people who live there, but relies on an environment where those connections can flourish. Violence reduction, affordable housing, and public spaces all help grow a network of individuals who create thriving neighborhoods. Kenyatta Johnson stepped from the statehouse to the city council, and in doing so has become a powerful force for the people of Philadelphia. DMO looks forward to visiting his city this July, and hopes that municipal Democrats who gather for the DNC take the time to appreciate the 2nd District. And when another delegate inquires when you plan on running for wider office, ask them when they plan on running for their city council.