Nine Democrats are vying to replace Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer
and nearly all of them have said they will do something he would not: Declare gun violence a citywide emergency. Federal and state officials have long declared states of emergency to unlock new funding and mobilize response teams after natural disasters or civil unrest. In Philadelphia, emergency declarations at the local level do not automatically lead to new dollars or personnel. That means the impact of such a declaration would largely be defined by the mayor who implements it. Several candidates say they’d use the measure to ensure the full weight of the government is behind tackling shootings. “The goal would be to activate all the departments to stabilize our communities so that people could feel safe,” said Rebecca Rhynhart, a candidate who as city controller pressed Kenney to declare an emergency, to no avail. Erica Atwood, the city’s senior director for criminal justice and public safety, said the administration determined that declaring a citywide emergency on gun violence would not have changed its response to the crisis. A governor's declaring a state of emergency could unlock more funding and programs, Atwood said, and the administration would have supported it. On a city level, the declaration is “ceremonial at best,” she said, and could give residents in the most vulnerable neighborhoods a false sense of hope or security.
Most candidates running for mayor said they would declare an emergency on gun violence, but the semantics vary by candidate. Under the city charter, a “state of emergency” can be temporarily declared if a mayor finds that the city or a part of it is in imminent danger. The declaration allows a mayor to take steps to alleviate the threat, like establishing a curfew or halting travel into the city. A mayor could issue an executive order declaring a “crime emergency” or a “citywide emergency,” which isn’t a provision in the city charter. The specific directives under would be up to the mayor. Rhynhart said her executive order would declare a “citywide emergency” and activate the emergency operations center, which in the past has been used by agencies across the government during natural disasters or major events. Ex-Councilmember Helen Gym said an emergency declaration under her administration would require a weekly cabinet meeting among city agency heads, and it would compel outreach to leaders outside municipal government, like those in federal law enforcement and the school system. She said her cabinet would focus on taking illegal guns off the street, intervening with people taking part in violence, and supporting victims. Gun violence prevention advocates would support any action that brings more resources to combating gun violence, but some were skeptical of the candidates’ intentions. Anton Moore of Unity in the Community, a nonprofit, worried that residents may hear “state of emergency” and imagine a large-scale response, like the the National Guard. If an emergency declaration is made and nothing changes, he said, communities could lose more trust in local leaders.