All Eyes on Philadelphia: City’s Crime, Drug Problems Epitomize Urban Decay Plaguing Large Cities 

The city’s location in a swing state for presidential elections also makes it a critical campaign stop.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood, seen here on July 19, 2021, is plagued by rampant drug abuse. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Philadelphia’s rampant crime is taking center stage in national and local political races, serving as the bellwether of a larger trend of drug addiction and violent crime overtaking America’s largest liberal-run cities.

Pew polling suggests that 70 percent of Philadelphians view crime and drugs as the most important problems facing the city, and Gallup polling found less than half of Americans view Philadelphia as safe to visit. The problem is so severe that a cheesesteak restaurant recently hired armed security guards equipped with rifles, following the lead of a gas station. 

The city’s location in a swing state for presidential elections also makes it a critical campaign stop. President Biden has visited Philadelphia seven times this year alone. Both President Trump and Governor DeSantis visited the city earlier this summer for a Moms for Liberty event, and GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy recently stopped at the city’s Kensington district — known as the opioid epidemic’s “ground zero.”

“You don’t have to travel to a foreign country anymore to visit the third world — just head to Pennsylvania,” Mr. Ramaswamy tells The New York Sun, reflecting on his summer visit. “Needles litter the streets; people who looked like extras in a zombie apocalypse movie stagger around, drugged out of their minds.” 

Mr. Ramaswamy says he witnessed “sheer human misery,” and the area serves as a “bleak portrait of an America in decline, embodying the antithesis of progress and optimism.” Bad policies have enabled people to become wards of the state, Mr. Ramaswamy says.

“I watched people forced to hopscotch over used needles to avoid getting jabbed, homeless people sweeping the sidewalk in front of their filthy tents under the deafening and disorienting roar of SEPTA trains right overhead,” he says. “The extreme permissiveness in places like Kensington not only drives up the number of homeless and addicts, but it also incentivizes the very behaviors we don’t want to replicate in our country.”

On a local level, the race to replace Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney, has been focused squarely on the city’s drug and violence problems. The Democratic nominee, Cherelle Parker, said Wednesday she will look for a police commissioner with “knowledge of Philadelphia” if she defeats the Republican nominee, David Oh.

“I think we’ve really come to a point where if we don’t resolve this failure to address crime, it’s going to really redefine the city in a way that would be very difficult to reverse,” Mr. Oh tells the Sun. Weak-on-crime policies lead to people purchasing firearms for self protection, he adds.

“Contrary to what a surprising number of people think, small-businesspeople can’t just close their business and do something else. They have a lot invested in it,” Mr. Oh says of businesses hiring armed security to protect themselves and their customers. “But it’s a shame that it isn’t the police that are deterring the crime.”

Philadelphia is short 1,300 police officers, Mr. Oh says, and the city isn’t retaining or attracting enough new officers because “people do not want to come here and be police officers in a city that does not support its police and where it’s not clear on what laws you enforce and what laws you don’t.”

The mayoral candidates are reportedly scheduled to debate on October 26 — after Ms. Parker refused or ignored requests from Mr. Oh to debate for months. Mr. Oh tells the Sun he isn’t sure the debate is real. “I don’t know if we will be interviewed together or separately,” he says.

If the debate happens, the nation will likely be watching to see how the mayoral candidates plan to address Philadelphia’s crime and drug crisis in the heart of a state considered pivotal for the 2024 presidential election. 

The New York Sun

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