Local legislators urge Port Richmond to get involved

State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st dist.) and Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) vis­ited last week’s meet­ing of the Port Rich­mond West Com­munity Ac­tion Net­work to dis­cuss the im­port­ance of com­munity groups in Phil­adelphia.

State Sen­at­or Larry Farnese

“There are two things you can be: part of the prob­lem or part of the solu­tion,” Mi­chael Black­ie, lead­er of Port Rich­mond West CAN (Com­munity Ac­tion Net­work), re­minded his mem­bers as they trickled in­to the Firm Hope Baptist Church last Wed­nes­day even­ing.

The agenda in­cluded a dis­cus­sion of com­munity de­vel­op­ment ef­forts; state le­gis­lat­ive re­dis­trict­ing com­plic­a­tions as the primary elec­tion ap­proaches; and a vis­it from state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st dist). Also in at­tend­ance were state Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) and Capt. Charles Vo­gt, new com­mand­er of the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict.

Farnese ac­know­ledged the im­port­ance of com­munity groups in the city.

“I have the priv­ilege of rep­res­ent­ing the First Dis­trict here in Phil­adelphia,” Farnese said.  “It’s a rather large dis­trict, and one of its best parts, something which makes it so strong, is its com­munity groups. We have some of the most di­verse pop­u­la­tion in Pennsylvania and these com­munity groups truly are the lifeblood … com­ing out to a meet­ing like this really is the first step in en­er­giz­ing, re­vital­iz­ing and get­ting the re­sources the com­munity needs.”

Farnese also ex­pressed his con­cerns about Gov. Tom Corbett’s re­cent budget ad­dress and a pro­posed $800 mil­lion cut in edu­ca­tion aid. Farnese, who sees edu­ca­tion as a key pro­ponent in poverty re­duc­tion, ques­tioned where the pri­or­it­ies lie.

The sen­at­or also touched on the sub­ject of il­leg­al hand­guns and straw pur­chases, or people who buy weapons on be­half of oth­ers who are barred from do­ing so. He said the city’s hom­icide rate, which was near­ing 50 vic­tims at the time of his vis­it to the civic group, made it clear that Phil­adelphia still faces a sig­ni­fic­ant battle to re­duce crime.

“Be­lieve me, I’m a huge sup­port­er of the right to carry,” Farnese said of fire­arms, “but that’s with the leg­al and ne­ces­sary doc­u­ment­a­tion. What I don’t sup­port is il­leg­al weapons on the streets of Phil­adelphia. We need as a com­munity to stand up for the laws that will sup­port our city’s safety.”

His le­gis­lat­ive col­league, Taylor, told the civic group that com­munity in­put is im­port­ant to help shape the pri­or­it­ies of a law­maker.

“For any elec­ted of­fi­cial, I be­lieve your main job each and every day is to deal with the in­di­vidu­al prob­lems … you’re over­whelmed, but that’s a good thing,” Taylor said.  “The prob­lems and com­plaints we hear every day are crit­ic­al, not only in help­ing to serve the com­munit­ies but in form­ing le­gis­la­tion as well.”

Taylor fo­cused his com­ments primar­ily on aban­doned-hous­ing blight, short-dump­ing and neigh­bor­hood gentri­fic­a­tion. He dis­cussed re­cent le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion on the re­vital­iz­a­tion of Pennsylania’s Homeown­ers Emer­gency Mort­gage As­sist­ance Pro­gram (HEM­AP), which can help strug­gling homeown­ers pre­vent mort­gage for­clos­ure, and ex­plained meth­ods that the com­munity can use to ad­dress prob­lem houses and va­cant lots. 

“We want to be a neigh­bor­hood where people want to live, and that starts with the people who already live here,” Taylor said. “Come to the meet­ings. Ex­press your prob­lems here. Your com­munity lead­ers will get your prob­lem to us, or wherever it needs to be, and we’ll ad­dress it, maybe not right away, this is an evolving pro­cess.”

The civic group also was in­tro­duced to Vo­gt, who now heads the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict. He has been with the po­lice de­part­ment for more than 20 years and has earned nu­mer­ous com­mend­a­tions and com­munity awards.

He said he’d like to im­ple­ment sev­er­al changes in the months ahead. His list in­cludes more com­munity out­reach, bet­ter po­lice-com­munity re­la­tions, po­lice as­sist­ance to Town Watch groups and an im­proved re­sponse rate to com­munity and in­di­vidu­al com­plaints and is­sues.

Black­ie, the civic group’s lead or­gan­izer, urged mem­bers to get in­volved.

ldquo;You know who gets ser­vices?” he asked.  “Neigh­bor­hoods that vote, and you vote with your feet, folks. You can whine and com­plain to your neigh­bor all day long, but if our rep­res­ent­at­ives and of­fi­cials don’t see you and don’t hear you, they don’t know you,” he said. “You need to get out here and take ac­tion. You need to put up or shut up.” ••

You can reach at ebrooks@bsmphilly.com.

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