“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.” ••