Philadelphia mayor discusses plans to spend $1.4 billion in COVID aid, tackling city's crime problem

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he had to block a lot of phone numbers due to frustrations over the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the city.

The restrictions were just some of the many topics discussed during a one-on-one interview with 6abc's Jim Gardner on Thursday.

Many have expressed their frustrations with the mayor because Philadelphia's suburbs have opened up quicker compared to the city.

"I trust (Philadelphia Health Commissioner) Dr. Farley and the health department to give us the right information and to give us the right guidance. And I understand that people are upset. I've heard it. I've had to block a lot of calls. I've had to block a lot of (phone) numbers because people want to yell and scream at me," Kenney said.

The mayor says he has no intention to follow Texas, whose governor earlier this month rolled back many COVID-19 health mandates.

"I am not going to act like Texas. I'm not going to act like Florida. I'm not going to act like states -- basically states -- cities are trying to be the responsible players. Mayors are trying to be the responsible players here," said Kenney.

The City of Philadelphia will receive $1.4 billion from President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Kenney says a big thing will be replacing lost revenue, but helping those less fortunate is also top of mind.

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6abc's Jim Gardner went 1-on-1 with Mayor Kenney to discuss a variety of topics, including having to block numbers during the COVID lockdown, vaccine distribution equity, the city's crime spike and how he plans to spend $1.4 billion in COVID relief.



"The big thing for us is the issues of poverty. This is a game-changer for families in our city, you know, between the earned income tax credit and the stimulus money. This is the one time in our generation where people, and children, can actually be lifted out of poverty," he said.

Kenney said he wants to make good on promises of city services like street sweeping.

But it seemed like Kenney's first priorities are indeed poverty and education. The School District of Philadelphia will also get $1.8 billion from the rescue plan.

"We're working with the district now about an extended school year. I would like to see the school year go as long as possible through the summer," Kenney said.

After a rough start, he's is proud of the city's vaccination program, pointing to the seven neighborhood vaccination sites and the FEMA vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He also revealed plans to extend the FEMA vaccination beyond its 8-week mission.

"We're not going to tell you what we're asking for because we haven't had it confirmed yet, but we are in conversation with them, and they've been very cooperative," said Kenney.

But the mayor did acknowledge that he is dissatisfied by the stark differences in vaccination rates between whites and Blacks and Latinos.

The crime in Philadelphia is surging at a record pace. The city recorded 499 homicides last year and is already on pace to surpass that number this year. The mayor says there are many factors at play when it comes to the increase in violence.

"We've had a year where basically the court system is shut down... The Philadelphia Police Department bravely has taken over 1,300 guns off the streets, out of people's hands and waistbands since January to date... Probation and parole has basically been inoperative until recently when we started getting vaccines to them... COVID-19 generally has made everybody crazy whether you're prone to shoot somebody or not. It has affected everyone's psyche," said Kenney. "As long as it easier to get a gun in Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia as it is to get a driver's license, we're going to struggle with this problem... This is a gun insane country and this is a crazy gun state. We are bearing the brunt of that despite how hard our police work in getting these illegal guns off the street."

The mayor says he stands by Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, adding that she was the most talented and impressive candidate the city interviewed before being appointed in 2019.

"She came here in February and like a month later the world came apart... She has not had a chance, which she has now, to implement the reforms that she's promised, that we promised, to provide for the citizens," said Kenney.

In the wake of the recent mass killings in the Atlanta-area and the grocery store shooting in Colorado, Kenney says no one should have access to military-style assault weapons.

"Everything keeps me awake at night. I mean, the safety of our young people, the futures of our young people, the safety of our police officers, the safety of our citizens," Kenney said. "No person other than military should have a military-style assault weapon. No one. The only purpose for those guns is to kill people. And as long as we allow, as a country, as a society, for people who are mentally ill or not mentally ill to have access to those with that weaponry, we're going to have these disasters and these tragedies going forward."
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