Philadelphia mayoral candidates at a forum hosted at Gloria Casarez Elementary School on March 14, 2023. (Aubri Juhasz/WHYY)

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For the past three months, I’ve been closely following the Philadelphia 2023 mayoral race. 

I’ve attended multiple forums, listening to the candidates talk about various topics that affect youth in this city: gun violence, youth employment, safety going to and from school, and the conditions of my neighborhood, Kensington. 

As a 17-year-old, I’m not yet old enough to vote in the May primary, but I’m looking forward to casting my first vote this November.

My favorite event was the mid-March forum at Gloria Casarez Elementary School, where fifth-graders got to ask the candidates questions. It was great to see what these kids cared about, and hear some pitches for what the potential next mayor would like to change about my neighborhood. 

The most common topic of discussion was safety around the neighborhood. 

I’m familiar with that issue personally. When I go to and from Kensington High School, I take the Market–Frankford Line, and my closest stop is Allegheny Station. 

It makes me want to know what one Casarez student asked: “When I walk to school, I find trash and needles, and I see people using and selling drugs. What will you do as mayor to clean up the streets?”

All of the candidates agreed the conditions this student and I face every day going to school are unacceptable, and they all said they’d work on a plan for the safety of the neighborhood.

Candidate Rebecca Rhynhart serves as an example. “I will tackle this issue,” Rhynhart said at the forum. “I put out an opioid plan which states what I’ll do on day one: appoint an opioid czar. And right now, our city government is just letting it continue, and that is not okay.”

All these plans seem to have good intentions. But for me, I believe the neighborhood needs a mayor who is tough on crime. 

Former candidate Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Kensington’s former councilmember, has since withdrawn from the mayoral race. But she was there that night at Gloria Casarez, and reminded those in attendance that the neighborhood has been treated differently than others.

“I grew up on K and A going to Mastbaum [School],” Quiñones Sánchez said, “and never in the City of Philadelphia have we tolerated the type of behavior that we’ve done here.”

Another topic that came up a lot was gun violence and shootings. 

“This school year, 78 students in the district have been shot, 17 of them killed,” one student asked. “How will you prevent or at least decrease the level of gun violence across the city and make it harder for criminals to get guns? We just want to be safe and learn.”

That discussion continued at the forum organized by the Kids Campaign, hosted on May 1 at the Friends Center in Center City. There, several candidates suggested one way to slow gun violence among teens and children is to have more after school programs and opportunities for youth employment. 

These are all tough issues, but I have hope that the next mayor will make the city safer. Covering the mayoral forms has left me hopeful for the future of Philadelphia as a whole. 

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Shawn McCarthy is a student at Kensington High School and an eager participant in the WHYY Youth Employment Program. He was accepted as a fellow at the 2023 PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs Summer Academy.