by Heather Shayne Blakeslee
Williams is son of a father who was both a judge and community activist. He went to The College of William & Mary, where he earned a degree in economics, and rose through the ranks at PepsiCo to become a mid-level executive. The rise of gang violence, blighted communities, and lack of opportunity in Philadelphia led him away from the private sector and into politics in 1988, when he first served as a Representative in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. For the last 16 years, he’s served in the State Senate. He is a strong community advocate, and his main campaign message is about creating One Philadelphia: “The destiny of our community isn’t tied to the magnitude of our challenges, but our ability to find solutions together.”
Vision for a Sustainable Philadelphia
I’ve been a proponent of environmental and conservation issues since the 1980s. As a state legislator who represented both urban and suburban areas, I worked to establish the Cobbs Creek Environmental Center, helped constituents create a political action committee to address environmental justice, and sponsored bills to address the adverse health impacts of toxic chemicals in low--income communities. As mayor, I am committed to building One Philadelphia,- a city where every neighborhood benefits from sustainability because it improves our quality of life. I’ll focus on two areas that will position Philadelphia as a
national leader in sustainability:
1) Develop a “Green Fleet Initiative” for Philadelphia to become a national leader in fuel-efficient and alternative fuel municipal vehicles. Converting a percentage of the municipal fleet to more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative fuels will improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially from heavy-duty vehicles. Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) is piloting 24 natural gas vehicles (NGVs). The fleet would be serviced by fueling and charging hubs throughout the city with natural gas provided by PGW.
2) Expand the capacity of the Office of Sustainability to partner with the private sector to test new energy efficiency technologies. Philadelphia can become an innovation hub, and a destination for entrepreneurs and investors seeking the next big opportunity in energy efficiency and sustainability.
Would you maintain or expand funding for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability?
I will expand funding for the MOS, and work with the Director of Sustainability to define Greenworks Philadelphia’s benchmarks out to 2023. I’ll use new benchmarks to establish a common vision of a culture of sustainability in every municipal agency, and advocate for inclusion of appropriate sustainability practices into the City’s planning and development of our neighborhoods. This vision will attract buy--in from department heads to partner with the Director of Sustainability to achieve their own goals, rather than comply with dictates from another office.
What’s your perspective on balancing public health and economic development?
Years ago, community members came to me with serious complaints about pollution from the refinery. They felt that being from a low-income neighborhood meant that they did not have the influence to fight back. So, I helped them create a political action committee to fight back. Environmental justice is incredibly important to me, and so is economic growth. Philadelphia desperately needs more jobs. Pitting these two realities against each other is a surefire path to failure … We can responsibly move towards Philadelphia as an energy and sustainability hub, leveraging the best of both while mitigating risks.
On safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians
My vision of One Philadelphia is a city of distinctive, yet connected neighborhoods that have the same access to great schools, thriving businesses and clean, safe streets. One of the great aspects of Philadelphia is its walkability, and pedestrian deaths are on the rise particularly in low-income communities. I embrace “Vision Zero” (see Grid’s "The Progress That's at Stake" page in this section), and as mayor I will convene a Vision Zero Task Force to improve communication and policy coordination across City government, and develop a plan to reduce traffic- related fatalities by 50 percent by the end of my first term.
On cleaner neighborhoods
I am the only candidate who supports weekly citywide street-sweeping. We can be the Greenest City in America, and we can be the Cleanest City in America. Weekly street-sweeping will also create savings in reduced short- dumping cleanups, and water inlet cleaning costs. With cleaner neighborhoods, higher property values and thriving commercial corridors, together we will unlock Philadelphia’s economic growth potential.