Last year the City Council of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania passed a law by a near-unanimous vote to establish the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, a city-owned public bank to provide loans and other means of financial support to community groups and small businesses in disadvantaged areas where traditional sources of financial support are either unavailable or severely restricted. While large, corporate-owned commercial banks have closed their doors to small, low-income borrowers and refuse to invest in disadvantaged communities, other small businesses, especially minority-owned businesses and cooperative groups, have established themselves to fill the gap in providing goods and services at an affordable price to residents of their community. The mission of the PPFA is to stimulate the local economy in disadvantaged communities by financing small businesses, especially community cooperatives, to take the place of predatory capitalism which has destroyed neighborhoods and communities by squeezing poor people out of every nickel and dime they can get their hands on.
Unfortunately, despite near-unanimous approval by the City Council, the current Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney refused to implement the new law. Instead of working constructively with members of City Council who support a community-managed bank and to implement the new law in a responsible and economically efficient method, the Mayor simply chose to ignore it as if it was never passed. It became obvious that without a new Mayor who is progressive and supportive of the PPFA, it would never become a reality.
Fortunately for public banking in general and the PPFA in particular, the City Of Philadelphia will hold elections this year for Mayor, City Controller, as well as several politically influential offices that will be crucial for the new Mayor to effectively implement the new law. Many progressive groups and organizations have already screened the candidates who will be running in the Democratic Party primary election on May 16. Given the enormous edge that Democrats have in voter registration numbers, it is a near certainty that whoever wins the primary will win the general election in November.
Various progressive groups and organizations are heavily involved with the race for Mayor, as well as City Controller and City Council. Many, if not most of the candidates, have endorsed the PPFA and pledged to implement the law. Some of the candidates for Mayor, as members of City Council, had voted for the law. As a member of City Council one of the leading candidates for Mayor, Helen Gym, not only voted for the PPFA but has been endorsed for Mayor by several influential progressive groups, especially the Philly Neighborhood Networks which has been organizing campaign workers at the neighborhood and street level. If Helen Gym wins the Democratic primary, she will likely become not only the first woman but the first Asian American to serve as Mayor of Philadelphia.
Most importantly for the future of a public bank for Philadelphia is the endorsement and support for mayoral and council candidates who have publicly pledged to implement the law establishing the PPFA, from an alliance of grass roots progressive, community and neighbourhood organizations. In the forefront of the campaign for a public bank is the Philadelphia Public Banking Coalition which has reached out and gotten positive responses from almost all the leading candidates for Mayor and City Council. Another important group which has embraced public banking is the Peoples Forum For A Just Philadelphia, a coalition of several organizations emphasizing community and neighborhood development for disadvantaged individuals and struggling small businesses.
Perhaps the most important group to benefit from a public bank such as the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority (PPFA) would be the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance. The PACA is a coalition of neighborhood groups and cooperative businesses that serve the needs of the local community, providing goods and services to disadvantaged individuals as well as support for small, under-capitalized businesses, especially minority-owned. The PPFA would also be able to finance improvements to the city’s infrastructure and public resources, especially neighborhood schools with other public buildings and facilities to serve the community. As the leading progressive candidate for Mayor, Helen Gym has supported the PPFA as a means to provide funding for her pledge to improve schools, public buildings and infrastructure.
There are five or six candidates for Mayor who have a good chance of winning the election. However, Helen Gym has gotten the most support for her progressive views and belief that Philadelphia needs to democratize its economy to benefit those who in the past have been disenfranchised and neglected by the political establishment. Her strong support for the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority has been an important part of her campaign platform, and of all the candidates she has done the most to stress the importance of public banking which is one of the reasons why she has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Public Banking Coalition, the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, the Philly Neighborhood Networks, the Peoples Forum For A Just Philadelphia and many other progressive groups and organizations. Another group actively endorsed and campaigning for Helen Gym is Reclaim Philadelphia, which was organized and led by former staff and volunteers for Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Adding momentum for Helen Gym and her community-oriented progressive agenda which
includes public banking is the recent endorsement of her campaign by national political and
activist leaders including Democratic Socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
as well as Jane Fonda. If Helen Gym wins the primary on May 16, which is becoming more
likely, and the subsequent general election in November, it is very likely that Philadelphia will
become a model for the nation of achieving economic and social justice by restructuring and
democratizing the city’s economy for the benefit of all, not just a privileged few.
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