Justin DiBerardinis - Candidate for City Council at Large
1. Tell us a personal story about yourself that informs your worldview, your politics, and your decision to run for City Council.
My mother came to Philadelphia as a young woman in pursuit of her activism against the Vietnam War. She was a part of the Camden 28, a group of radical Catholics who executed a raid to destroy the records of the Camden draft offices. At age 19, she was facing decades in federal prison. My father’s activism led him to Philadelphia as well; he founded an organizing project and led a squatters’ rights campaign in Kensington, ultimately securing home ownership for 1,100 families. I grew up in a house where we knew we weren’t measured by what we said about justice, or what we knew about justice. We were measured by our pursuit of justice. I believe my career and my campaign are expressions of that pursuit.
2. What is your opinion of capitalism as a political-economic system? How do your opinions and analysis influence your campaign and legislative priorities?
Capitalism creates wealth for some, but it doesn’t promote equity, or guarantee equal opportunity, or safeguard the future of the planet. I don’t believe capitalism will ever do those things. It is the role of government to ensure equity of opportunity, to safeguard the environment, and to build the common wealth of society. My “New Deal for Philadelphia” is focused on progressive tax policies, eliminating wage taxes for Philadelphia’s working poor, and a new commitment to public hiring to drive work and services into the neighborhoods that need it the most. It’s based on the idea that government, when used for the common good, is how we correct the imbalances created by capitalism.
3. What do “white supremacy” and “patriarchy” mean to you? How do you see them operating in the City of Philadelphia and its government? What policies, if any, would you enact in order to end them?
To me, these terms describe a society where white people and men hold a disproportionate amount of society’s wealth and power, and control the systems that foster and maintain that distribution. Protecting the status quo is fundamentally an endorsement of white supremacy and patriarchy. I believe that we can only end white supremacy and patriarchy by working to create a redistribution of wealth and ownership within our city through fair taxation and public work, ending mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk policies targeting black and brown communities, and making radical investments in public education.
4. What do you think of the crisis facing Philadelphia schools? What do you see as its root causes? What steps would you take?
Our public education crisis is an expression of multiple societal conditions and public policy positions which, together, are failing the children of Philadelphia: the least equitable system of education funding in America, a generation of state control and privatization policies that have undermined the integrity of district schools, the inequity and carried trauma of Philadelphia as the poorest big city in America, and aging school infrastructure which is inadequate and unsafe. We can’t wait for or assume that relief will come from Harrisburg; we will need to make the hard decisions to increase local funding for Philadelphia schools. We need to reform tax abatements and tax policy in general to achieve this. We need to take bold policy steps to stabilize and support district schools. We need a New Deal hiring program to bring a teacher’s aide to every elementary school classroom, and restore the vital human infrastructure of counselors, nurses, NTA’s and art teachers that have been lost to generations of cuts.
5. Under what circumstances should a person be detained or incarcerated, if any? Does the current system meet this criterion? What does safety mean to you and what policies or programs would you pursue to achieve your vision?
Both detention and incarceration inflict enormous costs not only on the city and state budgets but also on the communities that bear the brunt of a criminal justice system that is still excessively punitive and fundamentally racist. Incarceration should be a last resort when it is necessary to preserve the safety of others—and in some cases for deterrence and/or punishment, especially in cases of any kind of abuse of power, if it is a crime. The goal of incarceration should always be rehabilitation and if at all possible, release and assisted re-entry. Alternatives to incarceration should always be considered and used, when available—and more should be made available. Detention when guilt is not yet determined should be used only in situation of high risk to public safety or likelihood of not appearing for trial, never for lack of money bail.
6. What is the fundamental factor causing climate change? How should we address this? Do you support a Green New Deal for Philadelphia and, if so, what does that mean to you and what will you do if elected to City Council?
Beyond “normal” variation, the cause of climate change is human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels and the extraction of fossil fuels. The single best approach to addressing it is to “Keep It In The Ground” as much as possible by reducing energy use and switching to renewable energy resources. Just as I do at home and just as the US should do as national policy, the City should make this switch as quickly as possible. This means not only for the City’s own energy use but also by encouraging and incentivizing its residents. As a Council member I would promote every effort to transition the City and its residents off fossil fuels, and the creation of expanded efforts to create jobs for Philadelphians in the renewable energy sector. I will not take money from the fossil fuel industry. I don’t believe the future of this City is in fossil fuel production, processing, or pipelines. We must create tax and economic incentives that allow working class and poor Philadelphians to transition away from fossil fuel dependency. I believe in a New Deal for Philadelphia, and my New Deal is Green.
7. Do you think Philadelphia is facing a housing crisis? If so, why? If not, why not? What changes would you make to bring housing policy more in line with your vision?
Philadelphia is certainly facing a housing crisis. For a city with a relatively high supply of housing, the supply of decent, affordable housing is small and shrinking as once-affordable neighborhoods see huge rises in rent and purchase price. Still, Philadelphia’s housing costs are not unusually high — its rate of poverty is, and that’s where the problem comes from. But until we solve the poverty problem (by raising wages and creating job opportunities through a New Deal for Philadelphia), we have to address the cost issue. Property tax adjustments have hit poorer neighborhoods too hard. Property tax abatements should be shifted from large investors to low- and middle-income homeowners and made available for home improvements aimed at sustainability and energy efficiency, and shifted from “luxury townhomes” to affordable units instead. The Land Bank should be made more efficient and more transparent and put housing more quickly into the hands of people who need it without the distortions and delays introduced by political interference. We have housing, and we have people who need housing. Let’s finally put them together.
PART II - YES OR NO QUESTIONS
1. Do you commit to opposing the privatization of all utilities in Philadelphia? YES
To sell off a publicly owned utility that exists for the common benefit of our citizens and hand it to a private entity motivated by its own profit, for a one-time financial injection, represents the kind of desperate, short-term thinking we need to put behind us. This is especially true now, when it is critically important that we, the public, make decisions about our future energy sources (see #6 above). To end fuel poverty, reduce health risk factors in low-income / black and brown communities and combat climate change our utilities need to be more responsive to public needs, not less.
2. Do you commit to support and vote for the creation of a Philadelphia Public Bank? YES
For the same reasons we should not sell our public utilities, we should create a public bank to serve our needs in ways that the private banking system has failed to: provide basic financial services such as check cashing, debit services, and accessible home and small business loans without excessive fees and penalties (the “poverty penalty”) and without discrimination. The benefits of keeping our investments within our city, guided by our pursuit of equity and sustainability, could be game-changing. I would also consider options such as a consortium of credit unions operating under city guidelines.
3. Will you support using savings from closing the House of Corrections to invest in job training programs and opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, in an effort to combat mass incarceration? YES
I support efforts to expand restorative and transitional services. Savings from reduced incarceration should assist re-entry and create real opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to rejoin their families and communities with options and with pride.
4. Will you support a participatory study funded by the City to formulate a local Green New Deal energy plan to transition Philadelphia to a democratically controlled 100% renewable energy system by 2030, create unionized jobs, and center the decisions and needs of Philadelphia’s working class and communities of color? YES
Change starts where you are. We can have our own Green New Deal right here, whether we win it nationally or not. Cutting Philadelphia’s contribution to climate change and transitioning to renewables does not conflict with centering the interests of our working class and communities of color—it means more jobs and a healthier environment, and our only hope for a livable future.
5. Do you support a democratically elected school board? YES
Philadelphia schools are regularly mistreated by lawmakers in Harrisburg. It’s vital for citizens to determine who is at the helm of our school district so that adequate funding is identified and problems can be rectified quickly.
6. Will you commit to publicly funding and administering fully staffed libraries and recreation centers seven days a week? YES
Not only does my personal background give me a close connection to our recreation centers, but I spent six years working alongside the people of Southwest Philly, making Bartram’s Garden a center of recreation, community and learning for Southwest Philly and for the whole city. I feel as strongly about our libraries. Both are essential services that we as a city must provide, seven days a week, nothing less.
7. Do you support rent control? See comment
I would need to see an actual proposal for rent control in Philadelphia to say yes or no to it, since rent control as traditionally implied can have undesirable side effects. I believe that our path to affordable housing is connected to our fight against poverty and expansion of homeownership, but there is a large and needed role for government in making housing affordable and advancing the socioeconomic integration of neighborhoods. I am open to all any all policies that advance those goals.
8. Will you commit that at least 50% of all City funds allocated to create or preserve housing, including but not limited to the Housing Trust Fund and subfunds, must go toward helping the poorest Philadelphians (30% or less of area median income)? YES
By the standard above, that would include a quarter to a third of Philadelphia households. That’s a lot of us and it’s those of us who need the most help. If I understand the question correctly, it stands to reason at least 50% of the benefits of programs to create or preserve housing, if not substantially more, should go toward helping those who need it.
9. Will you commit to introducing or sponsoring legislation that would establish a system of public financing for city campaigns that would create a fund that would provide matching public funds for money individual donors contribute to candidates? YES
Yes! I’m incredibly excited about the efforts in Seattle. This could be one of the most transformational initiatives in American politics, and I would like us to lead, because the playing field is tilted toward those who have deep pockets or cater to those to have deep pockets, and the tilt only gets worse as economic inequality rises. Even the doubling of limits (when one candidate self-funds over $250K) makes candidates who don’t have access to $5000 contributions less competitive.
10. Do you support the creation of an overdose prevention site / supervised consumption site to help efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in our community? YES
Overdose prevention sites offer an opportunity to clean up our worst-hit neighborhoods and save entire communities that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, while saving individuals who want help by offering that help at the time when they need it most. However, no site should be imposed on a community without its consent and substantial support. I would work to win that support as quickly as possible because this is an urgent need. At all points we need to keep focused on the fact that our opioid crisis has been fueled and furthered by a pharmaceutical industry motivated by greed. A vast national settlement is needed to pay for the recovery effort, and cities will need to lead the way. I want Philadelphia to lead.
11. Do you support completely ending the ten year tax abatement? YES
The current abatement scheme should be replaced by abatements that advance a vision of an equitable, just, and sustainable Philadelphia. I support abatements for low- and middle-income first-time homebuyers, abatements that incentivize historic and community preservation and that help existing homeowners improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of their homes (including renewable energy sources), and help individuals rather than large developers.
12.Do you commit to opposing all new fossil fuel projects in Philadelphia by using all zoning and regulatory means at your disposal? YES
New fossil fuel infrastructure is almost always placed in areas where pollution, asthma rates, etc are already well above average, where local residents don’t have the political and economic power to resist. It’s no coincidence that these are places where more black and brown people live. It also represents an investment—in some cases a 30-40 year commitment—to increased carbon extraction. Philadelphia should have no part of that.
13. Will you support increasing funding of the Police Advisory Commission from $500K to $1.5M and giving it the power to subpoena, investigate and censure cases of police brutality and over-policing? YES
Because it lacks those powers, the PAC has not been able to fulfill its purpose. We should look to the cities that have more effective models and seriously study the weaknesses that have crippled review boards and advisory commissions in most cities that have them, including our own. I would question a large increase in the funding unless the weaknesses are addressed.
14. Will you publicly support a moratorium on all charter school expansion? YES
A third of our public school students are already in charter schools, including my own kids. So I’m the last person who would blame any parent for pursuing what they believe is the best educational option for their kids. In many communities charter schools have provided options for parents who have been failed for generations by their district school. Many are doing a good job. But I believe we must take a pause to reflect on our current policies, understand what we need to do to stabilize and support district-run schools, and figure out our policy and funding paths going forward.
15. Do you support the right to strike for public employees including teachers? YES
Along with the right to collective bargaining, I support the right to strike for all employees, short of situations involving clear and present danger to public health, safety, or welfare, that are accounted for in special contract terms requiring (for example) arbitration first.
16. Will you enact a statutory right to counsel for any Philadelphian facing the loss of their home, be it foreclosure or eviction? YES
Large landlords and banks have enormous legal resources compared to renters and homeowners, especially those who are poor (many, in Philadelphia). The right to defend oneself against homelessness is similar to the right to defend oneself against imprisonment: a basic and essential right. New York City provides legal representation in housing cases and so should we.
17. Will you use all means at your disposal to support workers’ right to unionize? YES
The right to unionize is absolutely essential to have something close to a fair balance in bargaining power. This right has been chipped away for decades. I’m committed to every effort to reverse that trend.
PART III - ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATION
If there’s anything else our membership should know about you or if you feel the need to provide additional information about any of your above responses, do so here. Please keep your response to a total of 100 words or less.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I have learned that you don’t get the right answers without listening to everyone in the room, and then going outside the room and asking the people who couldn’t get in. At every phase of my career, I’ve been focused working in solidarity with working class and working poor communities in Philadelphia. I want this to be the American City defined by working class political power, opportunity and racial equity. That’s why I’m running for Council.