Amen Brown: ‘It’s time for us to take control of our city’

Amen Brown
State Rep. Amen Brown faced two challenges in Tuesday’s primary.

Amen Brown believes left-wing ideas have not worked in Philadelphia.

The Democratic state representative from West Philadelphia has no problem cutting deals with GOP lawmakers, and he has drawn criticism from some in his own party, particularly after he proposed new mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of gun-related offenses.

“When you look at the city in its entirety, most of us are in the middle, and we just want a safe, clean city,” Brown said in March during a one-on-one interview at the Metro office.

“It was nice with the progressives came to our city and tried to do their experiments, but those days are over,” he added. “Your experiments have failed. Now it’s time for us to take control of our city again.”

At 35, Brown (whose first name is pronounced Ah-men, not Ay-men) is the youngest candidate vying for Democratic mayoral nomination in the May 16 municipal primary.

In results from a Committee of Seventy poll released last week, he trailed the five frontrunners – Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, Jeff Brown, Allan Domb and Rebecca Rhynhart. That group of candidates has also raised significantly more money than him.

“The City Council members and just the city government candidates period, they have proven already who they are and what they’re capable of,” Brown said. “What makes us different is that we’re not a part of the do-nothing crowd.”

He believes he has a unique perspective on gun violence – which, by most measures, is the top issue for voters.

When Brown was 14, he said he was shot in his back while on his way to the pool with his brother and a friend in the area of 56th and Market streets. A bullet fragment remains lodged in his ribs.

“Me being an actual victim and a survivor, it gives me a seat at the head of the table, especially compared to all the other candidates,” Brown said. “My mother, I know exactly what she went through. I can still remember her saying in the emergency room, ‘Please save my baby.’”

In his administration, the Philadelphia Police Department would be empowered to increase “legal/bias free pedestrian investigations,” according to Brown’s public safety plan. That controversial tactic is also known as stop and frisk.

As mayor, he said he would fire Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. Brown explained: “We believe that the commissioner needs to be someone from the City of Philadelphia who knows the city.”

Brown also wants to revive community court – a specialized judicial process for low-level offenses – as a way to get drug users off the street and offer them treatment instead of jail time.

He was one of two Philadelphia Democrats who served on a state house committee to investigate the causes of crime in the city, with a heavy focus on the policies of District Attorney Larry Krasner. The effort led to Krasner being impeached, though he has not been removed from office.

“We’re not blaming one individual for the crime. It’s a collective thing,” Brown said. “If he’s still there, then we’re going to make sure that it’s a positive, productive working relationship.”

Brown’s platform also includes enhanced warrant enforcement; banning people from wearing ski masks in public; and creating a social media task force to monitor gang activity.

Amen Brown speaks during a mayoral forum on education.Cecilia Orlando

In his first 100 days in office, Brown said the city would conduct a physical evaluation of every school for environmental hazards to determine the next steps for each building.

The mayor appoints members to the Board of Education, and Brown vowed to make sure that about a third of the board was pro-charter school – equivalent to the share of city children who are enrolled in charters.

“Each and every family needs representation on the school board, and we currently don’t have that,” he said.

Brown would seek to repeal the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, or soda tax, calling it “an aggressive tax on poor people in Black communities.” He said he would look for other ways to fund pre-kindergarten and the other programs supported by the tax.

For small businesses, Brown wants to introduce a three-year abatement on the Business Income and Receipts Tax. Many in the business community believe the levy hampers economic growth.

An Inquirer analysis published in January showed that Brown himself had tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. The article also documented other financial improprieties associated with his businesses.

“Understanding my upbringing and my lived experiences, with most of my business dealings being positive… and just a handful that did not go the way we wanted them to,” Brown said. “But that’s the business of being an entrepreneur. That’s what happens.”

He added that his missteps have helped him understand the challenges faced by inexperienced business owners and that his administration would help remove some of those hurdles.

‘Tough decisions’

Brown lives just a couple of blocks from where he was shot, in the same West Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up.

After graduating from Overbrook High School, he went into the childcare industry, becoming involved in daycares, after-school programs and summer activities. He later opened the Overbrook Beacon Community Center on Lancaster Avenue.

“I always wanted to be involved in my community and working with children,” he added.

Brown’s initial foray into politics – a 2019 campaign in a special election for the 190th state house district – came up short, but a year later, he won the seat in a surprise victory over incumbent G. Roni Green. He was reelected last year, surviving a strong challenge from progressive Cass Green.

Unlike all of the other elected officials in the race – who were forced to resign by city law – Brown can remain in Harrisburg if he loses the Democratic mayoral primary because the state does not have a resign-to-run rule.

“I have the courage to make some tough decisions,” he said. “I have proven that in my couple years in Harrisburg. I’m not okay with doing what’s popular. I’m gonna do what’s right.”

Ahead of Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Race, Metro will spotlight every candidate in the Democratic primary election, which will take place on Tuesday, May 16. Follow our Mayor’s Race Spotlight Series for an in-depth look at the candidates.