Looking ahead: Philadelphia news to keep an eye on in 2024

2024 Philadelphia
Cherelle Parker greets supporters Tuesday, Nov. 7, ahead of an Election Day rally in the Far Northeast.
Jack Tomczuk

As we enter 2024, Metro is spotlighting a handful of news stories to keep an eye on in the new year.

Unforeseen issues and events are sure to emerge. Who could have predicted the I-95 collapse or the chemical spill that caused a run on bottled water in March? But here are some topics certain to make headlines over the next 12 months.

Can Parker deliver?

Cherelle Parker, the city’s 100th mayor and its first female executive, will be sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 2.

On the campaign trail, Parker pledged to make Philadelphia the “safest, cleanest, greenest big city” in the nation.

She will likely be judged most on her efforts to curb crime. Despite a 21% drop in homicides and a 27% decrease in the number of shooting victims in 2023 (through late December), public safety remains a key issue, and Parker ran with a more tough-on-crime platform than many of her Democratic mayoral competitors.

Parker, in the weeks leading up to her inauguration, has been staffing her administration, hiring school district public safety chief Kevin Bethel as police commissioner and tapping Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel as her managing director.

Decision time for 76ers arena

If the 76ers want to stick to their timeline of opening a new arena on East Market Street in 2031, they likely need City Council to pass zoning legislation in 2024.

As the Council member representing the proposed site, Mark Squilla would be expected to introduce those bills, and he is being lobbied by parties on both sides of the issue. Squilla has remained neutral so far.

Organized opposition, from Chinatown and elsewhere, has been pressuring officials to reject the arena, while the developers, labor unions and other groups have formed to support the project.

Reports analyzing the economic and community impacts of the arena were due to be released by the end of 2023; however, the Kenney administration said Dec. 21 that those studies would not be complete until the new year.

2024 Philadelphia
A Philadelphia carpenters union van circles City Hall playing the Sixers theme song and displaying messages in support of 76 Place. Jack Tomczuk

SEPTA’s ‘fiscal cliff’

Lawmakers in Harrisburg, in approving fiscal code legislation to finally end a state budget impasse, did not allocate more money to public transportation, despite pleas from SEPTA to devote a greater portion of sales tax revenues to transit.

In September, SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie Richards told legislators that, without that money, the authority would be faced with a $240 million annual deficit, triggering a “death spiral” of fare hikes and service cuts.

SEPTA’s next hope – and perhaps its last, before having to implement those dramatic measures – is fighting for more state funding when negotiations for the next budget resume in the coming months.

Jail crisis

Challenges facing Philadelphia’s jails reached a breaking point in 2023, when four inmates, including one accused of killing four people, breached the State Road’s walls in three separate escapes.

A court-appointed monitor, hired as part of a legal settlement over prison conditions, has sounded an alarm over the “dire” situation, and advocates have raised concerns about incarcerated people dying in custody.

Can the Philadelphia Department of Prisons address its staffing shortage? If not, will the new Parker administration take steps to lower the prison population?

City Council, meanwhile, has been considering legislation establishing a prison oversight board and office. Should they pass those measures in 2024, voters would have the chance to approve it on the ballot, either in the primary or general election.

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Inmate advocates rally Thursday, Sept. 28, outside City Hall in support of legislation aimed at enhancing prison oversight.Jack Tomczuk

2024 election

If the upcoming presidential election is anything like 2020, get ready, Philadelphia.

Four years ago, defend-the-vote rallies broke out in Center City; two men from Virginia were arrested with guns outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center as ballots were being counted; and Donald Trump ally Rudy Giuliani held a news conference outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Pennsylvania again promises to be a critical state for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, and voters can expect to see a lot of him and whoever the GOP nominee ends up being.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, is also running for another term. Businessman David McCormick appears to be the most likely Republican candidate. In addition, there will be races for attorney general and other statewide positions, along with contests in both houses of the General Assembly.

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Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at the podium during a news conference on legal challenges to vote counting in Pennsylvania, Nov. 7, 2020, at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping, in Philadelphia. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Officer faces murder charges

A judge or jury could decide former Philadelphia Police Officer Mark Dial’s fate in the new year.

Dial is facing murder and other charges for the August 2023 fatal shooting of 27-year-old Eddie “Junito” Irizarry Jr. during a traffic stop in Kensington. Irizarry was allegedly driving erratically, and police have said he was holding a knife when shots were fired.

The case has taken several turns, with the PPD initially telling reporters that Irizarry lunged at officers before revising that narrative and a judge dismissing the charges in September, sparking protests.

The District Attorney’s Office successfully refiled the case, and a status hearing is scheduled for February, according to court documents.

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Philadelphia police officer Mark Dial, center, arrives at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Philadelphia, Sept. 19, 2023, with attorneys for a bail hearing.Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File

I-95 back to normal?

Though a specific timeline has not been publicly released, PennDOT expects to unveil the permanent I-95 overpass and fully reopen the Cottman Avenue exit sometime in 2024.

A fiery crash, involving an oil tanker, caused an elevated portion of the highway in Northeast Philadelphia to collapse in June 2023, resulting in the death of the truck’s driver.

Traffic was shifted onto two permanent, outer bridges at the site in November, and crews have begun removing the temporary roadway – a structure composed of aggregate glass bricks that allowed the interstate to reopen less than two weeks after the collapse.

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FILE – Crews work at the site of a collapsed elevated section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, June 14, 2023. The highway was set to reopen to traffic Friday, June 23, less than two weeks after the collapse shut down a heavily traveled stretch of the East Coast’s main north-south highway. Workers were putting the finishing touches on an interim six-lane roadway that will serve motorists during construction of a permanent bridge. AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Middle East tensions

How colleges and other institutions respond to activism around the Israel-Hamas war and reports of hate incidents will continue to be closely monitored in new year.

So far, the University of Pennsylvania has been under the microscope, and criticism over the school’s handling of the situation, along with testimony at a Congressional hearing, led to the resignation of the college’s president, Liz Magill, and board chair, Scott Bok.

Pro-Palestine demonstrators were rebuked by Gov. Josh Shapiro and others when they stopped to protest outside Goldie, an Israeli eatery in Center City.

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Goldie restaurant on the 1900 block of Sansom Street is pictured Monday, Dec. 4, a day after pro-Palestine protesters demonstrated in front of the building. Jack Tomczuk