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Andy Toy.
In Their Own Words

An Interview with Andy Toy
Candidate for Philadelphia City Council-At-Large

-- Charles Smolover

For the past 25 years, Andy Toy has devoted himself to community service in Philadelphia. While working at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), he helped bring over 2.5 million of national funding to neighborhoods. He was instrumental in gaining funding for Philadelphia’s Brownfield program, and helped initiate the Philadelphia Department of Commerce’s Small Business Security Assistance Program, which provided matching grants to businesses for security improvements. Andy holds a Masters in Public and Urban Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.

PJV: Beyond fixing potholes and getting the garbage picked up, what are the big picture challenges facing Philadelphia?

It is a matter of where we want to be 10 and 20 years from now. We need to ensure that our schools are effective in educating our children. We need to address pressing issues of violence and public safety. We need to deal with tax, real estate and environmental problems in ways that create opportunities for growth. That means having thoughtful people in city government, people who are willing to be creative, to look beyond Philadelphia at the best practices other cities have adopted to confront these same challenges.

A good example of what I am talking about is the Brownfield program I developed while at the Commerce department to deal with environmentally challenged sites in the city, old industrial sites that can be rehabilitated for new commercial and residential uses. We thought outside the box to marshal a variety of resources, combining local, state and private funding to transform many of these contaminated sites. I think the best example, one noted by Buzz Bissinger in A Prayer For The City, is the Sovereign Oil site in the American Street Enterprise and Empowerment Zone.

PJV: What are your ideas about improving the city’s tax situation, which many identify as an impediment to growth?

We already have some good recommendations from the Tax Review Commission that our current mayor has failed to implement. The first thing we need to do is eliminate the gross receipts tax on businesses. I well remember when I worked at the Commerce department seeing all the 90-day notices businesses had to file before leaving the city, and many were leaving because of the tax burden. But eliminating that tax is not impossible; it just takes leadership. Then we have to continue lowering the business privilege tax. Some have warned that doing so will reduce needed revenue, but I think the record has shown just the opposite. Over the past ten years, revenues have increased while taxes have decreased. Of course, we also have to increase the pie, the tax base. The city has lost half a million people over the past 30-plus years which obviously has a direct impact on revenues.

PJV: How do we address the wave of violence that is currently plaguing the city?

We have to look at both short and long-term solutions. Looking long term, we really need to improve the educational system in the city, as there is a direct correlation between the lack of educational opportunities and crime. Eighty-percent of the perpetrators of violent crime in Philadelphia last year were high school dropouts. Seventy-five percent of the victims were dropouts. That is why I have made improving our schools a major focus of my campaign, including improving arts, technical and vocational training. Again, creative thinking is key. Last year, my son’s school lost its art teacher. We worked with Moore College of Art to come up with a solution that got their students involved in teaching arts in our school. The other area we need to address is economic opportunity, bringing in more businesses and creating more jobs. Philadelphia currently has the highest poverty rate among America’s ten largest cities; over 25% of our population is living in poverty. That kind of pervasive poverty is a breeding ground for drug abuse the violent crime that accompanies it.

In the short-term, we need to look at best practices, at what other cities are doing to combat violence, especially in the area of controlling the illegal trafficking of guns. New York City has had success in this area, as have other communities.

PJV: Some political and business leaders have argued that we have a brain drain in the Delaware Valley, that too few of the students who study at all the great colleges in the area end up settling here. What is your take on this situation?

I do not think it is question of quality of life. There are plenty of kids from Philadelphia who go away to college and then are happy to return here after they graduate. The key, I believe, is enabling more of our high school kids to go to college in the first place. Among major cities, Philadelphia ranks very low with respect to the number of high school graduates who continue on to college. Again, this is why improving our education system is so important to the future growth of our city.

PJV: You touched earlier on your experience in environmental issues. What are some of the environmental challenges and opportunities facing the city?

We have a tremendous opportunity to be one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. We have a lot of row homes in Philadelphia, which happen to be a very energy-efficient house design because of the shared walls. If we make an effort to improve the insulation of those homes we can reduce energy consumption considerably. The less money we spend on gas and oil, the more we can spend locally which, in turn, serves economic growth. In terms of new building construction, there are opportunities in creating green structures and putting green roofs on existing buildings. But here again, we need people in city government who have the vision to support these kinds of initiatives. Another opportunity is recycling. Ten years ago, we were one of the leading recycling cities, but now we are in the back of the pack. Again, it comes down to vision and understanding that good environmental policy is critical to economic growth. I have worked a lot on an variety of environmental initiates over the years, from green building construction to Brownfields, and look forward to bringing that expertise to city council.

Previous Interviews

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