The enduring holiday winter image from December 2023 will always be South Fellini’s version of a yule log: A metal trash can fire, from the Italian Market, played on a two-hour loop with ASMR-y Christmas music in the background. So far, some 40,000 people have enjoyed its warmth.
Metaphor much? 2023 was as much a dumpster fire as any of the last several years. (see: Geoglobal events. Battles over free speech. Democracy faltering. The Phils’ post-season collapse. Let’s not mention the Birds.) Philadelphia was also deeply, beautifully weird — and Philadelphians were creative, engaged and caring neighbors. (Shoutout to South Fellini’s Tony Trov.)
Here’s what we cared about in 2023 — and what we have to look forward to in 2024:
I would love to say that 2023 — when The Citizen held Ultimate Job Interviews with Mayoral candidates, and election coverage was the most widely-read of any stories — was the year when local voting made a tremendous comeback. It did not.
Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker won the May primary with 32 percent of the ballots cast, in a year when turnout for the huge Democratic competition was all of…28 percent. In the general election, turnout was about 31 percent — 10 points higher than in 2021, but still a paltry showing for Pennsylvania’s largest and most important city.
Still, it was a historic election: In a crowded Democratic race, the top three vote-getters in May were all women. Parker, the city’s 100th mayor, will be the first woman to hold that position when she’s inaugurated on January 2. Philadelphians also elected the first South Asian City Councilmember — who is also the first scientist — and the first openly LGBTQ Councilmember; and the Working Families Party upset the Republicans to take another minority party seat on the 17-member body. What all this means in practice? That’s still to be seen.
The end of 2023 also marks the end of the Jim Kenney era. That collective sigh of relief you hear is Philadelphians letting out all the breath they’ve held waiting for this moment.
In 2024: We will vote again. And this time, it will be in the most important presidential election since the last presidential election. Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, will once again be the center of the world. Please do your part. It’s worth your — and all of our — while. (Do you have ideas for how to get more people to the polls? I’d love to hear them.)
Citizen Co-Founder Larry Platt co-produced Amazon Prime’s blockbuster Kelce, a love story to Philadelphia and about the NFL favorite Kelce brothers. The movie follows our favorite Kelce — Jason — throughout the 2022-23 season, through the (tragic) Super Bowl, as he contemplates retiring from the only career he has ever known. You know how it ends, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful and moving to watch.
But that’s not all! Kelce and his Eagles teammates — along with special guests, including Patti LaBelle — released their second Philly Specials Christmas album, with proceeds going to children’s charities. Our Eagles-loving “music critic” reviewed all the songs, including one written by none other than … Jason Kelce. His gifts to Philadelphia never stop.
In 2024: Will we see another matchup of Jason and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend? Will this year be the one in which #62 brings home another championship? Will we get another clutch of Christmas hits? And will the fan favorite finally hang up his cleats for good? This story is not over, folks.
In late 2022, the Union League announced plans to award its highest honor to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a sign to anyone paying attention about where the storied institution stands in our national and local conversation on democracy and civic culture. The announcement was followed by a rare internal backlash, with several members — including a small but vocal Black contingency — objecting to the choice, talking to the press, and imploring League leadership to rescind the award.
The League did not rescind the award. Instead, it threatened outspoken members with expulsion — and in January, it bestowed its Gold Medal on the Republican Presidential candidate, while outside the Broad Street clubhouse the NAACP and other groups protested DeSantis’s unsavory political stunts. As I wrote at the time:
Inviting DeSantis to speak at the Club could be an exercise in free thought; his views on almost everything, after all, are a stark contrast to the political ideology that so often prevails in Philadelphia. But that, as the members who have been critical have said, is not the same thing as bestowing on him the Union League’s highest honor.
Turning DeSantis into a hero signals what the League, and by extension its 4,000 members, stands for. And, unfortunately, what it seems like it stands for is not the values we most need in our city and country: Community. Decency. Democracy.
On the other side of the ledger, The Citizen’s 2023 Integrity Icon contest gave us something to celebrate: city workers who demonstrate high integrity and graceful service to their fellow citizens. Philadelphians this year nominated dozens of workers for the honor. When we named this year’s five icons, thousands voted to pick our People’s Choice winner: Police Officer Ryan Barksdale, a community relations officer in the 25th District. Barksdale’s motivation? His father, whose guiding principle is: “Be someone’s cup of coffee.”
“I know it sounds cliche,” fellow officer Jose Borrero says, “but Ryan would literally give the shirt that he’s wearing at the time to anyone who needed it.”
In 2024: We ended the year with former union boss John Dougherty’s second conviction on federal corruption charges — and can look forward to a third trial in 2024. We should all be mad as hell and not take it anymore — from union bosses, politicians or business leaders.
Again, The Citizen will offer an antidote: We’ll open up for nominations for our fourth Integrity Icon competition in late January. Enough with the shame; let’s name and fame the civic heroes in our midst. Start thinking now about the non-elected public officials who are your own cup of coffee.
TRAVAILS ON CAMPUS.
The high-profile killing of Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald shook the city, just a few months after another murder, of a student, near the North Philadelphia campus. The tragedy came amidst a tumultuous time at Temple under then President Jason Wingard, who saw dropping enrollment, a six weeks long graduate student strike and other high crime. He resigned in March. Six months later, Temple experienced another tragic loss when beloved interim President JoAnne Epps — who spent 30 years at the university — suddenly died.
Across town, meanwhile, Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel set off a firestorm of controversy at Penn, from then-President Liz Magill’s struggle to communicate the needed empathy and outrage and academic independence, to student protests and donor anger. A disastrous appearance before Congress in early December led to Magill’s resignation, and that of Penn’s Board Chair Scott Bok.
In 2024: Both Temple and Penn are searching for new presidents who can navigate this particular moment in Philadelphia and world history. Their needs — like their student bodies — are different, but their missions are aligned: Educating, freely and independently, future citizens who must learn to be advocates — but also to listen.
Gun violence is still staggeringly high in Philadelphia, with about 365 gun homicides in 2023 — though this was also the first in several years to see a downturn, by 25 percent, in the number of murders compared to 2022. That is a result of both a national trend and a local effort to police areas of high gun violence and invest in community organizations.
Residents are understandably wary that the success will last, and a sense of lawlessness persists: Kensington’s opioid crisis is greater than ever. Drag racing, looting, car thefts and shoplifting continue unabated. And it starts at the top: In August, a police officer shot and killed a young man in his car within five seconds of a traffic stop — and then blatantly lied about it. That episode led to the resignation of Mayor Kenney’s second police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw.
Meanwhile, the whole region was captivated by the travails of escaped Chester County convict Danilo Cavalcante, but mostly missed what was behind it all: A long history of abuse and subsequent murder of his girlfriend. As Lauren McCutcheon wrote in September:
Cavalcante is certainly exceptional when it comes to jailbreaks and survival techniques. The harder, less exciting truth got far less attention. Dude is all too common when it comes to his original crime.
In 2024: Mayor-elect Parker’s first big move in November was to name her Police Commissioner: longtime Philly cop-turned-juvenile justice reformer Kevin Bethel, who served alongside former Commissioner Charles Ramsey when the city boasted the lowest gun violence rate in a generation. Hopes are high that Ramsey will have the respect of rank-and-file officers, the Fraternal Order of Police, and community members — all of which are needed to reform the department and keep residents safe.
Early in the year we asked Citizen readers to give us feedback about The Citizen — and 85 percent of you who responded told us you “Do Something” based on a call to action you read on our website. That’s because you are amazing helpers. You made plans based on our Good Citizen Calendar for the year, browsed our toolkit for civic engagement, looked for ways to help the homeless, support LGBTQ people, and shop at Black-owned businesses, coffee shops, and other stores that give back to the community.
In 2024: Look out for The Citizen’s 2024 Good Citizen Calendar and schedule time for citizenship in your neighborhood or your city. Sign up for The Citizen’s newsletter to catch all the Do Something guides that come out next year. Here’s this for a start: Can we all resolve to just be kind in 2024? It is always the right thing to do. (Ok, also: Vote.)
One of our resident Phillies fanatics was so heartbroken about our World Series loss she compared it to a devastating breakup. Her acceptance of the outcome is a good way to think about how to appreciate the year that was:
While this loss is devastating, I’m focusing today on the gift Philly sports has given us: the ability to feel rage, passion and unadulterated excitement about our athletes who share that same grit and membership in a club where nobody likes us and we don’t care, because we really like each other. To spend time with our loved ones and get excited about something in an otherwise grim time.
Consider this loss accepted, but I hope you enjoyed this Red October ride and fell in deeper love with the city as much as I did. Most importantly, I hope you don’t throw in the rally towel. There’s a lot of love to be shared here in this city. Our sports teams are one of the few places where we can find it — and, if the playoffs reminded us of anything, it’s that Philly is still, by far, the best sports city in the country.
Need I really say what to expect (okay, desperately hope for) in 2024?
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