(The Center Square) – Philadelphia’s transit union has pledged support for Democrat Jeff Brown in the 2023 mayoral race.

The Transport Workers Union Local 234 represents 5,300 workers in the city’s SEPTA transit system. Brown, an entrepreneur owning a number of grocery stores in the city, already has TV commercials ahead of the May 16 primary.

Union officials said their support for a rookie candidate comes down to his leadership experience and dedication to keeping workers and transit riders safe.

“We move Philadelphians to and from work, make sure thousands of students get back and forth to school and help support the local economy by helping residents get to our city’s centers of commerce,” TWU 234 President Brian Pollitt said in a release. “We have a strong vested interest in the success of Philadelphia. It’s critically important that our next mayor address the issues that plague our city.”

SEPTA problems have spiked as the city’s murder and shooting rates have increased in recent years, especially since the pandemic.

“Poverty, gun violence, public safety, education, affordable housing – these are just a few of those issues that the next mayor will have to contend with,” Pollitt said. “Philadelphia needs strong, competent leadership now more than ever and that’s why we’re endorsing Jeff Brown.”

SEPTA has struggled to hire police officers for open positions, as The Center Square previously reported, as issues related to drug addiction, homelessness, and violence have spilled onto the transit system. Weekday ridership is only 57 percent compared to 2019 levels.

Brown is considered to have outsider status; other candidates are mostly coming from Philadelphia City Council.

“The city is a mess,” Pollitt said. “The city needs to go in a new direction with leadership. As far as Mr. Brown is concerned, he’s our guy.”

Brown’s previous experience in donating food and working with communities to address homelessness, and hiring workers with a criminal record, also appealed to the union, Pollitt said.

Pollitt emphasized that the next mayor needs to prioritize public safety on SEPTA. When non-police security are hired as a replacement for SEPTA police, it does little to stop criminals on the system.

“What those people need down there is a deterrent, and a deterrent would be an individual with a badge and a gun, and arrest powers,” Pollitt said. “If there is no deterrent, they’re going to continue doing what they’re continuing doing.”

Local 234 has been a vociferous critic of SEPTA and city leadership. In October, it issued a statement criticizing “the small group of aristocrats running SEPTA” for “flushing our public transit system down the drain.”

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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