Allan Domb visits Kensington, says he’s upset but not shocked about conditions
Domb toured Kensington as part of a four-stop tour to talk about public safety, the addiction crisis, and leadership failures.
“It’s a heartbreak. It’s like, I can’t believe we allow this to exist. It’s un-American.”
Allan Domb offered a harsh evaluation of Kensington, Philadelphia, after he toured part of the neighborhood in Philadelphia on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 18, as part of a four-stop walking tour.
He shared his thoughts in front of the Market-Frankford Line’s Allegheny stop, train tracks screeching, having freshly concluded discussions with multiple members of the community who spoke about some of the plights the area has faced over the years.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. What the hell are we doing?” said Domb, visibly frustrated at the surrounding open-air drug market across the street from the interview with AL DÍA.
This year, a reeling Philadelphia continues to record elevated rates of gun violence, and Kensington stands at the center with the highest recorded shootings where, according to an Inquirer analysis, the likelihood of a shooting is 11 times higher than the city as a whole.
Past data often points to the Kensington-Allegheny avenue intersection as the most-frequented radius for shootings, resulting in an angered though undefeated community. Domb’s walk was scheduled to talk about some of the proposed public safety and drug crisis solutions in the midst of considering a mayoral run.
In doing so, the former at-large council member hoped to address some of the concerns raised surrounding community development and policing in the area to gather feedback directly from residents.
The visit began with a closed-door roundtable discussion at Esperanza Health Center with community members and a few locals — including Debra Ortíz-Vásquez, a marketing director at Esperanza, Shane Claiborne, a gun violence activist, Elaine Latsios, a real estate agent, and Jeremy Chen, a Kensington-based Ph.D. student, along with more locals.
A guided tour followed the roundtable along Kensington Avenue, and Domb listened to his guides, who drew from their shared experiences and hoped to paint a more specific picture of the efforts and roadblocks they’ve witnessed firsthand in their communities in the span of a stroll.
Claiborne, an activist, and resident of Kensington for over 20 years was one of Domb’s first pit stops.
“We’ve had a lot of folks come by,” said Claiborne, who also manages RAWtools Philly’s Kensington chapter, a workshop used to repurpose firearms into gardening tools.
“We welcome everybody. We need more people who care about this neighborhood as much as we care about it (...) We’ve been really neglected by the city,” Claiborne added.
Although not entirely familiar with the city official, Claiborne shared he was glad to hear some of Domb’s ideas to tackle gun violence, and appreciated that he actually put in a few steps along the block.
Claiborne’s interaction with Domb was not his first city official run-in and has long seen the dynamic between politicians and Kensington play out.
“There are other mayors that have come here, I won’t mention by name but they come and they’ve not really walked the streets. They’ve showed up with an entourage, hopped out, spoke, and left. We’ve seen plenty of that. The kind of drive-by compassion,” Claiborne continued.
Before heading out to the next leg of the tour, Domb left with a shirt and other trinkets he purchased from the store, fashioned from the remains that Claiborne collects and transforms into tools.
The walk also observed a few unexpected interactions. Among them was Patrice Rogers, a community activist who spoke to Domb in length about Kensington’s blight.
“More disappointment,” said Rogers of her conversation with Domb. “We hear this all the time of elected officials. Everybody’s scared. We need leaders. We need people that’s going to take control of the problem and solution,” she added.
Rogers, also a Kensington resident, is a community advocate and outreach coordinator who turned an empty lot into a camp for the homeless with the goal of connecting them with services. Over the last year, Rogers has spoken with many elected officials but is not swayed by the policy offerings brought to the tours.
“Don’t come. Don’t show up, show out,” Rogers remarked of the impressions the tour left on her. “We don’t need you walking and asking more questions (...) I’m tired of telling my story, I’m tired of telling who I am, and no one actually cares,” Rogers underlined.
And while the former city official certainly had questions, he often referenced his policy goals for the burdened community. Domb told his tour guides many previous solutions were siloed, whereas Kensington, he said, required a multi-jurisdictional strategy.
In addition to activating various levels of government, Domb told AL DÍA he would declare a state of emergency.
“I think this should be declared an emergency site,” Domb said. “We should bring in [Federal Emergency Management Agency] resources (...) Why shouldn’t those efforts come here? This has been 25 years of a disaster area,” Domb stressed and pointed to past leadership failures.
“I think the leadership comes from the mayor. The mayor’s office,” he said.
Chen, who received a call on the morning of Domb’s walk, was glad to have listened to his platform and emphasized that trust-building with the community, to him, is indispensable. And he added that while he’s not all too familiar with Domb’s ambitious goal to summon the throttle of the federal government, he hopes it can be executed while not putting the onus on residents.
“It depends on how he can execute his relationships in the neighborhood,” Chen said. He remains skeptical but told AL DÍA he’s open to welcoming candidates who listen to the community.
Domb has yet to make a definitive announcement on whether he will join the mayoral race but said the walks compelled his eventual choice.
“This walking tour confirms what we heard in the other three,” Domb said, referring to his previous tours. “We dramatically lack strong leadership,” he added.
In a statement to AL DÍA, Domb said that “Philadelphians need a leader who will listen to their concerns and hear them as they propose a vision to create a brighter, safer tomorrow for communities in every corner of our city - including Kensington. That’s what days like today are all about. It’s about listening.”