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Judge James DeLeon
Judge DeLeon speaks to AL DÍA News Reporting Fellow Carlos Nogueras.

Judge James DeLeon isn’t focused on courting voters, hoping the media will drive his message in 2023 Philly Mayoral run

In the first installment of AL DÍA Talks with 2023 Mayoral candidates, former Philly Judge James DeLeon gave Latino voters his pitch.

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Local Incident Management System (LIMS), the city’s courts, and direct government-to-community funding are just some of the priorities on Judge James DeLeon’s mind. 

On Monday, Jan. 16, the former Philly judge participated in the first AL DÍA Talks segment of 2023 with mayoral candidates, in a unique opportunity to offer his sales pitch to the city’s Latino community and speak directly about their priorities. 

Judge DeLeon, 75, long retired from his court work, sprung anew last November when he announced his candidacy for mayor of Philadelphia two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Now, he’s a contender in a high-profile, even higher-stakes race to replace embattled mayor Jim Kenney, whose successor will become the city’s 100th mayor, and, among other things, stands to inherit a gun violence crisis plaguing Philadelphians. 

Appearing on the ballot alongside the judge are former city councilmembers Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Cherelle Parker, Allan Domb, Derek Green, mega grocer Jeff Brown, State Rep. Amen Brown, and former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. 

Get to know the candidate

Judge DeLeon has been a lifeguard for as long as he was in the Municipal Court, and a water safety instructor. 

“I've taught like thousands of people how to swim because that's a life saving measure. I actually have a tube that I look into water and I go into water to rescue people,” he said. 

He’s a debate coach for Philly ASAP, a middle and high school training program. A bait teacher for Maritime Academy Charter School, “and right now I'm teaching the bay for Christopher Columbus Charter School.”

Lastly, DeLeon is spending his retirement in the USA Track and Field, and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Associations. “Among all the things that I do trying to help the community.”

In Municipal Court, DeLeon presided over a heavy caseload of homicides, business License and Inspections, and he was a Supervising Judge from 1997-2004. He’s faced two disciplinary issues over the three decades as a judge, and has one unsuccessful bid for the PA Supreme Court. 

More recently, he’s a contender in the mayoral race, inspired by the lack of policy from other candidates, whom he hopes to agitate, according to an interview with Billy Penn

What are the issues?

In the months leading up to the 2022 midterms, PA’s Latino population shared their priorities when evaluating candidates against each one another, according to data recorded by UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota. 

The top three policy issues, the survey’s respondents shared, were the economy, crime, and abortion. 

Abortion, for the first time, had climbed to the top 10 list, which analysts attributed to the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe, striking down 50 years of federal precedent for abortion in the U.S. 

This information was a gold mine for candidates aloof to Latino issues.

But it was also an olive branch from the community, which was interested in how candidates would navigate them. 

DeLeon’s issues started with the community’s treatment by law enforcement.

“Well, the treatment by police, I would say, was the number one concern, especially the way that they were doing the [Dominicans], he said. “I mean, that was like the most stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life. The way that they were treating the Dominicans.”

“I spoke out on that,” he added.

DeLeon also likened the treatment to police brutality, citing an event where a Dominican man “who had just been [at a storefront] (...) and he was killed right outside a storefront, going into the car,” he said. 

DeLeon also noted “the way license and inspection was treating the Spanish [businesses],” as a forefront issue, citing his experience as a presiding judge over those cases. 

“I was the judge in the License and Inspection court for many years. So I see the businesses come through the court that license and inspection would bring in. And I know that there were certain things to me that did not look right,” DeLeon said. “And that's why, in a nice way, I would make sure that the people were not abused, okay, in my courtroom, by license and inspection.” 

Another concern that had bubbled up for Latinos was outreach, they had not heard from candidates. 

DeLeon, noting communication as a shortfall for that concern, said “the voice has to come from the media. You have to show the people the programs and guide them as to what programs appear to be beneficial, and what progress appear not to be beneficial.”

Local Incident Management System

To tackle gun violence, DeLeon believes in the Local Management Incident System, or LIMS, as the catchall, with some caveats. 

LIMS, according to Judge DeLeon, is where community, courts and the government meet.

“Let's look at the community groups that we have going on because what we're trying to do is lift up the communities. So in order to lift up the communities that means that we have to have community groups working with the community, with the citizens in the community.”

He would have a pulse within community groups, and fund initiatives to scale their ideas. 

“We have to fund neighborhood groups, to go into the neighborhoods and talk with the youth and council the youth and give the youth more things to do,” said DeLeon, and added he would fund Recreation Centers and afterschool programs. 

DeLeon also believes in having the city’s courts play a more direct role, citing social media as one of the primary drivers of gun violence. 

“Every person arrested in Philadelphia, what the courts would do, we would give them a social media ban, and a curfew. Okay, so a person would have to be in by nine at night, six in the morning, tonight at night, unless they have a job,” he told AL DÍA.

In 2022, police told WHYY that social media played a more central role in fueling gun violence, and said perpetrators derived social reward from engaging in violent behavior online, a position that coincided with the judge’s. 

“People have beefs on social media. And then also on social media, you have people of different different organizations, they talk about who's the baddest on social media, and that leads to violence when they go to fight each other,” he said. 

And a Guest Commentary piece in the Philadelphia Citizen also raised the question about the lack of discussion around social media’s part in perpetuating violent encounters in real time. 

The City, in December of 2022, walked down memory lane to outline some of its responses throughout the year, citing “argument” as the leading cause, but it remains unclear whether it stems from social media exchanges. 

Community intervention programs, however, were at the spotlight of the mayor’s achievements, including community investment grants, and a violence prevention hotline. 

Confident that the solution also lies in community, DeLeon said he would place a “Community Coach” to serve as an intermediary between government, the police and city residents. 

“What this buffer does, the community coach, they are trained in crisis management, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders mental health disorders, the type of skills that they would need. And rather than call out police, we call out the community coach for non criminal matters,” he said.

Judge DeLeon said community advocates would receive training, but did not specify whether coaches would be sourced from mental health professions directly. 

But he was also critical of other candidate’s approach to gun violence, insofar as characterizing aspects of other platforms as “variations of martial law.” 

*Philly: The mayoral primary is on May 16, 2023. Are you registered to vote?

 

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This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.every voice-every vote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.

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