U.S. Senate candidates at a forum at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia last week criticized Republicans and not each other.

Although Rev.  Alyn Waller said he invited all the candidates of both parties who are running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R), only three Democrats came: Montgomery County Commissioners Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) and Congressman Conor Lamb (D-Beaver).

The three answered questions submitted by area Black clergy and one by moderator Sharrie Williams, a co-anchor for Channel 6ABC. Williams asked them what they would do if elected about record levels of homicide and violent crime in Philadelphia. None of the three mentioned any culpability for DA Larry Krasner, a progressive Democrat.

Instead, Lamb, a former federal prosecutor under the Obama administration, spoke about passing laws to restrict gun ownership.

“Guns are multiplying fast in our society. We have 400 million…The least we can do is make sure the people that possess them actually qualify to have them under the law,” he said. Lamb also supports spending more money on community programs to try to curb violence and “direct interventions” with young people who are “most at risk” for violence. He would also like to target more federal dollars on preventing gun crime and less on prosecuting drug crimes.

“The DEA gets three times what the ATF does,” said Lamb.

Congressman Conor Lamb

Kenyatta mentioned violence in his neighborhood.

“I’m going to go home tonight to my home in north Philadelphia. It’s probably likely I could hear gunshots ring out.” There have been “folks tragically cut down blocks from my home,” he said.

“We cannot have another year in Philadelphia where we’ve had 550 people murdered on our streets and more who were shot but survived. The first thing we have to treat this like the emergency that it is,” he said.

He has asked Gov. Tom Wolf to declare gun crime an emergency “as we did with the opioid crisis.” He would also like to see more laws regulating gun ownership.

“So many of the weapons that ended up being used in a gun homicide were weapons that did not belong to the person who did the shooting,” he said. “Dealing with lost and stolen weapons, trying to get to the root cause of the consistent straw purchasing that we’re seeing, is critical.”

The state has also “released millions into the hands of organizations to disrupt gun violence,” he added. The other factor to reduce crime and violence is to end poverty, he said, explaining that if people have good jobs, kids are in good schools, and families have houses, that would reduce violence.

“We need to treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is,” said Arkoosh. She would like to see what she called background check “loopholes closed, and she would like to keep those charged with domestic violence or at risk for suicide from legally owning guns. She also opposes ownership of “military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

“I don’t see any use for weapons like that on our streets,” said Arkoosh. She also favors more after-school programs and mentorship to keep kids on the right track.

Their comments echo those of President Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who blame America’s gun laws for the recent surge in crime. Academics note that while gun sales did rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is not a significant change in the number of guns today versus three years ago when gun crime rates were lower.

Asked about the role of senators in approving federal judges and Supreme Court justices, Kenyatta said, “Right now we have a radical, conservative Supreme Court that is out of control, out of control.” He supports increasing the number of judges on the court to give it a liberal majority — a practice known as “court-packing.” However, he praised the judges who have been appointed Biden.

“We need to suss out and extinguish this conservative judicial philosophy that believes money is equal to speech and any corporation or wealthy person in society can spend as much as they want on politics in the name of speech. That is ruining our politics,” said Lamb.

Montgomery County Commissioners Chair Valerie Arkoosh

Arkoosh said the Supreme Court now is in a “very fragile place” and that matters coming before it that should be handled legislatively.

“Washington is so broken that somebody like Mitch McConnell can not only steal a Supreme Court seat but he can block all this other legislation from ever even getting to a vote. And my pledge to you, if I am your next United States Senator there will be hell to pay if Mitch McConnell or anyone else tries to steal a Supreme Court justice seat.

“And of course, I will be a vote against the filibuster so we can move on this critical legislation,” she added.

Kenyatta and Lamb also pledged to do away with the filibuster.

During her opening remarks, Arkoosh brought up the recent hostage crisis at the synagogue in Texas.

“We must speak out with one voice against antisemitism, which has no place in our commonwealth and our country, just as racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Asian hatred have no place in our society,” said Arkoosh.

Kenyatta said, “In this moment in this campaign we should answer a simple question. Who should government work for? I know my answer: It should work for working families like mine and so many others.”

He promised to focus on inequity.

“I’ve been all across this commonwealth, folks get it. But I will tell you who doesn’t get it so often: the 100 folks in the Senate who don’t know anything about what we’re going to talk about today,” said Kenyatta.

Lamb touted his electability, saying that he won twice in a red district that had elected Trump and that as a congressman he has sought out the advice of his African American constituents.

“I will never make false promises to the Black community. I will do my best to speak to you about the achievable, the doable,” said Lamb, who touted Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which passed the House but has not made it through the Senate.

All three supported the “Freedom to Vote Act,” the proposal to override state election laws and impose federal rules on voting. The proposal was defeated in the Senate last week when an effort to end the filibuster was defeated in a bipartisan vote, 48-52.

“Republicans are working every day to disenfranchise Black and Brown voters and doing everything they can to reduce the voter confidence in the election process,” Arkoosh claimed. “We need to make it easier to vote.” She suggested making Election Day a national holiday and allowing people to register on Election Day. She also said voting by mail “worked incredibly well in Pennsylvania.”

Kenyatta said that in the state legislature he fought Republican efforts to audit the 2020 election and used community organizing techniques to turn out protestors at Senate Pro Tempore Jake Corman’s house.

And Lamb accused Republicans of trying to “limit the right of people to vote” in Houston, Texas, and that they “looked at ways people of color vote and targeted them.”

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