The current office of City Commissioner is mired in controversy, from payouts regarding sexual harassment, to our elected officials literally not showing up to work, and Jen Devor has had enough. She won’t sit back and accept the status quo any longer; she prioritizes the need to engage, empower, educate and mobilize voters, and fulfill the job of City Commissioner.
“Every vote counts and every election impacts my daily life—from funding for the public school that my daughter attends to the reliability of the subway that I ride to work, to the healthcare decisions I make for my family. I move through my day recognizing the impact of my vote—and those of my fellow Philadelphians–on nearly every aspect of my life,” Devor told us. When the average voter turnout over the past four general elections is only 40 percent, the gap in people who vote and people who are impacted by our votes—everyone!—it is too large not to address, she added.
When asked what the biggest challenge Philadelphia faces moving forward, Devor said this is a loaded question. “There are so many things that plague our city—gun violence, poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, drug addiction, limited access to quality public education and school facilities, etc. etc.—did we even mention trash yet?! But along with the challenges, there are opportunities, and I believe it starts with the youngest generation,” she said. “From the city’s Universal Pre-k and Headstart programs, and organizations like Public Citizens For Children and Youth, Philadelphia Youth Network and the number of “friends of groups”, we are starting to move the needle.”
It was through Devor’s own public education advocacy work that she became politically involved and that helped push her decision to run for City Commissioner. Devor said Philadelphians have stepped up to solve our city’s challenges the best we can, and we need more politicians fighting alongside us, introducing policies and laws that reflect the needs of our city. Devor believes we should have more competitive races with stronger candidates who are up for this challenge and we can achieve this by increasing voter turnout and making the overall election process better.
If elected as City Commissioner, Devor said she is looking forward to accomplishing these three things, starting January 2020:
- Transparency and Accountability: The office of City Commissioner must ensure that every Philadelphian trusts the election process and that they feel that the office of the Commissioner is open and transparent.
- Engage, Educate, and Empower Every Eligible Voter: It is hard to capture people’s attention and interest with the way we currently talk about elections. My background is in marketing and communications, which I think is a missing component in voter outreach right now. I plan to use my degree and past professional experience to make all voting-related information easy to understand and accessible, year-round.
- Stress-test for Efficiency: I would work with the Controller’s office and the Commissioner staff to make sure that the office is running properly and reflects best practices, including everything from over-time processes to sexual harassment code of conduct. The role of City Commissioner is in part that of a business administrator and that is a skill I look forward to flexing when elected.
Point Breeze, where Devor lives, has gentrified rapidly. When asked about a tension between long-term residents and new homeowners in the area, Devor said that when individuals feel like their voice doesn’t matter, when they have been beat down by the system repeatedly, their neighborhoods are at risk for gentrification and other issues. And she knows this feeling intimately.
“My family and I have lived in South Philly for 14 years and our commitment to our neighbors, our school, and our community as it currently exists, was evident pretty quickly from the start and I feel as much a part of my community as my neighbors who were born here,” she said. Most importantly, if we engage and empower voters and ensure that individuals don’t feel that their vote, their voice, doesn’t matter, then our neighborhoods can make sure that they are voting for members of city, state and federal offices that understand, listen to and address concerns about gentrification, among other issues.”
Devor said she quickly realized, upon becoming a mom, that so much of what she loves about Point Breeze—from the neighbors that greet each other by name, the corner store owner that tells her to make sure that her daughter Ava visits on Halloween—stems from the neighborhood public school. Point Breeze’s community is built, in her opinion, around welcoming public spaces such as schools, places of worship and parks.
And, to make sure that what she loved most about Point Breeze didn’t disappear due to the gentrification, she and her husband decided to put their energy into supporting their neighborhood public school even before she was pregnant.
What is her greatest local achievement and why? Devor said the first would have to be the recognition she received from the Forum of Executive Women as an emerging leader in 2017. “This was an incredible opportunity to not just receive an award, but to be given the gift of a lifetime of professional career coaching. It was through this that I met so many wonderful women, seasoned professionals who have lead dynamite careers and from who I can learn from, to model their behavior and to cultivate a network of support that continues to affect me. Receiving this award was part of my motivation to run, after being inspired by the many Forum women who took big career risks and in turn had big success,” she said.
The second one would be when she was nominated for the 17th Police District Crystal Shield Award, this past Spring, an honor given to community members who serve Point Breeze in an exceptional way. “To have my name on the list of nominees, alongside men and women who I admire, who showed me how to participate in civic engagement from the start, and who do so much more than I could ever imagine with decades more experience was overwhelming and emotional for me. I didn’t need to win the award for it to feel like an achievement, it’s true what they say, it really is an honor just to be nominated,” Devor said.
“I love Philadelphia. I truly did all my “real” growing up here, from getting my college degree, to buying a home, to deciding to raise my family here. As the birthplace of American democracy and the home of the honorable Gritty (sorry, I had to!), this city can, and often does, lead the nation in driving progress even when it is hard and often not immediately appreciated by others. I know that we can revolutionize the Office of City Commissioner and build an engaged electorate that sets an example for the rest of Pennsylvania and the United States,” she concluded. Devor refuses to accept the status quo as “good enough.” She believes that she is the best person to help bring about the change Philadelphia needs, and the one who can help create a voting revolution. This is her dream, and she is ready to take it on this May.