Alexander, the city’s first deputy managing director, took notes on his cell phone and told the woman he’d get crews out there to clean up the properties. It was an opportunity both to help the neighborhood, he says, and to show that the city is dedicated to providing services beyond police and ambulances responding to crime.
The city should be doing more of that kind of outreach, Alexander said. Even police officers could funnel service requests to other agencies, which could help build trust with residents and encourage them to cooperate with investigators who are trying to end this year’s surge of fatal shootings.
“I want to be able to prioritize those issues because that builds up the cooperation in the community with police folks, right?” Alexander said. “If they see that the cops are not only coming to address the crime concern, but also listening to them when they have quality-of-life issues and making it happen, that’s a win-win. If something happens on that block, there’s likelihood to be more cooperation for us to help solve some of these crimes and some of these issues.”
Alexander said community outreach and anti-violence work will be among his top priorities when his boss, managing director Brian Abernathy, departs next month and Alexander steps into the job on an acting basis. As the city’s top non-elected official, he’ll oversee a vast swath of departments, from police and prisons to Mural Arts and animal control, but the need to reduce violence in the city, he said, motivates him in particular.
“I absolutely, absolutely, want to make a difference in the whole issue of violence prevention. We’re losing too many talented, bright people that won’t have a future because of gun violence.” Alexander said. ”However long I’m in this role, whatever role it may be, I want to make sure I make a difference on that. It just so happens that’s one of the mayor’s priorities.”
Other changes could also be coming to the managing director’s office, which has been the target of angry protests in recent months. Activists blame Abernathy for the police tear-gassing of Black Lives Matter protesters, for resisting demands to defund the police, and for cutting city spending on affordable housing, the arts, and other programs.
Mayor Jim Kenney is considering possible structural changes to the position, which is unusual for the power it holds compared to equivalent jobs in other cities. The mayor will “look critically at the present structure to determine if it is working well, if the portfolio is too large, or if some functions could be realigned in different ways,” spokesperson Deana Gamble said in an email.
“The mayor always envisioned a strong MDO [Managing Director’s Office] and overall he still favors this structure. But the MDO leadership transition affords him the opportunity to see how a reorganization can better advance his renewed priorities of police reform, violence reduction, racial equity, education, and inclusive economic recovery,” she said.
Abernathy and Alexander both say their job is to implement Kenney’s vision, not to carry out one of their own. But Alexander is expected to subtly change the office’s relationship to City Council and the public, bringing a more diplomatic, behind-the-scenes style to the position. That would represent a change from the often frank and forthright Abernathy, who became unusually visible for a managing director this year, due in part to his daily appearances on live-streamed COVID-19 press conferences.
Alexander “really gets people and relationships, and so he’s always kind of thinking about who he’s talking to, what their interests are, what will make this interaction successful from their point and view,” said Eva Gladstein, the Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services, who has known Alexander for several years. “That’s a really great skill to have.”