When things feel like they have gone amok for Eryn Santamoor, the City Council-at-large candidate who has worked for former Mayor Michael Nutter and former City Councilperson Allan Domb, she heads over to her favorite spot in the City of Philadelphia: the National Constitution Center.
“I watch the video, listen to them tell the story, and think, we’ve gone through some really tough times, and we’re still plugging away at it,” says Santamoor. “And I always come out of there feeling better, like we can do more.”
If that sounds like the kind of comfort only a democracy nerd could give, well, there’s a reason for that. Santamoor is a democracy nerd. The first time she ran for City Council in 2019, she offered the most comprehensive, detailed policy plans of any candidate — including those who were running for Mayor, like then-incumbent Jim Kenney. As she told The Citizen’s Larry Platt at the time, she wrote the plan herself, and she talked about it with anyone who would listen.
“I wanted to do the work.”
Unfortunately for Santamoor, that wasn’t enough: Despite her catalog of solutions and her experience in city government — including as one of the driving forces behind the adoption and implementation of a citywide 311 as a deputy managing director under Nutter — Santamoor lost that race. “It was really hard,” she says now. “I really wanted the job. I wasn’t somebody who was looking to do it because I wanted a better paycheck. I wanted to do the work.”
Santamoor, who lives in Chestnut Hill with her husband and two school-age children, eventually agreed to join Domb’s team as chief of staff a few weeks before the pandemic hit in 2020, which she says put her in exactly the right place to be helpful. She helped Domb and others in city government roll out the outdoor dining rules that allowed restaurants to quickly set up streateries, and then went on to work on other of Domb’s signature policies, including those that led to decreasing the wage and net income taxes.
“What really sets her apart is she’s been in government for so long,” says Domb. It’s rare, in my opinion, to see someone of her talents wanting to work in government.”
“Eryn is really smart. She understands the issues. And she can provide the solutions,” says Domb, who says he knew he wanted to hire Santamoor as soon as the 2019 results came in. “She’s all about getting the results. What really sets her apart is she’s been in government for so long. It’s rare, in my opinion, to see someone of her talents wanting to work in government.”
Her work during the pandemic was the second time Santamoor found herself in city government during a crisis. As a deputy mayor under Nutter, she helped face down the Great Recession of 2008 by, she says, helping to find enough savings that the City didn’t have to do layoffs. “It was about figuring out how we could get more efficient at what we did with less money,” she says. “It wasn’t sexy work. So much of what we do in city government is not sexy, but it is super important.”
Santamoor’s 2023 plans
Santamoor announced her candidacy for City Council in November, shortly after Domb resigned his post to run for mayor. This time, she released her 13-page action plan only a few weeks before Election Day, but as in 2019, it’s in-depth and specific — so in-depth and specific that it seems impossible for her to achieve everything she promises in one four-year term. Some of the ideas are the same as four years ago, including recommending the hiring of a “Commodities Broker” in the Streets Department to make sure the City’s recycling is sold at the highest price and for the best use. Many, like her ideas around Safe Communities, rely on using data and evidence to enact policy.
Santamoor’s immediate priorities fall into three categories:
1. Safety. Santamoor favors a citywide collaborative approach to public safety that includes increased funding for focussed deterrence and victims services; police reform; and the careful use of technology, like cameras, drones, GunStat (which targets illegal guns). “I feel like part of my job will be to go out in the community and talk to people in a meaningful way about what technology they are willing to put up with, and relay that information to the next mayor, the DA, the court systems,” she says. “We have to be willing to have those tough conversations.”
2. Substance use disorders. Santamoor has long been open about her husband’s alcoholism and addiction, which she has said opened her eyes to the trauma that is all around us. “I think it is so important that people who are living with these chaotic disorders and diseases in their family have a space to go to get educated on what’s happening to them, and how they can recover together,” she says. “And I will be an unapologetic advocate for how we get folks the treatment they need when they need it.” Her plan includes establishing a task force to make recommendations about education, treatment, increasing access to care and support for providers.
3. Quality of life issues. Santamoor helped launch 311 to centralize how Philadelphians push their City to fix what’s broken — potholes, broken streetlights, illegal dumping. But those continue to be the kinds of issues that, as she puts it, “are driving people crazy and driving them out of the city. It feels a lot like a lack of value proposition for your tax dollars, when, you know, you religiously call the City about a pothole, and it’s not fixed,” she says. “As a citizen, you feel bad. Like, I know we’re dealing with homicides and gun violence; I feel bad calling about a pothole. But if you pay taxes here, and you’re generally going about your work day, just trying to get stuff done in your own family life, that pothole could be the most infuriating thing in your world that day or that week or that month.” Santamoor plans to call for regular customer service hearings for the major City departments, focus on cleaning sidewalks and streets, and modernizing trash collection.
What all of these ideas, and the others in her plan, have in common is something Santamoor says she has relied on throughout her career: collaboration. It’s how the City got out of its own way in 2020, to make streateries possible, and it’s what Santamoor thinks is the answer to Kensington’s opioid crisis, and the crisis of violence that plagues the city, and the other issues she’ll have to take on if elected. As one of 17 City Councilmembers, she would only have so much power, could only move the tank of city government so much on her own. “This is an exciting time,” she says. “We have a great opportunity to reinvigorate a relationship between government, the private sector, the nonprofit sector, the people, you know, to get a lot of new blood and new ideas and new tactics in city government. And hopefully, voters vote in personalities that want to collaborate to get stuff done. I think that is such an important trait to look for in this election.”
Santamoor exhibits the optimism of a problem-solver, who even after all these years working in city government, is jubilant about the possibilities it can offer to citizens of the city. “I love the city of Philadelphia, but that’s not a reason to run for office,” she says. “Everyone who lives here loves this city or they would move if they could. I love the work. I could do a lot of really fun and creative things in my life. But I choose to do this because it’s fun; it’s exciting; and I feel necessary and needed. And I love fixing the issues the city is facing. I finally feel like I’m in the right time at the right place to help serve.”
The Citizen is writing about Philadelphia City Council candidates who are doing what for a long time was the unthinkable: Bucking the system by running for office with ideas and experience — not just by dint of being the usual suspects. Because if there’s one thing we need more of, it’s this: More people paying more attention to our local politics, running for office, offering solutions and prepping to bring about much-needed change.
Lead support for Every Voice, Every Vote 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.
MORE ON CITY COUNCIL FROM THE CITIZENEryn Santamoor, photo courtesy the campaign