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In order to hold our council members accountable, we have to know what’s happening at City Hall.

To get up-to-date info, context around recent bills and general Council news, listen to Inside PHL Council—City Council’s new podcast. You can see how Council operations play out from your laptop; watch stated meetings, committee meetings, budget hearings, and member spotlights on Council members City Council’s YouTube channel.

If you’ve got time, or you want to advocate for a particular bill or issue, go to a Council meeting; they’re open to the public, and there’s a public comment period at every meeting, right before Council votes on resolutions and bills. Check out the calendar and meeting agendas to find out when Council will be voting on legislation you care about. Call the Chief Clerk’s office (215-686-3410 or 215-686-3411) to sign up to speak; if you haven’t signed up by 5pm on Wednesday before the meeting, go to Room 400 City Hall before the Council session starts to add your name to the list. You can also show up day of and you’ll have the opportunity to speak after all citizens who signed up. You get three minutes, so make them count.

Remember, our Councilmembers’ jobs are to make sure Philadelphia is working better for us —stop into a council members office (see room numbers here) and talk to their staff, or reach out using the contact info listed in our guide.

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About how City Council works

Philadelphia’s City Council enacts laws and resolutions, holds hearings, and approves the city’s operating budget and members of city boards and commissions.

At-Large councilmembers are elected by citywide popular vote and no political party can have more than five at-large seats.

Our City Council has 25 standing committees, including Labor and Civil Service, Ethics, Children and Youth, and Aging.

All committee meetings are open to the public. Find out when they’re happening here.

Want to know more about how City Council works? Check out the Committee of Seventy’s guide.

 

Who’s On Philadelphia City Council?

We talked to the people representing you for the next four years. Here’s what they had to say

We talked to the people representing you for the next four years. Here’s what they had to say

After a relatively tumultuous City Council race in 2019, a new Council took office on January 6, 2020. That includes 13 incumbents and four new members—including a couple of upsets: Jamie Gauthier, who unseated Jannie Blackwell in the 3rd District, and Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks, the first third-party member of Council.

Who are these people representing us for the next four years? We reached out to all of them to find out more about what they plan to do for Philadelphians. Some—indicted Councilperson Bobby Henon; minority leader Brian O’Neill; and Council President Darrell Clarke—declined to talk with us. The rest offered analysis of the barriers to making change on Philly’s biggest problems and a smattering of policy goals ranging from the vague—neither Helen Gym, Cindy BassKendra Brooks nor Mark Squilla detailed planned legislation; to pie-in-the-sky—Bass’s contention that the state might need one single school district; to the practical—Allan Domb, Isaiah Thomas and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez all plan to address business taxes.

We took a look at the good and not-so-good in incumbents’ track records, and we asked the newcomers about their political heroes to see who’s influence they’ll be bringing with them into office.

Check out what our electeds say they stand for, and how to contact them—and let’s hold them accountable for keeping their promises to Philadelphians.

At-Large Council Members

Kendra Brooks, 1st Term

Photo: Kendra Brooks

Brooks is an activist, community organizer and teacher who ran programs for special needs children for 17 years in the five-county area before traveling nationally to teach restorative justice. She’s organized around women’s rights, disability rights, homelessness and neighborhood schools—she’s known for successfully fighting Mastery Charter’s attempted takeover of Steel Elementary School (which was on the District’s turnaround list again three years later). She’s a member of the Working Families Party, the first third-party candidate to win a seat on Council since 1980. “During my campaign, I think so many folks in Philadelphia didn’t think that their vote counted or didn’t matter,” she says. “I think that me winning this election proved that every vote counts. And I think that was a contribution that I needed to give to my community.”

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Poverty and the related issues of gun violence and homelessness.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “The bureaucracy behind city state federal communication; I think that hinders some of the progress. Also political will and money—I think all of those things are tied up in the bureaucracy. Funding comes at multiple levels and, depending on which level, the political will might not be there.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your first term? “Policies for alleviating poverty, gun violence and homelessness.”

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “We have so many issues right here locally that we need to deal with. I come out of the social justice movement, so I encourage people to connect to a community-based organization that’s doing work that you’re interested in. There’s a local coalition on gun violence here in the city; there’s 215 People’s Alliance doing things on housing issues; Philadelphia Tenants Union working on rent control. In order for us to see immediate or quicker responses to our social problems here in Philly, we have to build power, and building power means getting involved and engaged around the issues that you care about the most.”

Who’s your political hero? “Ella Baker. I love her quote, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” It sounds strange, me being a politician and feeling that, but I still believe in the power of empowering people to really bring about change; my job is just to write the policy to make it happen, but the voices of the people is where the power comes from.”

How to Contact Kendra Brooks

Allan Domb, 2nd Term

Photo: allandomb.com

Housing, Neighborhood Development, and the Homeless Committee chair

Allan Domb is a longtime Center City real-estate tycoon and property developer with hundreds of employees. He formerly served as the president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, where he advocated for the rights of private property owners. After Council President Darrell Clarke came to him for insights on the value of recently closed school buildings, he was spurred to give back and get involved in city politics (he donates his Council salary to the School District). In his first term, he advocated for City Council term limits and became the loudest voice for fiscal responsibility. He is rumored to be considering a run for mayor in 2023. Domb tells us he’s most proud of his work on the wage tax refund bill (which passed in Council, but was vetoed by Mayor Kenney last week), and his efforts to push to ensure that financial literacy and programming are more widely taught in Philly schools.

The good: Domb is Council’s loudest voice for fiscal responsibility. This has been showcased in a variety of ways: over his work to help the city recapture unpaid property taxes, his grilling of the Kenney administration’s handling of the City’s missing $33 million and the seven unreconciled accounts.

The not-so-good: Domb has been criticized for potential conflicts of interest regarding his voting on legislation related to tax abatements and other property taxes that would affect his real estate business. It raises the oft-asked ethics questions of whether councilmembers should be able to hold an additional job.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Increasing jobs in the city, which is tied to educating our workforce and students, which is tied to taking people out of poverty. The number one way to take people out of poverty is a good job; to get a good job, you need to be educated.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “You have 40 percent of our population leaving the city [to work] and you have 81 percent who left the city for taxes and jobs. Maybe the tax structure is prohibiting us from creating good jobs, which is keeping people in poverty. We are one of the few and only cities with a net income tax, which is a reason why companies don’t come into Philadelphia. We also have an extremely high wage tax. We did the research, and it is embarrassing to say this: Of the top 50 cities in the United States, we tax lower income and people in poverty the highest.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Increasing the number of teachers certified to teach financial literacy
  • Ensuring the wage tax credit becomes law
  • Instituting term limits for City Council
  • Expanding the job base, whatever that may take—adjusting our tax structure, creating an environment where existing businesses in Philadelphia can expand

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “You can always email and call us here [at City Hall]. Just in general, when you look at the big picture, there is a lot of gridlock on the federal level. We see a lot of fighting. On the state level we see less gridlock but still some fighting. It’s amazing that City Council, in my four years here, has been one of the most productive bodies in government.”

How to Contact Allan Domb

Derek Green, 2nd Term

Photo: Twitter

Disabled and Persons with Special Needs Committee chair

A former staffer to Councilmember Marian Tasco, Derek Green also worked in the City’s law department, and as an assistant district attorney. His son has autism, and he and his wife are advocates for people with autism and hold fundraisers for Autism Speaks. In his first term on Council, Green introduced legislation around tourism and medical marijuana dispensaries, and he is proud of the “fact that we’ve been able to become a resource for people to get jobs. Just trying to connect people is as important as legislation for me. And it all ties into the issue of poverty.”

The good: As a former small business owner, he’s introduced legislation to make it easier for small and minority businesses to operate in the city, and has pushed for local election reform, including public financing of campaigns—something he’s likely to pursue this term as well.

The not so good: As the chair of the Philadelphia Gas Commission, Green has been criticized for his role in approving PGW’s plan to build a new $60 million gas plant, which particularly affects Southwest Philly residents and contradicts the city’s goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Poverty. That is the number one issue with our city. Everything goes through the prism of poverty, from criminal justice to housing to education to homelessness to food.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “You can do certain things to increase wages, but the best way to improve poverty in the city, from my experience, both as a lender and small business owner, is that you have to be able to grow jobs. And the best entity that can grow jobs are small business. If you’re a small business owner trying to create a business in the city, it’s very challenging because we have a lot of regulations and process steps, and too often our departments don’t speak together.

We are a city that has about a $5 billion budget. We are restricted in how much we can do so we’ve got to be more creative with the resources that we have.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Reintroducing legislation around public financing of elections.
  • Revisiting the idea of how to make an investment in the schools.
  • Making sure new regulations—like fair scheduling rules and the right-to-counsel—are easy to understand and navigate.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “We’ve got to get more people engaged in the process because my concern is that it’s a small group of the most vocal that get a lot of the attention. But there’s a large group in the middle that is focusing everyday on getting their child to daycare or working two or three jobs or doing the best they can to just put food on their table.

Reach out to council members. Right now, we do public comment on Channel 64. When you hear information about something, share that with someone—that’s one way to get engaged.”

How to Contact Derek Green

Helen Gym, 2nd Term

Photo: Twitter

Children and Youth Committee chair

Before being elected to her first term to City Council as a grassroots candidate four years ago, Helen Gym was best known as a public school advocate and journalist who co-founded Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Folk Arts-Cultural Treasure Charter School. A progressive voice on Council, Gym courted controversy during the general election by endorsing Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks—which could have put other Democrats in jeopardy of losing their seat. Gym is most proud of her work to modernize and create equity in Philadelphia schools and is rumored to be considering a run for Mayor or statewide office

The good: Gym has pushed through legislation focused on economic justice, including a fair work week bill, lawyers for tenants in eviction court and the city’s first fund to address youth homelessness.

The not so good: Despite her reputation as a progressive reformer, Gym, who has accepted campaign donations from the building trades, has publicly avowed support for indicted City Councilperson Bobby Henon.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Public safety and the need to build public trust to protect our neighbors; climate change and bringing urgency to the need for a municipal Green New Deal; and rebuilding our public school system and making real the promise of local control.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “Vision, and the ability to mobilize the public around that vision. This requires extensive investment in planning and outreach, developing a process that puts people of color and low-income communities front and center in decision-making, and moving us beyond the free market and traditional political structures that too often stifle and limit our options.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term? “Following community efforts on public safety, climate change, and schools.”

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “The backbone of national politics lies in local organizing, and Philadelphia is at the vanguard of a bold new approach to municipal politics. When a national corporate reform agenda failed our public schools, it was teachers, students, parents and community leaders who fought for our public schools. When mass incarceration and failed policies around policing and criminal justice ran rampant through our nation, Philadelphia elected a lifelong civil rights defense lawyer as its next district attorney. When a serial sexual harasser subjected the city to lawsuit after lawsuit, Philadelphia elected its first black woman sheriff. Local politics around tax policy, labor rights, schools and housing has as much power to change people’s lives as a member of Congress.”

How to Contact Helen Gym

David Oh, 3rd Term

Photo: City Council

Global Opportunities and Creative Innovative Economy Committee chair

Republican David Oh graduated from Rutgers University Law School and worked as an Assistant to the Philadelphia District Attorney before resigning to join the Army. He was the first Asian-American member of City Council when he was elected in 2012 as one of two Republicans on the body. A veteran passionate about issues related to vets and first responders, Oh experienced city violence firsthand when he was robbed and stabbed outside his Southwest Philly home in 2017; the man he accused was acquitted in 2018.

The good: Oh created a veterans tax credit for employers who hire returning veterans, authored a bill to increase women’s breastfeeding rights in the workplace, and helped wrangle more money for firefighters.

The not-so-good: Oh does not have a stellar record for getting legislation passed, as in the last session, when his most significant bills—local control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, School Board elections and tax reform—all languished without a vote from the whole body. And he has been accused at times of commandeering Council for hearings related to issues he himself is facing—as when he put the city’s child welfare system under inspection after he was falsely accused of child abuse when his son was injured in a martial arts lesson.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “The immediate issue is crime. In the long term, we get into public education with job training and the economy in terms of jobs and opportunities.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues?

Crime: “You’re not having bystanders being shot in Chestnut Hill; you rarely have that in Center City. So what you’re talking about is certain sections of the city: Southwest Philadelphia, North Philadelphia. What government person lives in these neighborhoods? I think there’s a huge disconnect between the government and the people. If people don’t have an understanding of the subject matter, then it’s very hard for them to solve this problem. The idea that we’re going to solve a problem by recognizing that the results of many of the issues that we’re dealing with are rooted in slavery? Um, okay? There’s value in that. But maybe they’re rooted in the fact that for decades and decades and decades, this neighborhood has had crap schools.”

Education: “Equity in education is critically important; every neighborhood public school has got to be the same. Why is it not that? It’s because of politics and contract and unions and vendors; it’s not like we don’t know that.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Reintroducing a bill for an independent audit to review property assessments and refund property owners who are overtaxed by faulty assessments.
  • Reintroducing a transfer ordinance to fund community college $19 million, and a bill to separate community college governance from the mayor.
  • Better technology for law enforcement, like drones.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “Everything that we have talked about is local. None of these issues have anything to do with the President: not community college, not the crappy school in people’s neighborhood, not inequity in career training, or issues about what you get at your library. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The media needs to better inform, the city needs to better inform, someone needs to better inform. Social media is a starting point [for people to inform themselves].”

How to Contact David Oh

Katherine Gilmore Richardson, 1st Term

Vice president of the Young Philly Democrats and former chief of staff to Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, Katherine Gilmore Richardson has an insider’s knowledge about how Council works. She’s proud of a number of accomplishments in her 11 years serving as a legislative aid in City Council: “Working with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to pass legislation measuring the energy consumption in commercial buildings; making sure the Commission for Women was a permanent part of city government; and, during the last economic downturn, working on a bill that provided for an extra $30 million for the school district.”

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Poverty, education and public safety.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “I have to give kudos to what Council is doing right now in terms of the special committee on poverty because it’s one of the first real acknowledgments from a legislative perspective that if we collectively work together and look to solutions that we can implement—whether they be legislative or programmatic—then it really helps to move the needle on reducing poverty in our city. I think a lot of the barriers are not having concerted effort, dogged determination, the overall political capital and political will to actually get everything done.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your first term?

  • Instituting a civil service preference for graduates of career and technical education schools who apply for city jobs, similar to what the city encourages corporate partners and nonprofits to do.
  • Enabling child care for jury service, as a way to increase participation and diversity in jury pools.
  • Introducing a resolution to ensure the City is preparing for any economic downturn, so it becomes part of this year’s budget hearings.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “Locally we’re selecting judges for our criminal justice system, we’re electing state officials who are representing us in Harrisburg who will ultimately have a say in the funds we receive for the education system. It’s volunteering, getting involved with your local civic association or your registered community organization. Particularly this year, voter registration and voter education will be important. I also think people don’t realize the small difference people can make just on their local block. You can find out who your block captain is and volunteer with them; if you don’t have a block captain become one. People should get more involved in our partisan and non partisan organizations, so that they are ultimately involved in some organization that represents the issues and the values that [they] care about.”

Who’s your political hero? “I began working in Blondell Reynolds Brown’s office full time 11 years ago and I have served in every position in her office except for communications. To learn so much about helping people and putting people first and how you get things done and navigating city government—I learned a lot of that from Blondell Reynolds Brown.”

How to Contact Katherine Gilmore Richardson

Isaiah Thomas, 1st Term

Photo: Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas, who secured his seat on Council after his third race running for Council, is the executive director of Philadelphia Freedom Schools and was formerly President of the Coaches Association for Public League Boys Basketball and the Director of Community Affairs for the City Controller’s Office. He’s most proud of the work he’s done for children across Philadelphia: “I’ve taught everything from undergrad at Lincoln University down to kindergarten. I co-founded the Thomas & Woods Foundation; we do a free camp every year for 125 children the week before school starts. We give them a book bag, school supplies, and other support systems that they need to transition into school the following week.”

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Poverty, affordable housing, gun violence and public education.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on said issues? “A lot of folks in the city don’t have the opportunity to earn a quality living for themselves and their families, so we’ve got to get rid of the poor people versus the business community dialogue and find a way to attract businesses, specifically businesses that will be able to offer high quality jobs for low skilled workers.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your first term?

    • Legislation around education reform
    • Legislation to address the city’s tax structure particularly as it affects the business community.
    • Legislation to make Election Day a holiday.

Who’s your political hero? “Henry Nicholas [National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees president] has done everything from supporting Nelson Mandela, to Dr. Martin Luther King, to being one of the first to endorse Barack Obama. When you look at the progressive movement in Philadelphia, he should get a lot of credit for it. A lot of the progressive things that we’re seeing right now [in Philadelphia], these are seeds that he was planting more than a decade ago.”

How to Contact Isaiah Thomas

District Council Members

Mark Squilla, 1st District, 3rd Term

Streets and Services Committee chair

After graduating from LaSalle University with a degree in computer science, Mark Squilla worked for 25 years as a systems analyst for the state auditor general’s office. He’s been a member of the Democratic City Committee since 1998 and started the Burke Community Fund to support Burke Playground in his neighborhood. He was elected president of his neighborhood Whitman Council before running for City Council in 2010. He’s known for his robust constituent services—including helping to start Friends Of groups and making generous contributions from campaign and discretionary funds to organizations in his district. Squilla touts his work on the controversial construction tax bill (which narrowly passed in Council and was withdrawn and renegotiated with Mayor Kenney).

The good: After about a decade of trying, Squilla’s plastic ban bill finally passed Council on the last day of the session, potentially saving the city as much as $12 million a year it now spends cleaning plastic bag waste from streets and sewers.

The not-so-good: Squilla has put up some head-scratching legislation over the years, including one putting restrictions on music venues (scrapped), and others that spot-rezoned land in his district, including banning curb cuts on 9th Street between Catherine and Federal streets.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “The opioid crisis; homelessness; trash and blight; and quality of life crimes.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues?

Opioid Crisis: “The city put in a no-smoking policy for treatment; if you do smoke and you want to get treatment, you won’t be able to stay in those treatment facilities. We might want to reevaluate that. We have to evaluate how we work with the people who are caught selling drugs, the people who are actively using.”

Homelessness: “There should be a continuum of care where you initially get into our shelter system and then progress into low barrier housing, transitional housing and then housing. The day work programs that we’re putting in place and piloting seem to be working pretty well. We just need to grow that.”

Crime: “We used to have a community court program that got dissolved: say you got charged with underage drinking, graffiti, mischief, simple crimes—instead of bringing you in and going to court with the chance of going to jail, they would say 24 hours community service. It allows people to do community service instead of getting convicted of a minor crime which really doesn’t help them when they need to get a job or other things in the future.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term? Legislation around environmental issues and reducing waste and trash.

Why should we Philadelphians pay attention to local politics; how can we be more engaged locally? “The people who really affect your everyday living are your local elected officials. People who you could reach out to, see at a meeting, are the ones you should really be concentrating on because they could really impact your lives. Join the “friends of” your park; if you don’t have one, create one. Join the RCOs [Registered Community Organizations] or just go to their meetings and find out what’s going on in your community. Your involvement makes things happen.”

How to Contact Mark Squilla

Kenyatta Johnson, 2nd District, 3rd Term

Photo: City Council

Legislative Oversight Committee chair, Transportation and Public Utilities Committee chair

Kenyatta Johnson, is a former PA senate staffer, state representative and the founder of (controversial) anti-violence group Peace Not Guns. He graduated from Penn with a masters in government administration, volunteered with AmeriCorps and was a founding staff member of City Year. Raised in Point Breeze, Johnson has represented the 2nd District since 2012.

The good: Johnson pushed through the Longtime Owner Occupants Program, which allows tax relief for residents who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years, and was integral in pushing for higher wages for airport workers.

The not-so-good: Johnson has faced criticism—and legal battles—over vacant land sales in his district, including two in the last year that he directed to a friend. He is a subject of a three-year ongoing FBI investigation into the below-market land sales, and the work his wife, Dawn Chavous, has done on behalf of Universal Companies on a development project is in his district.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Gun violence, affordable/workforce housing, and addressing our ailing schools.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “For all three, having all the stakeholders taking a collaborative approach and working together. I don’t think we take advantage of getting everyone to the table. Collaboration and people working together is the key to addressing these issues differently than what has been done before. I think the federal government needs to have a greater role in working with us around the issue of gun violence, affordable workforce housing, as well as our schools.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Looking at property assessments, to make sure the CIty is not overtaxing residents.
  • Incentives around affordable and workforce housing.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “We make decisions that have a direct impact on the quality of lives of the people here in the city of Philadelphia—from getting potholes filled, to making sure that people’s taxes aren’t pricing people out of their homes, to making sure our young people are getting a good education.

First and foremost I encourage everyone to vote. But also become a block captain, a local committee person, chair your local election board, join a local social activist organization like The Working Families Group or Reclaim, your local neighborhood association. Or I encourage people to run for office, get involved in civics and politics and make sure they have a say in what takes place in their neighborhood and in their city. Come down and visit City Council to observe the legislative process or provide input during a public comment. People’s voices matter.”

How to Contact Kenyatta Johnson

Jamie Gauthier, 3rd District, 1st Term

After graduating with a masters in City & Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, Jamie Gauthier joined the Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Coalition where she was an advocate for affordable housing. More recently she served as the executive director of the Sustainable Business Network and the Fairmount Park Conservancy. “I feel incredibly fortunate in terms of the experience I’ve been able to participate in,” she says. “I got to put critical grant dollars towards affordable housing at their earliest stages; I got to advocate for policy that would help locally-owned businesses; I got to build a park! I see my whole career as having been about helping residents shape their neighborhoods and their city.”

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Poverty, and related issues—affordable housing, public education, and crime.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on those issues? “I think we have not quite figured out how to change our systems in a way that will help people move up the ladder. We certainly haven’t gotten there in terms of how much people are able to make on the job and the benefits that they get. We’ve not gotten there from a public education perspective. Why? I think the people who most need that change don’t have the political power or the resources to change those systems. So they’re stuck with being served in a very fragmented way, in a way that hasn’t delivered the impact they really need.”

What types of legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Inclusive development
  • Supporting local, minority-owned businesses and bringing more local jobs to the district
  • Zoning and remapping; stronger inclusionary ordinance

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “What happens locally defines most of the things you experience in your everyday life, from the conditions of your streets to your rec center—whether you have parks, the condition of you school, your access to jobs. In Philly we’ve had an apathy around engaging in our local elections and I’m hoping to see that change. There are a million ways you can engage towards changing you your community on a day to day basis.”

Who’s your political hero? “Elizabeth Warren. I have long admired her (since her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) as a champion for working families. I find her to be smart, capable, and thoughtful, and I’m rooting for her success in 2020!”

How to Contact Jamie Gauthier:

Curtis Jones, 4th District, 3rd Term

Photo: City Council

Majority whip, Commerce and Economic Development Committee chair, Public Safety Committee chair

Curtis Jones represents parts of West and Northwest Philadelphia, where he grew up. He has a degree in accounting and a Master’s certificate in contract compliance. Jones, who is Muslim, introduced legislation that pushed the city and School District to acknowledge Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official municipal holidays. He serves on the Pennsylvania Crime & Delinquency Commission and Criminal Justice Advisory Board and has focused on criminal justice reform in his work on Council.

The good: Jones has done a lot of work in criminal justice reform, including helping to establish day reporting centers and diversion programs, and other efforts that led to the closing of the city’s House of Corrections.

The not-so-good: Jones used his Councilmanic Prerogative last year to ban marijuana dispensaries from eight commercial corridors in his West Philly district— a piecemeal approach to planning and development that benefits the few over the many.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Public safety, economic parity, and smart growth in the City of Philadelphia that does not displace long term residents.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “Education is the big equalizer. When you believe you have a future, you don’t want to risk your future with foolishness such as violence. And it’s the way to adjust poverty without just transferring it. You have trade schools right in Philadelphia that, if you don’t have a qualified workforce, you can grow one. We have to start thinking differently.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Digging down on affordable housing.
  • Addressing the school to prison pipeline, particularly in the 11 zip codes that produce 90 percent of the city’s inmates in state prison.
  • Authorizing in the city budget that for every dollar a department saves, 25 cents of that goes back to the department for further investment.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “So we failed as elected officials in this respect. We have not created a compelling argument to show that when people vote, they benefit. There’s a detachment between younger voters and them understanding—particularly millennials—that this process affects them directly. So we’ve got to do a better job of political education. You are 24/7 connected; you can share information, you can fact check, [you can] attend rallies.”

How to Contact Curtis Jones

Darrell Clarke, 5th District, 5th Term

Council President, Ethics Committee chair, Fiscal Stability and Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee chair

Darrell Clarke has represented a district that encompasses some of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods, in North Philadelphia, and some of its richest, in Center City, since 1999, when John Street became mayor. As Council President since 2012, he rivals the Mayor as the most powerful politician in the city, and has not had a challenger since 2011. As the year ended, Clarke vowed to tackle the city’s poverty rate, bringing it down from 25 percent to 20 percent—around 100,000 people—over the next four years.

The good: Clarke has pushed for housing reforms to help low-income residents, including the Philly First Home program, which helped nearly 900 families buy their first home in its first six months. He was also critical in establishing the Land Bank and the Philadelphia Energy Authority, and has at times curbed Mayor Kenney’s propensity for raising taxes.

The not-so-good: Clarke has the ability to stand in the way of change, as when he refused to schedule hearings in 2015 on the possible sale of Philadelphia Gas Works, which could have brought $1.8 billion to the city. Clarke is among the Councilpeople who contends every development project in his district should go through him, and last year he came under scrutiny for his role in ensuring land near Temple University was sold—below market rate—to real estate developer Shawn Bullard.

Clarke declined to speak to The Citizen for this piece.

How to Contact Darrell Clarke

Bobby Henon, 6th District, 3rd Term

Photo: Wikipedia

Public Property and Public Works Committee Chair

Bobby Henon, a friend and employee of indicted Electricians Union chief John Dougherty, has represented his Northeast district since 2012. In 2019, he himself was indicted on charges of using his office to embezzle from the Local 98 electricians union for personal use; his trial is scheduled for September. He has said he will not step down—and only one colleague, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez has called on him to do so—and ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Henon declined to speak to The Citizen for this piece.

The good: In partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Health Promotion Council, Henon launched Philly Play, a resource for low-cost healthy and active living that implements free physical programming at more than 60 rec centers across the city.

The not-so-good: The aforementioned indictment, which included allegations that Henon held up the installation of an MRI machine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia—twice—because CHOP was not using union labor to install it. (CHOP apparently stood to lose the warranty if anyone other than the manufacturer installed it.)

How to Contact Bobby Henon

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, 7th District, 4th Term

Appropriations Committee chair, Licenses and Inspections Committee chair, Special Committee on Poverty Prevention and Reduction co-chair

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez has represented the poorest district in the city, in North Philadelphia, since 2008, when she became the first Latina to serve as a district councilperson. She’s a former accountant, founding member of the Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition and worked as the regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. A controversial figure, she has won every race without the backing of the Democratic Party—making her the rare Philly pol who has never been part of the Democratic machine. She has said she is likely to run for mayor one day, perhaps 2023.

The good: Quiñones-Sánchez has been integral in pushing through bills that provide income-based payment plans for taxes and utilities, like TAP and OOPA, which can help keep people in their own homes.

The not-so-good: Quiñones-Sánchez is a loud supporter of Councilmanic Prerogative; her legislation that helped create the Land Bank in 2013 ensured that the unsavory practice that allows councilmembers to make development decisions on their own for their district would continue to be central to city land disposition.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “I think there is a recognition by the leadership in the City of Philadelphia that incremental change has not increased the quality of life for folks in the city and poverty and equity are important.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “I believe there are a lot of well-meaning people in the space in government. Obviously the mayor has placed a lot of emphasis on early education—and when you want to beat the cycle of generational poverty, that is huge—but that work is going to take [years]. The way I look at this is, how can we increase people’s incomes? How can we improve people’s access to benefit programs, safety net programs, job training? How do we increase their opportunities? And then how do you have the systems that we fund as a government create a business plan for themselves and evolve with the evolution of how we define poverty, and who are the people that we’re trying to impact?

Some of this stuff is federal; big cities cannot do all this work by themselves. We absolutely need a federal partner. There are some state level pieces because of Philadelphia’s uniformity [clause] and some other things. But if those pieces don’t move quick enough, which they never do, what can we do locally?

We talk about restorative justice, but in all of our safety kind of net programs there’s not this concentrated focus about how do we get people reunited with their families. Whether you’re in recovery, or returning citizen, whatever was broken in your system that led you to that, your lifetime journey should have someone you love in it, right? And it should create a space to repair that, right? The responses are always, we get no funding for that. And I ask, is that an important part of their journey? How do we create the space for this?”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Supporting some of the programs created when the city officially adopts the poverty plan.
  • Re-addressing all of the business tax reform registration, including a conversation about eliminating the City’s Net Profit Tax.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “When you’re out and about people are like, I only vote for presidential election. And I’m like, And he’s never going to come to your block. And here I am. For big cities like Philadelphia, having a partner on the federal level is hugely important. As local representatives, it’s making that tie-in between what we can do locally and what the federal government can and should be doing it. One of the problems—and I see this happening with a lot of the candidates—is that we are doing voter outreach, not engagement. Engagement means you have to sit down and let people tell you off. It is our job to listen and figure out how we use that to activate them in a more positive way, once they get through their anger. The more they do the smaller town halls, the more I hope this engagement [happens].”

How to Contact Maria Quiñones-Sánchez

Cindy Bass, 8th District, 3rd Term

Photo: City Council

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee chair; Public Health and Human Services Committee chair

Cindy Bass has been involved in local politics since she became a committee person and the president of her East Mount Airy Neighbors association. She worked for State Senator Allyson Schwartz and was the senior policy advisor on urban and domestic policy to former Congressman Chaka Fattah. (In 2016, Fattah was convicted on 23 counts of racketeering, fraud and other corruption charges, and is now serving a 10 year sentence.) Bass is among the councilmembers expected to put her hat in the ring for mayor in 2023.

The good: Though controversial, Bass pushed through the Stop and Go Bill—a law that clarifies licensing requirements for neighborhood convenience stores that sell booze and other “get-high” products, as Bass calls them, like over-the-counter-medicines and “crack pipes.”

The not-so-good: In 2018, Bass tried to ban day cares from her district, an example of Councilmanic Prerogative run amok that critics say stands in the way of strong economic development in the Northwest.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Crime; blight and trash; and education.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues?

Crime: “All these things are interconnected: If you’re born into a poor neighborhood, you go to a poorly funded school; if you go to a poorly funded school you get a poor education; if you get a poor education you’re only able to get a poor paying job; you get a poor paying job you have to live in a poor neighborhood. The same people who are committing crimes are the same people who are being shot, are the same people who are doing the shooting, are the same people who are on parole. The way you take people out of it is with a good paying job.”

Blight and trash: “Philadelphia needs two day trash pick-up period; what we have now is just unacceptable. We also need a roving trash crew to go through neighborhoods that are chronically dumped. The city should invest more in the streets department—another opportunity for viable employment for folks.”

Education: “Having 501 schools districts [in Pennsylvania] is to me what the big problem is. We have used the excuse of breaking up the school district as a way to segregate children and to not properly educate them, and to educate some over others. It’s just not acceptable. I think next year as we go into electing our state legislators, we need to be asking them what do you think about having one school district and what can you do to make that happen. We can’t do it alone, we have to do it as one collective, in my opinion.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term? “I don’t want to get into specifics—anything that we’re working on will be related to our committees, parks and rec and health and human services; and tax policy.”

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “All politics is local. We can’t sit around and say, when is the city going to put flowers in; when is the city going to beautify this corridor? These are our neighborhoods, we need to own them. We can’t sit around at our rec centers and say when is the city going to paint that rusty piece on the rec center? We need to join our advisory council and be a part of that and say, when are we going to have a spruce up day ourselves? We have plenty of neighborhood block parties and events; when are we going to do some of the work that needs to be done, for our kids and for our neighborhoods? There’s plenty to do. If people need something to do they should just call us and we’ll put them to work.”

How to Contact Cindy Bass

Cherelle Parker, 9th District, 2nd Term

Majority Leader, Labor and Civil Service Committee chair

After getting involved in public service as a teenager and working as a teacher, Cherelle Parker worked for Philadelphia City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco for 15 years. She was the youngest African-American woman elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where she served for 10 years. Parker is rumored to be considering a run for mayor in 2023.

The good: Parker has raised the alarm on the soda tax disproportionately affecting communities of color, established Power Up Your Business with Community College of Philadelphia, and developed Restore, Repair, Renew to help people purchase homes in her district.

The not-so-good: While a State Rep., Parker was arrested and charged with driving drunk and the wrong way on a one way street—she served 72 hours in jail, paid a $1,000 fine and lost her license for one year.

What are Philly’s most pressing issues? “Closing the gap between the haves and the have nots.”

What are the biggest barriers to making progress on these issues? “It’s job, jobs, and more jobs. One of the challenges facing the City of Philadelphia is that we have very limited revenue-generating capacity. I’m always saying to myself, “Why can’t we charge tax rates on property in the city of Philadelphia?” Well, we’ve got this crazy thing called the uniformity clause in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that prevents the city from taking advantage of an opportunity that almost every other big city in the nation has the authority to do: charge different tax rates on commercial versus residential properties.”

What legislation are you hoping to pass in the first two years of your next term?

  • Finding a way to create jobs that are pro-business and pro-worker.
  • Continued work on neighborhood stabilization and preservation.

Why and how should Philadelphians pay attention to local politics? “I would argue that City Council local government is the closest form of government to the people. Everything that impacts your life from death to birth is a part of local government.

You have to pay attention to the budget process. I always learned that, with any executive that’s proffering a budget, if you want to know what their priorities are don’t listen to what they say—look at the budget. Those line items translate into values and what’s important. We’re dealing with a 5 billion dollar budget here in the city of Philadelphia, a budget you can come advocate about that’s only a subway ride or train ride away from your house. So if you want a say, get engaged.”

How to Contact Cherelle Parker

Brian O’Neill, 10th District, 11th Term

Photo: Twitter

Technology and Information Services Committee chair, Minority Leader

Republican Brian O’Neill, until now the minority leader on Council, is more or less a lifer: He’s represented the Northeast neighborhoods of Bustleton, Somerton, Pennypack and Parkwood since 1979, and held off the first viable challenge this year from Democrat Judy Moore. He is known for his deep constituent services, with four offices scattered throughout his district. He is past president of the National League of Cities and the Pennsylvania Municipal League. Immediately following the election, the other Republican on Council, David Oh, said he would not vote for O’Neill for minority leader—which may leave the spot open.

O’Neill declined to speak with The Citizen for this piece.

The good: In an increasingly progressive one-party town, O’Neill is a stalwart Republican, representing the most Republican-heavy part of the city. He doesn’t have a lot of power as one of few alternate voices in local politics—but he does represent a bit of political diversity.

The not-so-good: O’Neill is chairman of the controversial Philadelphia Activities Fund, a discretionary fund that members can direct to community organizations in their districts—but that worked in secrecy and without its tax exempt status until media reports this year. And last term, he used Councilmanic Prerogative to push through a ban on food carts in his part of the far Northeast, and to ban roof decks in his district. (The Planning Commission forced a 45-day delay, which effectively killed the roof deck bill last term, though O’Neill could bring it back in 2020.)

How to Contact Brian O’Neill

 

Corrections: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Council member Gym had stated that she would back Council member Henon for another term as Majority Leader. 

Header photo courtesy Jared Piper / Philadelphia City Council

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