Reclaim Philadelphia Steering Committee 2nd round recommendations!

Yesterday, 1,200+ Philadelphians joined us at the People’s Forum and reaffirmed that this primary season offers an opportunity to redefine city politics and reshape the political landscape into one that works for all of us. Candidates for municipal and state superior court positions, all seventeen City Council seats, and the offices of the commissioners, the sheriff, register of wills, and the mayor will face the most galvanized electorate in decades. Over the last two years, the ascendance of Larry Krasner to the District Attorney’s office, and Elizabeth Fiedler to state representative in South Philadelphia — to say nothing of the record turnout for the 2018 general election — point to the immense power of an organized progressive majority. But we also know that wealthy forces on the right are ready to defend their power and fight this majority tooth and nail.

Philadelphia’s City Council is the most powerful governing body of this municipality. Its members have the ability to further the goals of our movement. But more often than not, they have catered to corporate interests that hold us back. This year, we have the opportunity to change that.

To advance the people’s agenda on mass liberation, workers’ rights, gender justice, and community control over development, Reclaim Philadelphia’s Steering Committee believes we must elect candidates with a history of political integrity, who will seek the backing of social movements and who will be fearless in fighting for their values. Reclaim Philadelphia’s Steering Committee is excited to build upon our previous endorsements for City Council and recommend additional candidates to our membership for endorsement. Previously, our membership voted to endorse three movement candidates: Erika Almiron and Councilperson Helen Gym for Council At Large and Tonya Bah for the 8th Council District.

We believe the City Council candidates we are putting forward for endorsement have shown, through their questionnaire responses and their work that they deserve the support of Reclaim Philadelphia’s membership.

Our questionnaire was created in a democratic process by our leaders who have been deeply involved in both issue and electoral work. We sent our questionnaire to all candidates declared or rumored to be running for City Council At-Large and District Council. Candidates had two weeks to respond. Twenty-seven candidates returned questionnaires! You can find those responses here.

Our Steering Committee, organizers and electoral leaders reviewed all questionnaire responses. We also met with many candidates in person to ask probing questions about their values, vision for the world, political priorities and strategy.

After this extensive process, Steering Committee is now recommending that our membership vote to endorse Ethelind Baylor, Isaiah Thomas and Justin DiBerardinis for City Council At Large. The Steering Committee is also recommending that our membership make no endorsement in the 2nd and 3rd Council District. These recommendations join previous recommendations to endorse Councilperson Helen Gym, Erika Almiron and Tonya Bah - which membership affirmed with their vote! Steering Committees’ logic behind these recommendations is detailed below.

All monthly dues-paying members of Reclaim Philadelphia are able to cast their votes online now! Voting will end on April 1, 2019. If you would like to cast your vote but are not currently a dues-paying member of Reclaim Philadelphia you can become a member by contributing monthly dues here.

Justin DiBerardinis

Justin DiBerardinis is the rare candidate who unites critical reforms to how City Council governs with a solidly progressive platform that would make those reforms count for the most exploited Philadelphians. Regarding land disposition, he seeks to end councilmember prerogative, while outlining a program that would end the abatement on market-rate housing and create incentives for affordable housing and preservation. His ambitious tax reform would give relief to thousands of working class residents, while also shifting the focus to elusive suburban corporations and nonprofits, thereby increasing revenues to the city. His priorities include a significant expansion of public sector hiring, especially in Philadelphia public schools. He has one of the strongest environmental justice platforms of any candidate, with a clear commitment to transitioning the city away from fossil fuels. His experience working as a legislative aide to Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, as well as his work helping to turn Bartram’s Gardens from a Colonial-era curiosity into one of the city’s most integrated green spaces, suggest he has the policy acumen to be a major progressive ally on Philadelphia City Council.

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has a proven record of public service and keen insight into the problems that face Philadelphia schools. Building on the strong experience he received as an Associate Dean of the Sankofa school, which is an African Centered  institution, he has dedicated his life to student mentorship and a wide range of advocacy for communities of color. He co-founded the Thomas & Woods foundation and worked as the director of community affairs for the City Controller. But beyond this resume Reclaim Philadelphia’s Steering Committee recommends Isaiah because his values and priorities strongly align with Reclaim Philadelphia’s, including his deep commitment to funding our neighborhood schools, and his understanding of and dedication to countering the impact mass incarceration has had on our city. Particularly, his focus on transforming the lives of the youth in Philadelphia speaks to the root causes of the structural problems that our city faces. Thomas has an inspiring vision of a powerful multiracial working class supported by the city’s labor movement and social movements. We believe that Isaiah Thomas will be a critical voice for working people on City Council.

Ethelind Baylor

Ethelind Baylor has shown Philadelphia how she can lead through her many years of labor and movement organizing. Baylor is the Vice President of DC47, and she is a steering committee member of 215 People’s Alliance and the Coalition for Affordable Communities. She has consistently shown a commitment to both the labor movement and grassroots movements in Philadelphia. Baylor is committed both to an expansion of the public sector and to a radical change in racist hiring practices by the city, a phenomenon she understands from personal experience. Her vision of the labor movement is one that highlights social justice for poor and working people of color—a vision that desperately needs a foothold in the Chamber of Commerce-ridden halls of Philadelphia City Council. She also brings an advanced understanding of housing justice, and the mechanisms needed to increase access to shelter to the thousands of Philadelphians who need it. Steering Committee is excited to see how her depth and breadth of experience will be carried into Council.

3rd City Council District

Reclaim Philadelphia’s Steering Committee recommends no endorsement for the 3rd District City Council race.

Reclaim Philadelphia’s Steering Committee does not believe that either candidate running for the 3rd District seat will fight for people-over-profit. In some respects, Gauthier represents a fresh and appealing vision for the district, with a training in urban planning and service to the park system. Initially opposed to a moratorium on charter expansion and ending the tax abatement, she has shifted on these issues. Still, Gauthier’s vision for the  district chiefly involves mechanisms that would magnify the already existing inequality in investment and opportunity. She has understated the extent to which the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel fuel gentrification, and despite being involved in the past efforts to fund affordable housing, has offered few specifics on how she would pursue housing justice as a councilperson. Her most detailed proposal for improving schools points to “friends-of” groups—a private, not public, source of funding, which in many respects has magnified existing inequalities among schools. Regarding criminal justice reform, her stated support for DA Larry Krasner is welcome, but she offers no policies, instead making vague promises of supporting “community-driven solutions.”  She betrays little connection with, or understanding of, the labor movement, and otherwise has no social movement relationships. In general, her ideas for remediating the district’s poverty and inequality do not attack its root causes.

Councilperson Blackwell, unfortunately, has not been an ally. She was responsible for tabling discussion on ending the ten-year tax abatement, and her decisions on land use in the 3rd District have been at once arbitrary and harmful, helping to foster the ever-increasing income inequality facing West Philadelphia. Most recently her failure to repudiate her advisor who has threatened sexual violence on members of our community demonstrates a dangerous and oppressive failure in leadership. Additionally, she did not return Reclaim Philadelphia’s questionnaire and is not able to be considered for endorsement.

Reclaim Philadelphia is clear that reform and new solutions are necessary as we move towards true positive change in Philadelphia, yet those solutions must be based on shifting power and resources to our most marginalized communities. Because both candidates offer old and new ways to continue the oppression and displacement of our communities, we are not recommending a candidate for the 3rd district council seat.

2nd City Council District

Kenyatta Johnson’s tenure in City Council since 2011 has been both transformative and troubled. On labor rights, he has been a brave ally. Thanks to his leadership and UniteHere!, workers at Philadelphia’s stadiums have maintained some of the better contracts in the city; at the airport, he supported the unionization of over a thousand workers, in the teeth of fierce lobbying from the airlines. He was a staunchly reliable vote on Fair Workweek and raising the minimum wage for municipal contractors. These policies have benefited working people, primarily working people of color, across the city. Still, gentrification in his district has been fierce, and despite his vote in favor of the tax on new construction to fund the housing trust fund, Johnson’s leadership on this score has been mixed. Recent revelations that he helped in turning city land over to a preferred developer are part of a larger lack of honesty regarding development politics in his district. He has also been a supporter of the proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility in South Philadelphia, throwing into doubt his commitment to environmental justice.

Lauren Vidas entered the race on commitments of transparency and openness, but her history belies the integrity of her promises. Describing herself on more than one occasion as a former Obama campaign staffer, her more salient history is as a paid lobbyist for the Philadelphia Energy Solutions/Sunoco refinery in Southwest Philly and for the American Beverage Association—an unsavory set of clients. She is explicitly running on housing justice, but her housing proposals for the district are a mixed bag. On the one hand, she wants to expand the city’s existing inclusionary zoning, and to increase the number of federal housing voucher eligible units. On the other, she proffers the usual market-urbanist dogma of strategic “upzoning” in order to create bigger market-rate developments that increase the supply of housing, and therefore (supposedly) reducing prices—but the history of such moves in cities like New York and Chicago, suggest that these have the effect of accelerating displacement, particularly when they take place in gentrifying neighborhoods such as the Second District’s Point Breeze. She is supportive of Community Land Trusts but vague on the mechanisms of using her office to support their creation. On pressing issues such as rent control or stabilization, she has had little to say. Additionally, Vidas did not return Reclaim Philadelphia’s questionnaire and is ineligible to be considered for endorsement.  

Steering Committee's Recommendations: 

Council At Large: Endorse Ethelind Baylor, Isaiah Thomas and Justin DiBerardinis

2nd Council District: No Endorsement

3rd Council District: No Endorsement

All monthly dues-paying members of Reclaim Philadelphia are able to cast their votes online now! Voting will end on April 1, 2019. If you would like to cast your vote but are not currently a dues-paying member of Reclaim Philadelphia you can become a member by contributing monthly dues here.

Together, we will make Philadelphia work for all of us!

Kelly Morton