Possible voters packed the pews of Germantown’s First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday night to watch seven candidates vying to replace outgoing 8th District City Councilwoman Donna Reed-Miller debate how best to create jobs in a diverse district stretching from Nicetown-Tioga to Chestnut Hill, the Martin Luther King High School controversy, state public-education funding cuts and DROP.
Some took direct aim at Cindy Bass who lost by 5 percent in 2007 but has been publicly endorsed by Mayor Michael Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, for whom the 43-year-old Mt. Airy resident works as senior policy advisor for urban and domestic policy.
A common theme was changing a culture where the council member is seemingly disengaged from the community, as well as a sense that private meetings between elected officials, developers and others dictate the district’s future. The vacant supermarket at Chelten and Pulaski avenues was a symbol in conversations before the debate.
Greg Paulmier said the owner of a Shop-Rite sold because he was getting “shaken down” by elected officials. Weavers Way had interest in the location, but “Dwight came in with his posse and turned it into a Fresh Grocer, which was run so poorly that it closed [last February]. … Now there’s a proposal to turn it into a strip mall with a Save-A-Lot. We already have strip malls. We already have a Save-A-Lot.”
“People understand how important integrity and independence is, but there’s not a lot of faith in it being there right now,” Howard Treatman added.
In their words
Here are what the six non-frontrunners had to say about why they’re in the race, the endorsed frontrunner, and outgoing incumbent Donna Reed-Miller’s failure to communicate with residents. Durham, Tasco and Tyner’s responses came at Wednesday night’s debate at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.
Bill Durham, 55, Germantown; LaSalle University’s community relations liaison, Democratic committeeperson, Democratic State Committee district chair and sergeant-of-arms:
Over 15 years, I’ve seen that the politicans are not working for the community. My experience and knowledge will help change that. We need to develop at a pace consistent with the growth of our communities. We have to reform the educational programs. [My top priority] is public safety. There’s a perception that there’s always going to be a [backroom] deal made.
[To spur development] we have some housekeeping that needs to be done in the district. (He recommended tax-free designation or tax-break status to parlay the historical areas in the district into tourist attractions). We have to do more to work with them and when we do, people will want to come here.
Listing his major platform items as economic development, education and jobs, Durham said he’s against term limits because “you’re not going to be able to do [anything to effect change] unless you do it in the long-term.”
I’ve worked in politics for 15 years, and easily could have had politicians dancing around me also, but I chose not to.
Andrew Lofton, 45, Mt. Airy; supervisor with the Urban Affairs Coalition:
At end of the day, voters go into the polls and make the decision who they elect to represent them. The endorsement needs to come from the people, not from elected officials or “people in the know,” so to speak. When folks make that decision, if they vote for who is going to have their best interest at heart. If they do that, I believe I’ll be that. If they want the same as usual, I won’t.
The needs, the quality-of-life of the community, were not addressed adequately by current representation, and it’s unlikely that they will be addressed if the district goes with individuals backed by political structure. I’m an individual who’s not tied to existing structure, an independent voice, what I like to call “the people’s voice,” and I have understanding because of my work with individuals in the community.
I’ve been working in non-profit environment for 15 yrs. Ult 20 plus years. Homeless programs. Welfare to Work. Working with community youth. I understand what goes into these programs from real-life on-the-job type training.
I bring a fresh perspective on things that have been overlooked or not taken care of.
Old school politics are tied to old school ideas. You can’t tax our way out of a problem; people are already overtaxed. With 25 percent poverty, how can you tax that? You have to create new revenue streams.
While there are citywide issues, there was the lack a lot of at the council office. They’re supposed to be the distributor of who gets what in the district. Gtwn Settlement, money went to that, that happened with knowledge of council. Closing of the Fresh Grocer. No engagement with community. You’re supposed to be conduit of info to comm. That hasn’t been done.
Greg Paulmier, 52, Germantown; Housing specialist, revitalizing abandoned properties:
Donna Miller was supported by the mayor. Cindy Bass has a lot of what Donna Miller’s got. Very connected to the establishment. This has been the problem for the district in past 16 years, [the councilperson was] connected more to establishment rather than working for what the voters and taxpayers want. Voters deserve to be connected to the council members directly rather than indirectly. Donna Reed Miller got in on Dave Richardson’s coattails, and Cindy Bass has talked a lot about connections to Chaka Fattah. I’ll get in with the endorsement of the people.
In a large part of district, the issue is economic development and jobs; schools, good public schools; and safe neighborhoods. It’s business districts that are thriving both for the businesses and the consumers that use them.
I’ve been running for this position for 12 years; my fourth try. Cindy challenged petitions last time, which is why I finished last. Had to go to the Supreme Court and because of my case, candidates can get back on quicker. It shows my commitment, my willingness to not give up
In 15 minutes, I can take you around the district and show you all the things I’ve accomplished here in 32 years. She can just talk about who she knows.
Robin Tasco, 45, Germantown; Certified electrician, lone female business agent in the building trades:
This district deserves someone else besides a puppetmaster. [My priorities are] green jobs and education. I’m out in the streets talking to people. They want transparency with integrity.
I already went against big businesses with the union. I’m no-nonsense. Fighting is all I know. I don’t need the endorsement of anybody else except the voters. Because I’m not beholden to anybody, I can say what people thinking but haven’t been able to say.
Howard Treatman, 49, Germantown; real-estate developer:
The issue is jobs, and empty storefronts, vacant properties as economic development is concerned are connected. That’s good for me because of my investment and development background. I think I’m the only candidate with a comprehensive economic development plan.
Germantown Settlement is a symptom of what’s wrong. A slew of elected officials who made sure they got public funds, but now we have Germantown buildings that once housed Settlement sitting vacant with a line of creditors waiting at bankruptcy court. Years, 10 or more, of wasted opportunity. That is exactly what’s wrong.
Up and down district, people seem to respond to that message. Job insecurity exists in all neighborhoods, maybe not typical in the past.
City Council, City Hall, all over the city, people do not see it as a source of solutions. that it can be a source of energy, of ideas, to move the city few. That’s what I want. That is a new vision, and [one benefit of DROP] is that we can have a critical mass of fresh and independent [people and ideas] on City Council. That’s a major reason why I stepped up at this moment.
My vision of district councilperson is a person actively engaged with the groups and individuals who want to effect positive change. They’re looking for someone who will hear, and fight for, them. That activist vision is not what we’ve had for the past 16 years.
We’ve knocked on 10K doors; my wife and I alone 2K. We ask people where they are on City Council race. Nobody has thought about this race yet. We’re that first impression.
There’s a world of people paying attention; then there’s the world of the voters. I think that in a low-interest election, and it amazes me that it is a low-interest election, nobody has it sewn up. Who over the next three weeks reaches those voters? Inside the “endorsement dome,” it may seem like a foregone conclusion, but it’s not. We’ve got resources to reach people that others don’t. Looking for not beholden to machine and independent integrity, that’s why I’m strong.
Verna Tyner, 51, Tioga; former Chief of Staff to Council Members Bill Greenlee and David Cohen, community organizer:
I’ve lived in the same neighborhood, on the same street, for 40-plus years and have been active in my community just as long. All the experience of working in the community, caring about the community, 16 years of City Council experience will help to make a difference. [My priorities] are economics and jobs.
In regards to term limits, she said, “All that wisdom died with [late former City Councilman] David Cohen, but I knew there were little David Cohen’s lurking out there” waiting for a chance to serve.
I’ve gone against the [political establishment] when they didn’t want me to. That’s probably why I didn’t get the endorsement of the mayor.