It’s said sometimes that the only way to find out what people really think about you would be to attend your own wake – after the first round of drinks has been drained.
Candidates for City Council in Philadelphia’s Eighth Council District are having that experience while still very much alive – whether they enjoy it or not.
During NewsWorks’ Eyes on the Eighth community forums on the race, voters are asked by their group moderators to play a quick word association game.
The names of each of the seven candidates in the Democratic primary get called out one by one, and voters shout out the first words or phrases that come to mind.
“It’s humbling,” said candidate Greg Paulmier, who attended the first two of the three forums. “But it’s important to hear.”
The final forum is Tuesday night at the Commodore Barry Club in Mount Airy; doors open at 6 p.m, activities at 6:30 p.m., the forum at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and prizes given.
So what adjectives and phrases clustered around each candidate during free association time at the first two events?
Let’s start with Paulmier: “Persistent. Stubborn. Grass roots. Family man. Honest. Perennial candidate. Pleaser. Extremely emotional. Limited.”
Paulmier stared a long time at the list of words next to his name both nights; he said he was happy to see the word “persistent,” since that’s the notion trumpeted on his campaign literature.
Now for the person regarded as the likely front-runner, Cindy Bass, who finished second to Donna Reed Miller, the retiring incumbent, in 2007.
Each night the same name popped up when Bass’ name was mentioned: “Chaka Fattah.” People know that Bass is a staffer for the congressman, and a key player on his political team. Other associations for her: “Effective PR. Money. Gets her hustle on (in a good way). Intelligent. Bourgeois. Helpful. Puppet. Connected. Should have won. Devious.”
Andrew Lofton and Bill Durham each elicited a response to make a campaign manager sink his head into his hands: “Don’t know him.”
A few knew that Lofton, a Mount Airy resident who works with the Urban Affairs Coalition, is very active in youth sports. Several knew to associate Durham with La Salle University, where he is community liaison. He was credited as “old head” with the “gift of gab,” but triggered a split decision between “hard worker” and “lack of follow-through.” But neither man moved the meter in the way other candidates did.
Robin Tasco, a former electricians’ union staffer from Germantown, doesn’t suffer from the same lack of name recognition. Everybody knows her surname- but only because Marian Tasco, a distant in-law, is the long-time councilwoman from the next district over, the Ninth.
“Wrong name, wrong time,” was the curt judgment of one voter, noting that Marian Tasco hasn’t won friends by doggedly hanging onto to her Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) payment. Others noted that Robin Tasco was “energetic” and a “labor leader.”
Not too many people knew a lot about real estate developer Howard Treatman, who is active with Mount Airy USA and the Germantown Jewish Centre. But those who knew anything about him knew one thing: He has “lots of money.” He also was described as “skillful,” “concerned,” and “self-financing.”
Finally, Verna Tyner clearly is well-known to people who track what’s going on in the district, which stretches through Northwest Philadelphia along Germantown Avenue from Nicetown and Tioga to Chestnut Hill. A long-time aide to the late at-large Councilman David Cohen, then to Councilman Bill Greenlee, she was credited by participants with being “established,” “committed,” “willing to work hard,” “humble,” and “grass roots.” She also was knocked by others as a “puppet,” “insider” and “old school politics.”
The forums also give people a chance to identify qualities they seek in the next Eighth District Council representative, the issues they want to see addressed and the questions they’d like to see candidates answer during the campaign, including at the concluding event of the Eyes on the Eighth project, a debate on April 27 at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.
Below you will find listed the reports on the breakout sessions at the first two forums that were filed by the moderators who led the discussions. Each moderator is affiliated with the Penn Project on Civic Engagement, a NewsWorks partner.
Report – Group 1
Tuesday, March 22, First United Methodist Church of Germantown
Moderators: Ellen Greenberg and Jeff Branch
Description of the group (demographics and neighborhood breakdown):
8 men (2 were candidates present in the beginning and then asked to leave by the participants when they did the name association exercise)
14 people from Germantown
2 people from Mount Airy
2 people from Logan
Most of the participants appeared to be over 50
Approximately 3 participants appeared to under 50 (in their 30’s or 40’s)
Excluding the candidates:
List of qualities/traits sought in Councilperson:
Open and transparent
Focused on impact for young people
Focuses on enhancing the safety f neighborhoods
Reducing and eliminating drugs and prostitution
Candidate vision is evident
Communicates a positive direction and bright future
Candidates, win or lose, will work together as community leaders
Will utilize town hall format to engage constituents and communicate results of plans and actions
Effective as a leader by delivering results
Committed to the community on every level
Focuses on leveraging and engaging community organizations
Civic intentioned – intentionally focused on community engagement
Appreciates and leverages the uniqueness and distinction of diverse neighborhoods
Emphasis and acknowledgement of importance of block captains
Ability to resist influence of big business
The issues the group thought important.:
Look at what’s working and what’s not working in the schools
Look at teachers, principals/leadership
Create economic opportunities
Moratorium on halfway houses
Create economic opportunities (more viable for businesses to come in)
Open up offices within the community – communicate with people in the community (customer service and people skills needed)
Representation from all of the neighborhoods to get a complete list of all concerns (come together)
Round up CDC’s and come up with a comprehensive development plan for the entire NW regions (minimize competition)
Figure out how to raise money for city services without taking it off of the backs of regular people
Work to address lack of jobs in the community
Develop priorities (i.e. education) and stick to them (results)
Make sure all of the communities are educated about the importance of voting
Build relationships with allies to get things passed (build coalitions)
Equitable look at neighborhood schools (High schools – Germantown and Logan) (4 votes)
Strength of diversity (all aspects) (4 votes)
Recognize diversity of the different neighborhoods
Understand the rules and laws passed in council (3 votes)
Listen to grass roots community – stay engaged (3 votes)
Utilize the expertise of others in other places – recognize that he/she needs continued learning (2 votes)
Respect for communities (there’s power within communities) (2 votes)
Full transparency (2 votes)
Be accountable for the power you yield (1 vote)
City-wide and district-wide vision (i.e. school budget cuts) (1 vote)
Development: look at city departments that have authority and enforcement (need to carry out laws fairly and equitably – community and investors) (1 vote)
Corruption and nepotism (1 vote)
The questions developed for the candidates:
Issue: Communication process with the community
How do you plan to demonstrate accountability while in office?
How will you choose effective and accountable staff?
What are your plans to remedy the lack of and need for neighborhood offices?
How do you plan to open up and maintain lines of communication between council, ward leaders and the community?
Issue: Creating opportunities within the community (i.e. economic and job opportunities)
What is the economic plan for the city that you would develop and support and how can the 8th District be a part of this?
How can you leverage from all levels of government and private capital to create jobs and economic opportunities in and for our community?
How can Philadelphia create a tax structure that is conducive to small business development?
How do you restructure and/or encourage local participation in new construction and rehabilitation in neighborhoods?
What new or creative ideas for funding projects do you have that would create jobs and business opportunities in Philadelphia and in Northwest Philadelphia?
Group 2 – First United Methodist Church of Germantown
Moderators: Cassandra Georges and Bryan McHale
1 from Olney
1 from West Mt. Airy
2 from East Mt. Airy
8 from Germantown
2 White men
4 Black Women
6 Black Men
Qualities/Traits sought in Councilperson:
Available to the Public
Diligent about Job Creation
Community-based / Grounded
Redevelop Germantown Town Hall (10 votes)
Streamline City Services (6 votes)
Two-way Communication with Councilperson (11 votes)
Education (12 votes)
Promote Local / Diverse Business (10 votes)
Consolidate / Coordinate a single plan/vision for the neighborhoods (1 vote)
Educate the public on how to get to government funding and improve the accountability on how that money is spent. (6 votes)
Restructure taxation in the city (4 votes)
Questions for Candidates, by Issue:
What would be your plan to bring or develop local business?
How would you reestablish Germantown as a classic, historical town?
What would be your plan to diversify the Germantown business corridor?
How do you envision utilizing the Germantown community residents in the redevelopment process?
How do you ensure that one entity does not get all of the funding or bidding opportunities?
How would you give control of the School District back to the local residents of the city?
How would you hold school administrators and teachers accountable for improving the education system?
How would you lead a change in funding formula to give equal funding to educating Philadelphia kids with statewide amounts?
How will you improve the communication with the community in regards to the percentage of distribution of funds per organization?
For projects proposed in the community, how will you get the word out regarding the start of the project and the details of it?
Do you intend to have an office in the 8th district, and if so what’s your opinion on using the Germantown Town-hall as your anchor location?
If you had the opportunity to redevelop the Germantown Town-hall, how would you do it and what would it look like?
Monday, March 28, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church
Moderators: Loretta Raider and Ellen Greenberg
Description of your group (demographics and neighborhood breakdown):
Germantown – 5 people (2 people identified as being from Southwest Germantown, 1 from lower Germantown and 1 from East Germantown)
Olney – 1 person
Logan – 1 person
Wister – 1 person
Mt Airy – 3 people
Chestnut hill – 3 people
7 women, 8 men
3 Caucasian women
4 African-American women
8 African-American men
Everyone appeared to be over 40
List of qualities/traits sought in Council person:
Willingness to open Real Estate so it’s not a closed system
Open to different communities
Connector – pulls things together
Leader not a follower
Not tied into the same political machinery
Professional – research, homework, analysis, gets good advice
Lead the charge – business corridor
The issues your group thought important – i.e. all that got votes – and why.
Issue # Votes
1. System of Accountability 10
“We need to address corruption in the city.”
2. Zoning 10
3. Decentralize Office of the 8th 7
The group felt that decentralization would result in
increased services and accessibility as well as improved
4. Parks and Recreation 6
“Equalize funds for every community to support youth.”
5. Facilitate Affordable Housing 5
6. Improve Quality Education 5
“We need to fight to get back control of Education from the
state.” “ Let’s increase the number of graduates from our high
schools.” “Go after money owed from the Parking Authority.”
7. Term Limits 5
8. Communicate Early and Often 3
“We want to see a process that is transparent and includes
all stakeholders (youth, seniors etc.).” Monthly town hall
meetings, e-mails, newsletters were suggested methods.
9. Alternatives to Incarceration 3
The discussion focused on the need for an advocate. One person made the statement that people who have committed non-violent crimes should not be incarcerated.
10. Communicate Early and Often 3
The group discussion included the idea of creating a
2-way communication process that would provide much needed transparency and the inclusion of all stakeholders (youth, seniors etc.)
Monthly town hall meetings, e-mails and newsletters were
suggested communication approaches.
11. Liaison for Communication 2
“We need someone to bridge communication with foreign
12. Unify the District 2
13. Public Safety 2
“We need safe neighborhoods so people want to come to our
14. Positive 2
The main theme for this issue was strong support for ending
all of the negativity and the need to create a positive climate, as well as to emphasize the positive things that have and do happen.
15. Reentry of Ex-Offenders 2
There is a clear need to talk to individuals, educate and provide
them with information so they are aware of their rights as voters.
16. 17. Drop Program 1
“This program should not be for elected officials, we
can’t afford it.” There was also discussion about whether or not city workers should be a part of the program.
17. Zoning and Enforcement 1
“We need more healthy eating options, more businesses
from the community for the community.”
The questions developed for the candidates (by issue)
1. What plans do you have to keep the community informed on the Council District budget allocations and how and where those dollars are spent?
2. How will you organize your time to attend community meetings?
1. Please explain the current zoning structure and how it impacts our diverse community.
2. What plans do you have to gather community input on all development/zoning/legislative issues before giving your approval?
3. How do you plan on enforcing the current zoning overlays to protect the historical integrity of our community?
Parks and Recreation:
1. How do appropriated funds get allocated to all properties?
2. How do we ensure accountability in the use of money?
3. How will Council engage with the communities to meet and realize authentic needs?
4. Define relative roles of Parks and Recreation personnel and police.