Sometimes, even during an election season, politics come second.
Two weeks before the Eighth District City Council election she’s favored to win, Cindy Bass was scheduled to sit down at Wired Beans, the Germantown Avenue coffee shop which essentially serves as her campaign headquarters, to talk about the race.
The night’s schedule already included a couple events, most notably a listening-tour stop with residents of Nicetown/Tioga (she’d field questions about DROP, a nuisance slaughterhouse, trash-strewn properties and more) and a Democratic ward meeting in outgoing Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s neighborhood (it’d be over before she could get there).
It was the unexpected stop that was on Bass’ mind when she arrived for the interview in a shop surrounded by “Vote Bass” signs.
A painful detour
A family friend had been killed in Germantown the previous weekend and she had to head over to West Philadelphia for the viewing. She chose not to reschedule the interview, inviting a reporter to ask his questions during the ride to Price Funeral Home at 43rd and Wallace streets.
“It’s a welcomed distraction,” she said.
The man being mourned was shot in the head and robbed of his wallet, cell phone, sneakers and rental car that would later be found across Germantown. He was part of a family that was there for Bass when her mother passed away. It wasn’t an easy night, with piercing wails of mourning at the funeral home and an investigator calling her with an update.
On the drive across town, Bass compartmentalized. She spoke about how residents felt overwhelmed, and how a cycle of poverty, senseless violence, under-education and lack of quality jobs feeds into that.
“Everywhere we go, people feel neglected. They say they feel like they don’t have the opportunity to have a say, that [government] is not responsive, that they pay taxes and things aren’t getting better,” she said.
Comfortable with big picture
When she talks, it’s easy to tell she’s been U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s senior policy advisor on urban and domestic policy. In saying she’d rather focus on positives rather than negatives, she points to the new produce terminal, a “postage-stamp” sized airport being able to handle so much traffic, opportunities arising from being an “eds and meds” hub and rejuvenating schools like Simon Gratz High.
“But, the 30-percent poverty rate holds the whole city hostage,” she said. “We pay a price for that.”
These are big-picture thoughts for someone fighting to be elected to represent one of 10 City Council districts, and as one of 17 representatives. The conversation turned to the Chelten Plaza drama, and a separate discussion about small businesses in the district, particularly those that exploit – rather than engage – the community.
Bass recalled that, while growing up in North Philadelphia, her family came to Germantown to shop. She’s happy that there is development. Asked about the class underpinnings of the Chelten Plaza issue, she notes that there have to be places for lower-income residents, the ones who can’t afford Whole Foods and the ones who represent a large swath of her potential district, to shop for groceries. Their voice isn’t being widely heard, though, she said.
Then, she addressed beer-vending delis with Plexiglas inside and businesses at which the proprietors lower their metal grates and flee to the suburbs at 6 p.m.
“It’s frustrating that we’re seeing the same sorts of businesses come in over and over again,” said Bass, who finished second to Reed Miller in 2007. The commercial district “looks horrible. There’s no place to engage the community right now. We just can’t have more of the same. … Let’s call [nuisance businesses] on it. I’ll be the first to knock on their door and tell them whatever they’re doing isn’t working.”
Nothing for granted
She told potential voters that she’d have a person on her staff dedicated to recruiting small-business entreprenuers willing to “fit into the fabric” of what they expect their community to be. She said that includes being more visible in the community, via regular meetings and district offices, than her predecessor.
Though Bass said she’s not taking anything for granted – she notes that Green Party opponent Brian Rudnick has run before and is advertising on television – she has attended incoming Council “boot camp” with other potential newcomers. She sees great things happening on Council thanks to all the new blood coming in.
“It’s difficult, because I can tell voters that all I want, but there’s so much cynicism out there,” she said. “I just have to show them that they can have the community they want, but they have to fight for it.”