It’s the morning after Donna Reed Miller appeared at her last City Council meeting. Her successor, Cindy Bass, has arrived at Wired Beans – the Germantown Avenue coffee shop that served as her ad hoc campaign headquarters – to talk about the future of the Eighth District.
She’s not feeling 100 percent in a way that those with youngsters who sometimes bring the sniffles home from day care would understand.
A day earlier, Reed Miller said she had no idea what Bass’s plans were for the district, potentially an effect of not paying attention to the campaign itself. Bass, who notes Reed Miller’s “history and legacy as an advocate on behalf of the voiceless,” would spend an hour doing exactly that.
The conversation starts with Bass talking about a recent trip to the state prison at Graterford. Her takeaway: Poverty, subpar educational opportunities and lack of jobs combine to grease too many city residents’ path to becoming a prison lifer.
“They’re intermingled,” she says of the problems that crop up throughout the district. They’re also big-picture societal woes for which one of 17 people serving on Philadelphia City Council can’t craft an re-election accomplishments “one-sheet.”
While Bass says she’ll come out of the gate with bills and legislative proposals, she won’t get specific about them quite yet. What she’ll talk about before her Jan. 2 swearing-in ceremony is a willingness to look city- and nationwide for models that could address local woes and “bring people to the table.”
Accessibility right off the bat
A common complaint about her predecessor – and about politics in general these days – is that people feel disconnected and not part of the process. It comes up often when talking about the Eighth District, and Bass says she has specific ideas about changing the perception that residents are left out.
“There is a long, long history of organizations, groups who have been frustrated for a very long time,” she said. “What happens next is we’re going to do everything we can to change that. You hear that throughout the district, but you hear it throughout every district. Everybody feels neglected, that they’re not a priority. We hear them. We listen to them. And we understand them.”
How will that manifest itself? Community forums. Focus groups. Meetings with people financially and civically invested in the business corridors. An interactive website on which Bass could do live chats and field questions from constituents (which would be a first for a Council member). And, a Council field office (which she thinks would be a second).
“We want to hear what people have to say,” she explains. “We want to reach out to folks that haven’t felt included. The district needs to be unified. Nicetown. Germantown. Chestnut Hill. We’re all in this together.”
On the issues
Getting back to the Graterford trip, she speaks about problems with crime in the district by saying it “used to be a ‘safer’ part of Philadelphia, and it’s not what it used to be.” She cited the Philly Rising model as having shown crime-stat reductions “very quickly” as a possible approach. That comes into play when the discussion turns to attracting younger and middle-class residents.
As for education, the incoming councilwoman acknowledges there are problems at some district schools. After all, this was just hours after the story broke of a boy being trapped in a stairwell at Roosevelt Middle School, and Bass was quick to note that Roosevelt was a school with inflated test-score issues.
“I’d like to think of the Eighth District as a mini-school district,” Bass said, noting that she intends to start a regular meeting among principals and parents’ councils of all schools in the Eighth with collaboration a goal. “We have a gap between the wealthy and a poor that’s ever-growing. How do we remedy that?
Finally, when it comes to the kerfuffle over the current grates-down-at-dark vibe on Germantown Avenue, Bass knows she can’t change legislation just passed – read: the large dollar-store zoning amendment – but she has some juice.
“You have to be a good neighbor,” she says of businesses, “and if you’re not a good neighbor, you’ll hear from me and you’ll hear from me until we get things right.”
Bass will be sworn into office at a 10 a.m. event at the Academy of Music on Jan. 2. From there, she’ll head to her office on the fifth floor of City Hall with friends and family. It’s not Reed Miller’s old digs, though. Because of seniority moving-and-shaking, she ended up with the office space formerly held by outgoing Councilman Jack Kelly.
Check NewsWorks.org tomorrow for a profile of Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones and Wednesday for a profile of Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco.