As news of Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s decision to retire swirls around the city, a number of new candidates are likely to emerge in the Eighth District race.
The roster of candidates is already filling up with ward leaders, legislative aides and city staffers, all looking to win a seat the incumbent held for 16 years. Miller, citing health issues, announced this morning that she would not seek the Democratic nomination in in this year’s primary.
Cindy Bass, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Phila.), considers herself the front runner.
She said she was ready to run with or without Miller on the ballot.
“We had prepared if the councilwoman would not run and we had a strategy for that and we had a strategy if she did decide to run,” said Bass.
Bass would not give details about the difference between those strategies.
“The biggest thing is we just want to make sure that folks know that now that the councilwoman is out, that there is someone who has ran in this race before and garnered a lot of support from voters,” she said.
Bass ran against Miller four years ago, but lost the Democratic primary after splitting the vote with a crowded field. She came in a close second to Miller, who won just over 30 percent of the vote.
Doubting the news
Greg Paulmier, a former ward leader, was one of the candidates in that 2007 race and plans to run again.
He said he won’t truly believe Miller’s out of this year’s contest until she misses the March 8 deadline for filing nominating petitions.
“But the fact that she made a public announcement is new compared to the past,” he said.
In the meantime, Paulmier said his strategy will not change. He’ll continue to run on the same pitch he’s run on in the past: that he’s a long-time neighborhood activist who is in touch with the community.
Newcomer Verna Tyner, a former aide to Councilman Bill Greenlee, said Miller’s absence improves her chances in the primary.
“This will definitely put a better edge because people, who would normally support an incumbent, may now be able to come out and be supportive of me.”
Derek Green, an aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco and an at-large candidate in 2007, may also join the fray.
Green could not be reached for comment.
Miller, a Democrat, released a statement today confirming what some had suspected for months.
“It is time to give another person the opportunity to represent this wonderful district,” she said in her statement. “I never believed this position to be a lifetime job.”
She reiterated the announcement in an appearance on WURD-AM radio.
A diverse, noisy constituency
Miller has represented the Eighth District since 1996.
Her statement hinted at the fact that she has not always been on the closest terms with constituents in some parts of the district, which covers Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Germantown, Nicetown and parts of other neighborhoods.
“Our district comprises one of the most diverse areas in Philadelphia and that is what has made it special to represent,” she said, “Though constituents in different parts of the district have various priorities, the thing they have in common is their love of Philadelphia and speaking their minds on issues of importance. Those qualities make the Eighth District a challenge, but more importantly an honor to represent.”
Miller will keep a foot in the local Democratic Party, maintaining her position as 59th Ward Democratic Committee Leader.
While Miller has a loyal base of supporters, some in the district, like Democratic 9th Ward Leader John O’Connell, have been critical of her seeming lack of attention to some parts of her district.
“For me it was never personal,” he said. “I just disagreed with her policies and the direction that, I guess her priorities are what I disagreed with most.”
O’Connell says party members have been aware of Miller’s health concerns, including diabetes, for some time. He says the party will likely endorse one candidate in April for May’s Democratic primary.
Republican 17th Ward Leader Jerry Brown echoed O’Connell’s critique of Miller.
“We need someone to represent our voices,” he said.
Brown was considering a run at the office, but said he has been re-thinking the question.
“The primary reason I was considering running against Donna Reed Miller was to raise the bar of sincerity,” he said.
When she steps down, Miller will receive a payment through the city’s Deferred Retirement Option program of nearly $200,000.
She has been one of the quieter members of the 17-person Council. In recent years, two issues that stirred her most lively interest were minority representation in the city building trades and police misconduct.