Eight questions for City Councilwoman Cindy Bass

As Philadelphia City Council prepares to take its summer recess after Thursday’s meeting, NewsWorks caught up with Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass for a Q&A about her first six months in office.

Bass spoke candidly during a Tuesday morning interview at Wired Beans Cafe on Germantown Avenue, reflecting on her new job, the thorny Actual Value Initiative (AVI) debate and, among other topics, her plans for summer and for sessions which resume in September.

Have questions you would like to see answered? Post them in the comments section of this story or email them to bhickey@whyy.org. NewsWorks will follow up with Bass during the summer months to ask.

NewsWorks: What did you accomplish since inauguration that you had hoped to be able to do before you started?

Cindy Bass: We have connected with people who didn’t feel as if they were connected before. They felt out of the loop, didn’t feel they were represented, that their calls or concerns were taken seriously. We hoped to change how they feel about their representation in City Council.

It’s likely never to be that 100 percent feel that way, but we’re making sure more people can come to us with their concerns through events like Coffee with the Councilwoman; we’ve had as many as we could. (Editor’s note: Bass admitted that she does, in fact, drink tea at her Coffee with the Councilwoman events.)

In the summer, we’re going to pick up with them and make them more spontaneous, so people should follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear when we’ll be doing them.

We want people to know what we’re doing. Just last weekend, I was at Vernon Park for a health fair. It was a great event. The turnout was good, about 100 people, but it should have been closer to 1,000. That speaks to the disjointed feeling among folks. We’ve got to get them connected. (Bass’ office provided a list of bills and resolutions from her first six months in office. PDF)

2. What weren’t you able to accomplish that you had hoped to?

CB: There is an enormous problem with blight. We’ve made significant strides in some cases, churning out information to the Streets Department, Licenses and Inspection, any agency involved who can help.

It’s a massive problem, significantly bigger than I thought coming in. We know there are more than 40,000 [blighted properties] in the city. Germantown, in particular, has many of them. We’re working to collect and put forth the data.

3. How is the job different than you expected?

CB: The challenges we all face are much more disturbing when you see them on a larger scale. It becomes necessary that you have to do more faster, harder. There’s an urgency. The neglect in every district, the economy and funding our schools, it was a perfect storm of problems for our district and certainly the entire city of Philadelphia.

It really does tug at you. You want to be able to help people. I wish I could mix concrete and fix a broken sidewalk, I wish I could cut the 20-foot grass on the vacant lot, paint over the graffiti.

When people reach out, you see the problems out there which were hidden. The flooding problem in Germantown. How do you address someone who has raw sewage in their basement? I have a three-year-old child. To think of someone having a child with that going on, it’s mortifying. What do you tell them when you’re told it’s going to take up to a decade to fix this? There are so many levels of bureaucracy.

4. What happened during the budget debates that is not widely known, but that you think should have been?

CB: It was a difficult time. [Council] members did try to work together for the most part. Everybody realizes the system is broken, but everyone represents a different constituency. For those in areas that will be hard hit by [AVI], I understand their reluctance of doing so. The good thing is we pushed it back and now will have the numbers.

I don’t want it to be painted as that we were all at odds. We weren’t. I don’t think anyone took this debate lightly. For every action, there’s a reaction. What do you do when you’re dealt a lousy hand of cards?

None of the decisions we make are as easy as I think some people see them. In this position, we try to get things done to help our communities while supporting our businesses. That’s what makes [AVI] such a difficult decision.

5. What is your stance on AVI?

CB: I’m supportive of it. We have a property tax system that’s been unfair for far too long, and it’s time to get it right. We have 20-30 percent [of owners] overpaying, a large number are underpaying and some are close to being fairly assessed.

I met a man in North Philadelphia, he was paying $1,500 a year [in property tax] on something that couldn’t be valued at much more than $40,000. Then, you have people assessed much lower in areas which have come up in recent years.

If you know you have a system that’s unfair, you have a duty and obligation to fix it.

6. What do you expect to happen at Thursday’s meeting, the last of the winter/spring session?

CB: There will be a vote for a small increase in property taxes across the board, $36-$48. Some worry that there has been an increase in each of the past two years, but I hope people understand that this is strictly for educating our young. Nothing is more important.

I met with both candidates for [School District of Philadelphia] superintendent on Sunday. It was very interesting. Pedro Martinez, from outside of Las Vegas, I liked his approach. He knows numbers, like $3 billion [being spent] to educate 175,000 children. And William Hite from Prince George’s County, Md., he was also very impressive, and willing to try new things.

7. How would you grade yourself on your first six months as eighth district councilwoman?

CB: I’m supportive of the new education system in which there are no letter grades! But, I think we’ve done a good job, but there’s always room for improvement. That’s always the case for me. That goes for anybody. I have to keep my listening skills in place to hear constituents’ concerns and issues. I see great things happening for the Eighth District.

8. What are you planning for the summer and when meetings resume in the fall?

CB: (See video below)

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