Fairmount Park Conservancy leader to challenge Blackwell for Philly Council seat

Jamie Gauthier, the executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, is running for Jannie Blackwell's seat on City Council. (Neal Santos for PlanPhilly)

Jamie Gauthier, the executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, is running for Jannie Blackwell's seat on City Council. (Neal Santos for PlanPhilly)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Former Fairmount Park Conservancy executive director Jamie Gauthier will challenge longtime City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell for control of West Philadelphia’s 3rd District.

Gauthier took the reins at the conservancy, a fundraising nonprofit that supports the city’s park system, two years ago. Before joining the conservancy, she served as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network and as a program officer at Philadelphia Local Initiative Support Coalition, a major funder of affordable housing and economic development projects.

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“Yes, I’m running to be councilwoman in the 3rd District,” Gauthier told PlanPhilly. “I’ve done a lot of work in the district to bring affordable housing, improve commercial corridors and parks. Now I’m excited to bring everything I’ve learned in the nonprofit sector and bring it to work towards a future vision for West Philly and Southwest Philly.”

Gauthier said she stepped down from her position at the conservancy Tuesday. An official campaign announcement is expected Wednesday.

Gauthier, who was born and spent part of her childhood in the district she now seeks to represent, returned as an adult to earn a master’s degree in city planning at the University of Pennsylvania and raise her two sons.

She said she would run on a platform of supporting more equitable economic development across the district, which encompasses rowhouse neighborhoods of many people living below the poverty line and booming University City.

“The universities in West Philadelphia are often seen as sources of gentrification, but I think there are ways to work with those institutions to create more local jobs and more procurement opportunities,” she said. “We want the area to be equitable for everyone.”

Gauthier said she met with representatives of Philly 3.0, a PAC that’s supported non-incumbent council candidates and does not have to disclose its donors. The political action committee was formed by Parkway Corp. principals Joseph and Robert Zuritsky –– who have made millions developing commercial real estate and operating parking facilities –– to elect reform-minded, pro-business candidates.

“[The discussions] were about the political realm in general, nothing specific,” she said. “These are people that I connect with directly through the urbanist world.”

Gauthier said she hasn’t received money or commitments of support from the group.

The Blackwell family has represented West Philadelphia in City Council since 1974. Jannie Blackwell assumed power after her husband, Lucien Blackwell, vacated the seat to run for Congress in 1991.

Jannie Blackwell is well-known to ward leaders and community groups in the district, many of whom regard her as a champion of educational and affordable housing issues. Blackwell has drawn criticism for maintaining uncomfortably close ties to some of the same groups that support her, channeling public dollars and other support to these organizations, including at least one run by a former staffer.

In recent years, she has also openly feuded with Mayor Jim Kenney over a variety of legislative items – from the reuse of the former Provident Mutual building to parking ticket amnesty legislation to a fire damper bill that many said was a needless handout to a specific union.

Blackwell has not faced a serious political challenger in over a decade – in her past two primary elections, the incumbent took over 90 percent of the vote.

“Councilwoman Blackwell has served the district for a long time,” Gauthier said. “She certainly has a lot of respect in the community, and I respect her. But I do think it’s time for new vision, new ideas.”

Council candidates must file to run by March 13. The primary election is May 21.

Correction: This article was corrected to identify Gauthier as the former executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

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