Twenty minutes after the candidate meet and greet was scheduled to start at the Happy Hollow Recreation Center, the chairs remained mostly empty.
Still, Allison Weiss tested the patience of the Eighth District City Council hopefuls a little more – she kept waiting to see if others would arrive. Weiss wanted people in Lower Germantown to have an opportunity to voice their concerns to the candidates running for the seat incumbent Donna Reed Miller will vacate next year. The primary election will be held on May 17.
Low participation is no surprise
Instead, what happened was all too familiar to Weiss, who has struggled getting people in the neighborhood involved in community efforts. About 10 people attended the event March 17 but at least half of them were either with the candidates or the media. That gave a small handful of voters a lot of time to test the candidates on their priority issues.
“How are you going to bring the community out?” Weiss asked them.
Cindy Bass, Andrew Lofton, Greg Paulmier, Howard Treatman and Verna Tyner all agreed that making sure the next City Councilperson has a visible presence in the community would be a step in the right direction.
Cindy Bass said she would continue working to unify the district through her ties with Mount Airy and North Philadelphia.
Tyner intends to personally ask people to attend meetings. “No backdoor deals. No sidebar conversations,” she said. “Communities have a lot of power.”
And to strengthen the community, Andrew Lofton publicizes job opportunities on his website, he said.
The candidates also wanted voters to study their backgrounds to see how they would approach issues, such as abandoned houses.
Greg Paulmier has been fixing houses for more than 30 years, he said. It started when he couldn’t get the city to do anything about the abandoned house near his home. He currently fixes one to two a year, but he believes it can be done on a grander scale through the City Council office, he said.
Treatman, who has been in the development business for more than 20 years, believes that since not everyone is legally trained, it’s important for the council office to educate people about what they can do, he said.
Smiling one the surface
The Happy Hollow debate late last week that was more like a dinner discussion, no candidate overtly disagreeing with any other. Tyner even remarked how the race was shaping up to be a notably pleasant one, with very little sniping among the City Council hopefuls. Meanwhile, Andrew Lofton spoke in whispers about how he and several other first time candidates faced legal challenges to their nomination.
That work began Friday, knocking Fay Dawson out of the race. By the end of Monday Lofton himself could be out of the running along with William Durham, Robin Tasco and Jordan Dillard. Lofton did not believe the challenges would hold up because he thought they were filed past the deadline on March 15.
Watch for the NewsWorks story about Monday’s results.
An intimate job interview
Still, with all the backstage intrigue, Robert R. Kirby, co-founder of United Minorities of Philadelphia Association of Contractors, hopes the election will bring a positive change.
He is tired of government employees taking advantage of loopholes, he said. Kirby believes that providing city employees with cars, such as some on City Council have, is a waste of millions in tax dollars.
“We didn’t send you to office to rob tax payers,” he said. “We have politicians, but we don’t have representation.”
Instead, he compliments the candidates on being business minded, which he thinks is lacking in the current council.
With something like 8,000 abandoned homes in Philadelphia, he said, there is an opportunity for jobs and housing. He believes that someone who is business minded will be able to create a way to fund projects that put those properties to work and have big returns for the city.
Intimate though it was, the meet and greet gave Kirby a sense of each candidate’s roots in the community and the work each has done here.
“They’ve been part of the fabric,” he said. “I usually support people who have been battling in the trenches along with us.”
NewsWorks will co-host three voter forums starting Tuesday March 22, for voters to talk about the hopes and issues for this election and to form those into question for candidates at an April 27 debate.
On Tuesday the forum is at First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia. Doors open at 6 p.m. with activities beginning at 6:30 p.m. and formal program at 7 p.m.
The other forums will be Monday, March 28, at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, and Tuesday, April 5, at the Commodore Barry Club in Mount Airy.
Any eligible Eighth District voters are welcome to attend.
The NewsWorks Eighth District candidates’ debate will be at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 27, at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, 35 West Chelten Ave.