Northwest Philadelphia voters list demands for their next council member

Anita Hamilton thought about running for City Council in the crowded Eighth District primary, but decided against it.

But she’s still very intent on adding her voice to the debate about what the neighborhoods of Northwest Philadelphia need from their new voice on Council.

She was was a lively and vocal member of a group of 15 or so voters who attended last night’s Eyes on the Eighth forum at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. The forum was one of three being sponsored by NewsWorks, the Committee of Seventy, G-Town Radio and the Germantown Community Connection.


Making mental notes

Four candidates, Howard Treatman, Robin Tasco, Andrew Lofton and Greg Paulmier, attended to listen to voters’ concerns.

“It felt good,” she said, to honestly talk about the candidates “to their faces”.

Questioned generated by residents at these sessions will be asked of the seven Council candidates at the Eyes on the Eighth debate at 7 p.m., April 27, at First Presbyterian Church of Germantown.


Diversity is a factor

The Eighth District is large, racially and economically diverse. It stretches from the edge of North Philadelphia to Chestnut Hill running along Germantown Avenue.

Chestnut Hill is one of the most affluent areas in Philadelphia, yet the Germantown, Tioga, and Nicetown neighborhoods display symptoms of urban blight, such as violence, drugs and abandoned properties, which were much on the minds of participants last night.


Don’t play favorites

The voters agreed that a key challenge for their next representative would be to give equal attention to all communities and, in words of Robert Kirby, a longtime Germantown resident, not “play zipcode politics”.

Many of those at the forum had traveled from the more impoverished areas of the Eighth district.

During the guided discussion, which was led by Ellen Greenberg and Loretta Raider of the Penn Project on Civic Engagement, a NewsWorks partner, Hamilton and several others agreed that Wister and Lower Germantown are “forgotten communities” and are frequently “neglected.”

“I feel like we’re just being ignored. I feel like the plans don’t include the folks that live there now,” Hamilton told the group.

She is the president of the Wister Neighborhood Council and, she jokes, the president of her nine grown children.

She dropped the idea of running in this primary when her campaign manager’s daughter became seriously ill.

“So many of the communities have, quite frankly I think suffered, over the past couple of years,” she said. “They’re not getting the same attention that some other neighborhoods got.”

Her organization keeps a record of the abandoned and vacant properties in the Wister community.

“We have compiled a book with close to 400 abandoned, decaying properties, within our ten block neighborhood.”

“Pissed off!” is the emotion she says she feels when observing her community, and that, she says, is why she feels driven to participate in civic forums such as the “Eyes on the Eighth”.


District office, please!

Throughout the evening the participants stressed their concern about how the Eighth District’s current representative, the retiring Donna Reed Miller, does not have an office anywhere within the district.

Hamilton thinks the solution is government “decentralization” coupled with city support for small civic groups such as hers.

“Some City services should be in the neighborhood,” she says. “For instance, we should have a local office in our neighborhood. I don’t think that everybody that works for City Council, however they design their staff, should have to go downtown and sit in an office all day. I mean, how are you hitting the neighborhood?! The Eighth District is extremely large. “


Name game

During the discussion, the moderators read out the name of each candidate and gave participants a moment to call out words they associate with that person.

Several of the candidates stood watching from outside the circle, as voters listed both their negative and positive characteristics such as: “unknown”, “limited”, “persistent”, “old school politics”, “grass roots”, and “remembers how it was.”

Paulmier said he found that exercise “interesting, valuable and humbling.” He was happy that “good parent” was one of the phrases called out in response to his name.

Anita Hamilton assigned the word “scarce” to several of the candidates and added “I’ve never seen her in my neighborhood” to the description of one candidate who was standing only a few feet away.


No secrets

The group identified key issues and broke into groups to draft questions for the candidates.

Hamilton joined the group “System of Accountability” which focused on government transparency. Earlier in the discussion she described the ideal candidate as being honest and able to admit that there is “too much corruption in city services.”

The question her group formed asked how the future councilman planned to keep the public informed about how money is allocated and where it is actually spent.

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