Searching for a new City Councilperson one question at a time

Participants gathered at the Commodore Barry Club in West Mt. Airy Tuesday for the last of three “Eyes on the Eighth” community forum events to talk about their next Eighth District Council representative in City Hall.

About 45 people from all over the Eighth Council District dove into a series of facilitated group discussions aimed at finding consensus on the most important     qualities to look for in a new District Councilperson.

Mediators from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement encouraged group interaction meant to generate questions for each of the seven candidates running for the Democratic nomination in the Eighth District race.  Those question will be put to them in a candidate debate, sponsored by, April 27.

“This is the heart of citizenship,” said Harris Sokoloff, co-founder of the Penn Project. “Not simply voting, that’s the middle of the act. Before the voting hits, what are the issues? Where do the candidates stand? Where do we stand? What direction do we want our communities to move in?”

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“Talking together means that it’s not you alone holding [the candidates] accountable, it’s you together, as neighbors, as voters. That’s a much stronger sense of accountability,” he said.

Byron Mays, a resident of Germantown, appreciated this atmosphere.

“As a relatively new resident of Philadelphia, I want to get involved and try and make an impact,” said Mays. “It’s tough to know how to get involved sometimes but this type of program makes myself and others much more comfortable.”

Participants started by seeing if they could agree on the most important issues facing the district and then they rated the issues to get closer to the heart of what they wanted in a new Councilperson.

Once the most popular topics were determined, the group was split up once again. These smaller groups began to work on formulating the questions for that debate.

Kenneth Schamberg, a former teacher at Germantown High School, argued that schools needed to stop worrying about public image and focus on the issues that plague the system, like gangs and violence, he said.

“If we choose not to, we’re allowing this pattern to continue, and that helps no one,” said Schamberg.

Candidates vying for the seat, which will open up next year when incumbent Donna Reed Miller retires, were silent during the discussions.  After all, these meetings are about the voters – the seven Council hopefuls will get their turn at the debate.

Chestnut Hill resident Bob Rossman understands the importance of establishing public opinion and making the voice of the people be heard.

“We need this type of system in place to get people out and participating,” said Rossman 

Schamberg, who lives in West Mount Airy, agreed. “This is democracy in action,”  he said.


The Eyes on the Eighth debate will be April 27 at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, 35 W. Chelten Ave. Co-sponsors for Eyes on the Eighth include the Penn Project ofr Civic Engagement, the Committee of Seventy, the Leagues of Women Voters, Germantown Community Connection and Germantown Radio.

This story was made possible by a news gathering partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods.

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