When it comes to Philadelphia City Council, the best man for the job is often a woman.
By Denise Clay
Because it’s Women’s History Month, the month of March is probably one of the few times that we talk about women in politics with any kind of hopefulness.
There’s a list of reasons for that.
Were it not for the political action committee Emily’s List, money– the “Mother’s milk of politics”– would be even harder for women to come by. While things have gotten better, they’re still not progressive enough for money to rain from heaven for women aspiring to public office.
For women of color, it’s even tougher. Communities of color don’t often have the kind of resources needed to finance a major political campaign and while there is money in such things as fish fries and other small fund raisers, it’s not the kind of money that can buy you air time.
One of the things I have always appreciated about the City of Philadelphia it’s been a place where women have been allowed to make some political headway. While there’s never been a woman in the Mayor’s office, City Council has had a female president, former Second District Councilwoman Anna Verna.
As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, here is a salute to the women of Philadelphia City Council.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass has been a member of City Council since 2011, representing Council’s Eighth District. During her tenure, she’s fought for cleaner and safer neighborhoods, better healthcare for all and for the city’s schools. As the chair of Council’s Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, she’ll be taking the lead in hearings on the $600 million “Rebuild Philadelphia Initiative,” designed to revitalize the city’s parks, recreation centers and libraries. She was also the driving force behind the nuisance business bill that was signed into law in Fall 2016, which requires businesses to be good neighbors as well. Before being elected to Council, Bass was a Special Assistant to former State Sen. Allyson Schwartz and Senior Policy Advisor to former Congressman Chaka Fattah. She is a graduate of Temple University and has a daughter, Carson.
There are few female powerbrokers in the City of Philadelphia. Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell is one of them. An institution in City Council, she having served six terms in this legislative body, representing the Third District. She succeeded her husband, the late Congressman Lucien Blackwell, as a councilperson and has continued with his work aiding the city’s marginalized communities. She served as Council’s Majority Leader from 2000-2008 and is currently the chair of the Education and Housing, Urban Development and Homeless Committees. Each year, Councilwoman Blackwell throws a Holiday Party for the City’s homeless that allows them a holiday with dignity. Councilwoman Blackwell is a commissioner on the Philadelphia Housing Authority Board. She is a graduate of Cheyney University and has a Masters of Arts in Education from St. Joseph University.
At-Large Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown is the City Council’s current Majority Whip. She’s currently the only woman in Council leadership and is currently serving her fifth term in the legislative body. Much of her work has revolved around children and improving the quality of life for the city’s residents. A lot of Reynolds Brown’s work has centered on empowering women. Thousands of women have been unofficially mentored by Reynolds Brown since she began her signature program, “The Celebration of Moxie Women,” in 1999. Since then, the Councilwoman– a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls and memory of Delta Sigma Theta sorority– has also focused on the makeup of the board of directors of the corporations that deal with the City of Philadelphia and whether or not they are inclusive of women and people in traditionally marginalized communities. Reynolds Brown is a graduate of Penn State University with both a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Science in Education. She was also a member of Philadanco, first as a dancer, and later a dance instructor and board member.
One of the newest women in City Council is Councilwoman Helen Gym, who serves as the current chair of the Committee for Children and Youth. Before being elected to City Council, Councilwoman Gym was an educational activist, co-founding of Parents United for Public Education, an organization dedicated amplifying the voices of parents in the educational process and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent educational newspaper that has done extensive investigative reporting on the School District of Philadelphia’s budget, and the district’s major policy initiatives, as well as charter schools. Councilwoman Gym’s primary legislative focus has been addressing the city’s widespread poverty by advocating for a quality education for the city’s youth. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn’s Graduate School of Education.
When City Councilwoman Marian Tasco retired from her Ninth District council seat, she endorsed then Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker. Parker took over the seat in 2015 after serving as the 200th Legislative District’s Representative for 10 years. At 25, she made history as the youngest African- American woman elected to the body. She also served as chair of the state legislature’s Philadelphia delegation. While a member of the legislature, Councilwoman Parker championed the Philadelphia Tax Fairness Package, which includes the LOOP (Long-term Owner Occupant Program). As a Councilwoman, she is tackling other economic issues including retirement security, reverse mortgages and neighborhood stability.
She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University.
For the last 30 years, Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez has been serving the City of Philadelphia, first as an activist, then as an administrator in City Council, and now as a councilperson. She is currently serving her fourth term representing the city’s Seventh District and since becoming the first Latina elected to the city’s governing body. Since joining the body in 2008, Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez has been a tireless advocate for the kind of job creation that sustains families and neighborhoods. In addition to helping Council to become more transparent and efficient through modernization, Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez is the creator of the Philadelphia Land Bank, an agency that empowers residents, small businesses, community groups, non-profits, and developers across the City to transform and re-purpose vacant and blighted land. Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez served in several city government positions including Deputy Commissioner of Elections and Legislative Assistant in City Council. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Women’s Campaign Fund, a statewide political action committee working to elect progressive women to the State Legislature.