In Northwest Philly, a supermarket isn't just a supermarket.
This February, when a Fresh Grocer suddenly closed in Germantown to make way for a Save-A-Lot, residents were furious. They saw the new store as "a downgrade" — but, more importantly, residents say public officials, including Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, had left them in the dark.
"Fresh Grocer is an example of what's wrong here," says Paula Paul, a 70-year-old Germantown activist. "No one reached out to the community."
Some residents in Northwest Philly claim they've been excluded ever since 1996, when Miller began representing the Eighth District, a diverse area that stretches from the struggling, mostly black neighborhood of Nicetown to the affluent, predominantly white Chestnut Hill. They point to Germantown Settlement, a community development corporation that Miller was close to, as an example of being left out: It received millions in public dollars for years, yet persistently defaulted on loans, failed at development projects and left properties abandoned — all while residents were crying foul. A judge ordered Settlement to shut down in 2010.
"A tremendous amount of abuse has taken place in the last couple decades," says Paul. "And it really shows in Germantown."
Perhaps because of Miller's waning popularity, candidates in the primary race for Eighth District Council have distanced themselves from the departing representative, rather than sought her endorsement. Of the seven people running, three told City Paper outright that they weren't seeking Miller's endorsement; three others said they'd accept it but hadn't asked her for it. Only one candidate — Greg Paulmier — has sought out Miller's support. "I leave no stone unturned!" he says, but then adds that he is "disappointed" with how Miller dealt with the Fresh Grocer and that "voters have become disconnected from their most local elected official."
As of press time, Miller hadn't endorsed anyone. Michael Moore, her spokesman, defended Miller's legacy, saying that she's brought jobs and development to the district. Oddly enough, Miller's unpopularity with some voters has actually worked in her favor. Ron Recko, a founding member of the Chestnut Hill Residents Association, points out that opposition to Miller inspired a large pool of candidates to run against her last election, splitting the vote. "If only one person had run against her, she never would have served as many terms as she did," Recko observes. Indeed, she won re-election with only 31 percent of the vote in 2007 — support that some say came overwhelmingly from West Oak Lane, Nicetown and Germantown. Two of her opponents barely lost: Cindy Bass (who's running this year) and Irv Ackelsberg (who's not) gained 26 and 25 percent, respectively.
The Eighth District is fragmented in many ways — racially, economically and even within neighborhoods: Betty Turner, co-founder of the Germantown Community Connection, says that in Germantown alone, some 30 community groups exist, often with vying interests. If Germantown had a more cohesive voice, she says, it could better wrestle with blight and poverty. But some think the wide-open, seven-candidate primary race will split the district even more.
Pam Bracey, a member of Turner's group, is afraid of a runoff vote. "How do you come up with a clear winner when there are seven individuals running?" she asks. "We're split from top to bottom. We've lost the ability to speak." —Holly Otterbein
Editor's Note: The story above has been amended to reflect the following changes: The Eighth District's boundaries were incorrectly stated as Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane, and West Oak Lane was incorrectly characterized as "struggling."
OK, on the count of three, all together now, "DROP! DROP! DDRROOPP!" Out of your system? We hope so. Participation in the Deferred Retirement Option Program has, yeah, yeah, probably helped dissuay four City Council members from running again, and has put four elected officials who are running anyway — Council members Frank Rizzo and Marian Tasco and City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione — in the hot seat. But that's the last time we're writing that long-ass sentence, because we're tired of it. Tired and bored.
Why, just last week we received a call from the campaign for Stephanie Singer, who is running against Tartaglione for city commissioner. "We're going to talk about Marge Tartaglione and DROP all the way until election day!" campaign manager Shannon Marietta proclaimed.
It was, somehow, some kind of last straw. Was that all she and her candidate were going to talk about? DROP ? Was her candidate's main platform not signing up for some program that had never been offered to her in the first place? And what about at-large Council candidate Malcolm Lazin, who staged a baffling protest outside City Hall to embarrass Rizzo over DROP; or the other candidates who think that clucking "DROP!" at us will make us like them — as if not being enrolled in it is some kind of qualification for elected office!
As it turns out, City Commissioner candidate Singer has plenty of interesting qualifications — she's kind of fascinating, in fact. With a Ph.D. in mathematics, she is the author of two books on "mathematical physics," runs a political consulting business, and has made public, for free, a treasury of detailed Philly election data — more than we can say of the City Commissioners office under present leadership, and which more than counts as a real, genuine qualification for the post. Lazin has plenty of qualifications to boast, as well — and so, we're sure, do all of the other candidates who just won't ... oh, somehow we just can't not do this ... DROP it already. —Isaiah Thompson