by Jim Harris
As we sat in the small but lush backyard of Brian Rudnick’s East Highland Avenue home, he showed me some of the vegetables and flowers he was growing. He finds here an intersection of horticulture and politics.
“Environmentally, some good things are happening in city government,” he said. “Did you know that Philadelphia is considered to be at the forefront of storm water management? The city is giving out free rain barrels to residents, because, in a “combined” system (storm water and sewer), too much rain runoff can cause sewage to overflow into the river.
“Free compost bins are also available from the city. Composting vegetable waste not only helps your garden, it reduces curbside trash, which saves the city money.”
In addition to his own garden, Rudnick has worked with the beautification committee at the J.S. Jenks Elementary School, where he installed and maintained small garden areas.
It’s that mix of public interest and involvement that spurred Rudnick to run, again, for Philadelphia City Council’s 8th District.
He’s up against Democratic nominee Cindy Bass. Local newspaper publisher Jim Foster was recently kicked off the 8th District ballot by a challenge Rudnick had filed. A judge found that Foster had included multiple signatures of people who were not registered to vote in the 8th District.
“I regret having to be the one to address these issues, but until we change the system, the burden of uncovering these deficiencies rests on the other candidates,” Rudnick said about his challenge to Foster. “Notwithstanding my success in court, I am hoping Jim will join with me in opening one small crack in the Democratic party machine for which he has advocated so long and well.”
Rudnick, 57, is a Northeast High grad, with a bachelor’s and law degree from Penn, and a master’s in information systems from Drexel.
He’s lived in Philadelphia most of his life and in Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill for almost 20 years.
He shares his present home on Highland Avenue with his wife – a library coordinator for the city – a daughter, 15, and son, 13. Both kids attend Philadelphia public schools.
They also have an older daughter – a Central High grad – who is married and lives out of town.
Rudnick is a librarian at Orleans Technical Institute; a building trades school that is part of JEVS Human Services. He’s also a video journalist and a homemaker.
“I consider myself lucky to have a job,” he says. “That so many folks are out of work is a serious societal dysfunction.”
He also once owned a bookstore and he practiced law for a number of years before deciding it was too adversarial, and moved on to information science.
“I’m a true believer in libraries,” he says. “I’ve been a weekly reading tutor at Jenks for eight years. I was horrified when the Mayor tried to close 11 branches.”
Rudnick’s grandfather was Philadelphia Police Captain Henry H. Brown, who, Rudnick said, was always involved with charitable activities in the community. His father was a fabric wholesaler.
He said that both of his parents instilled in him a culture of being helpful.
“I don’t see it as a chore,” he said. “I care about people, especially those who are disadvantaged or discriminated against. As a boy growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, every time I got a haircut, I saw the death camp number tattooed on my barber Leon’s forearm.
“As an attorney, I worked to restore individuals’ disability benefits, I helped people get unemployment compensation and I aided single mothers in securing child support. I’ve also served as an election judge in my 9th Ward division and have been involved in mediation.
“Of course, you don’t need to be a lawyer to serve on City Council, but I think a broad legal experience is important to the job. I love the law and look forward to using my knowledge and ability as a member of Philadelphia’s legislative body.”
On his council run, Rudnick says he hopes to bring that openness to help others to bear as their representative.
“The day I filed my petition papers at City Hall, I made the rounds to several council offices, introducing myself and asking questions. I admire council people who know their stuff and work hard. On the other hand, I’ve been in city council chambers and seen citizens testifying to empty chairs and only a handful of council people, either not listening or talking on their cell phones.
“As a councilman, I’ll open a ‘mini City Hall’ office in the district where I’ll be once a week to hear and resolve constituent concerns. It all starts with caring and responding.
“As to how I got involved in politics,” he said, “in 2003, I was part of a community effort that resulted in the ‘Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk’ signs on Germantown Avenue. In correspondence sent to me from the Streets Department regarding the matter, traffic Engineer Charles Denny mistook me for someone who had constituents, so councilperson-like was my involvement. I started thinking maybe I could do more to help my community.”
So the next chance he got, Rudnick entered the race as a Green Party candidate.
“In 2007, I ran for council, because I believed I could do a better job than the incumbent [Donna Reed Miller], I am entering the race this time, because I believe I can do a better job than the Democratic Party nominee.
“As a councilperson, it will be one of my top priorities to create jobs. There are just too many unfulfilled needs and too many talents not being used in our city. And as a parent of two public school children, it will be my personal and public priority to make sure that our schools get the funding that our children need and deserve.”
“I want to show you something,” he said, and he drove me to a plot of land in Wadsworth, teeming with vegetables and fruit trees.
“I found out that this place was being farmed by a retired SEPTA driver named Willie Ford,” he said. “The lot had just been standing empty, so he decided to cultivate it. I did some research and found out that the land was owned by out-of-town people who were just sitting on it.”
“Willie and I teamed up and made them an offer for the lot, but they turned it down. I then found out that they were years behind in their taxes on the property. I went to the city and was told that it could be years before officials could even address the case. Meanwhile, the deadbeat landlords are just stiffing the city. Why pass new taxes when you’re not even collecting the old ones? It’s not just about having laws, it’s about seeing that they are enforced.”
In a totally unscripted moment, as we turned an isolated corner at the garden, we came upon a man urinating. Rudnick winced.
“Oh that’s just great,” he said. “Do you have to do that here?”
The guy, a trash collector who had parked his truck nearby, said, “I tried to use the restroom at the gas station, but they told me it was for customers only.”
“Oh really?” Rudnick’s ire now shifted to the gas station operators. “That’s terrible. And you, a workingman. That’s not right. I’m sorry, sir.”
Back again on Highland Avenue, we strolled along Rudnick’s block.
“When you travel around your neighborhood,” he said, “what do you see? I see flowers and birds, and I hear the cicadas. I’ve always loved nature. It’s endlessly fascinating, and it’s accessible to everyone.”
I don’t want to run as an independent. I want to be Green. When I lived downtown, I used to drive up here to take a walk. Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to have to drive to take a walk, so I moved up here.”
As we continued down the street, Rudnick pointed out who lived in each house and talked about his neighborhood.
“It’s a very integrated community,” he said, “A nice mix. We love it here.”