Four months after a nail-bitingly narrow loss to Cindy Bass, Anderson-Oberman is once again organizing for action.
Four months after a nail-bitingly narrow loss to three-term incumbent Councilmember Cindy Bass in the 8th District Democratic primary, Seth Anderson-Oberman is once again organizing for action.
Anderson-Oberman and his supporters are partnering with several community stakeholders throughout the district, including Philly Neighborhood Networks, State Rep. Chris Rabb and at-large Councilmember Kendra Brooks, to hold the North/Northwest People’s Summit at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center on Sept. 23. An invitation to register for the event was sent by Anderson-Oberman’s campaign to its supporters.
The summit is the first sign that the energy surrounding Anderson-Oberman’s campaign, which resulted in an extremely close, 51.7% to 49.1% race with a 423 vote margin, hasn’t gone away.
“I would consider myself a movement candidate,” Anderson-Oberman said in a phone call last week, explaining that his supporters connected with the issues he raised, and sought to use his campaign as a vehicle to make fundamental change in 8th District communities. “It wasn’t just because they thought I was a great guy.”
Rabb, who is also no stranger to upsetting the city’s Democratic establishment, agreed.
“This is about organizing in spaces that have not been organized in a long time, and making sure that we bring in new generations of folks,” Rabb said. “Seth’s campaign was more of an affirmation of a people-powered movement than it was a traditional political campaign, and so his near victory shouldn't be squandered.”
For this reason, Rabb doesn’t see Anderson-Oberman’s loss as a failure. Despite the election result, Rabb said, the campaign created a level of enthusiasm and engagement that the 8th District hasn’t seen “in perhaps decades.”
“We want to keep that momentum going from his campaign,” said Michael Kleiner, a 22nd Ward committeeperson and Anderson-Oberman supporter.
Kleiner said he sees an opportunity to “see how one end of the district might be able to help the other end of the district to build a coalition.”
“It's a diverse district, from Chestnut Hill down to the poverty of Nicetown,” he added. “We're trying to see if we can pull together the different organizations and people that are working on [key issues] so we're working on them together.”
For some in the North Philadelphia section of the district, which includes lower-income neighborhoods such as Nicetown, Logan and Olney, the summit is an opportunity for their voices to be heard.
“We don’t get the love and attention unless there’s a primary election,” said Tonya Bah, an Olney resident and Philly Neighborhood Networks board member who campaigned for Anderson-Oberman. “We can’t wait four more years.”
Bah, who ran unsuccessfully against Bass in 2019’s council primary, said she’ll use the summit to discuss her neighborhood’s most pressing issues, including access to affordable housing, jobs, and a fully resourced education, as well as environmental racism. She said the current mood among Anderson-Oberman supporters reminds her of the progressive movement that started in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016’s Democratic presidential primary.
“It’s about seizing the momentum that came out of the primary election and addressing it with the stakeholders,” she said.
Brooks, who has been an advocate for affordable housing during her time in council, said that Anderson-Oberman’s campaign demonstrated that there is a strong desire for champions of affordable housing across this city.
“Even though he came up short, the fact that people are still committed to organizing on this issue as an outgrowth from his campaign shows how important these issues were to voters in the 8th District,” Eric Rosso, a spokesperson for Brooks, said in an email. He added that events like this show how much these issues still resonate, and that “our elected officials ignore them at their own peril.”
Many of the event’s organizers say they have moved past supporting any one particular candidate.
“My tax dollars don’t discriminate,” Bah said. “This isn’t about who votes for who. It’s about utilizing resources where there’s a true connection to all parts of the 8th District.”
Anderson-Oberman seconds that opinion. For him, a lifelong community organizer, he’s just working to bring people together to meet common goals.
“As an organizer, I know that many hands lighten the load,” he said. “Some people’s work will be based in their neighborhoods, some people’s work will be based around an issue like housing or development or schools…I think we’ve got a good place to start, and think about how we can organize and support each other to do this work.”
The goal is to create a movement “that’s even bigger than our campaign,” said Anderson-Oberman’s former finance director, Nate Holt.
“Our supporters who fought very hard with us didn't put all that work in for us to take a nap and disappear and see them in four years,” he added. “The energy and the desire to keep pushing is still there, and we still feel it ourselves too.”
Anderson-Oberman said he doesn’t want to be “overly prescriptive” about what could come after the summit. But he sees a path that involves developing some sort of leadership structure.
“Some of those leaders might already be elected,” he said. “We can support them, but absent that, there’s nothing to hold elected leaders accountable to what the people want.”
Bass’ office did not return a request for comment.