Bass, seeking a third term on city council, is running on experience

by Tom Beck and Carla Robinson
Posted 3/22/23

Cindy Bass, first elected to represent city council’s 8th District in 2012, is facing her first serious challenger in this year’s Democratic primary. She said she’s not worried.

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Bass, seeking a third term on city council, is running on experience


Cindy Bass, first elected to represent city council’s 8th District in 2012, is facing her first serious challenger for that role in this year’s Democratic primary. Political newcomer Seth Anderson-Oberman, who has the support of several recently elected progressive leaders – including Mt. Airy’s State Rep. Chris Rabb – has attracted an impressive number of volunteers and supporters.

But Bass said she’s not worried. In an interview with the Local on Monday, she said that after 11 years on the job, she thinks she’s proven her value to her constituents. 

“My years on the job gives me a perspective and a level of expertise, and also a connection to the community,” she told the Local. “People know me. People know the work that I've done, and they know how to reach me. If you're doing things in the community, there's a very real chance that I know who you are.”

And at a moment when violent crime and housing costs are soaring, Bass argued, expertise matters. 

“This is not the time to change directions and say that expertise doesn't matter,” she said. 

By contrast, she said, Anderson-Oberman – who worked statewide as a labor union organizer before running for city council – doesn’t have enough of a track record in Northwest Philadelphia to win the trust of the number of voters he would need to win the seat.

“What’s different…is that people knew me before I took office,” Bass said. “I've had a presence before, and I've maintained a presence along the corridor in Chestnut Hill.”

There’s also the fact that Bass is a likely contender for the powerful job of city council president, which will become open when Darrell Clarke, the longest-serving councilmember, retires at the end of this year.

She told the Local that she definitely wants it. 

“I’m very much interested,” she said. “There are efficiencies that as council president I would like to bring. I think there are a lot of things we do that are somewhat antiquated, and should be and could be easily changed for a more efficient flow of information to members and to the public.”

Experience matters

Back in January, the Local asked Patrick Jones, leader of Germantown’s 59th Democratic ward, what he knew about Bass’s challenger. Not much, he said at the time. In a follow up phone call last week, Jones said he still doesn’t know much about Anderson-Oberman, who lives in the same neighborhood. Jones plans to vote for Bass.

“There is a swell of people who are looking for something new, but I think that new doesn’t always necessarily mean better,” Jones said. “I’m looking for someone who I know will get the job done. Seth is a nice guy, but I’m not sure if he understands the job.”

Jones told the Local he’s voting for Bass for the same reason he’s supporting former council member Cherelle Parker’s run for mayor – he’s less interested in ideological debates and more interested in experience.

“I’ve never understood the ideological perspective, but if you look across the Northwest, we always support experience,” said Jones, who cited a list of such elected officials – U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, State Rep. Darisha Parker and former City Councilmember Donna Reed Miller.

That doesn’t necessarily just mean political experience, he said. State Rep. Tarik Khan, for instance, recently unseated multiple-term incumbent Pam DeLissio in the race for Pennsylvania’s 194th statehouse district. But, Jones said, Khan didn’t “come out of nowhere.”

“Tarik wasn’t new to politics or community work,” Jones said. “He’s done community work before he ran and folks knew who he was. He has a strong social media presence. He was extremely active during the pandemic.”

Rent control

Bass has also distanced herself from Anderson-Oberman on how the city should deal with the rising cost of housing. Anderson-Oberman told the Local that he supports capping rent increases to the increase in inflation, and also wants to triple city funding for public housing. Bass, who grew up with a mother who was a landlord with two properties, said capping rents would hurt small landlords.

“My mother collected $300 each from those properties and that was our total household income for myself, my mother and my sister,” Bass said. If tenants couldn’t pay for some reason, she said, “it was a complete and total disaster in our household.”

Bass said she thinks affordable housing should not be the responsibility of individual property owners.

“I think overall it's the city's responsibility to build and maintain the level of quality affordable housing that the city needs and that's the end of the story.”

Local support

Chestnut Hill developer Richard Snowden, who is president of Bowman Properties and has been a significant contributor to Bass’s campaigns – since 2015, he and four other family members have each donated an average of $825 per year for a  total of $33,300 – said he’s done so because Bass has been supportive of the local business community.

“She is highly responsive to the needs of small businesses not just in Chestnut Hill, but throughout Northwest Philadelphia,” Snowden said, adding that Bass has obtained funding to upgrade much of the Chestnut Hill business district’s infrastructure, including the replacement of historic pedestrian street lights.

“Bass really delivered for the community on this vital project,” he said.

She’s also been a strong supporter of historic preservation in Chestnut Hill, Snowden said – and has helped restrain development on projects on Prospect Avenue, West Highland Avenue and East Chestnut Hill Avenue, among others. 

“On numerous occasions, Bass has supported the community in preserving historic structures, helping to find ways that allow for smart development while preserving what makes the Northwest so unbelievably special, which is historic integrity and the feeling of a true neighborhood,” Snowden said. 

If Bass wins re-election, she’d be one of the most senior members of council. 

And right now, she’s arguing that her experience matters more than ever – as six of her experienced council colleagues have recently resigned their positions in order to run for mayor. 

“I don't remember the last time we've seen this amount of turnover,” Bass said.