Erika Almiron, a Germantown resident who first ran for City Council at-large in 2019, intends to build a bigger coalition of voters who resemble “the whole city.”
Erika Almiron, a Germantown resident who first ran for City Council at-large in 2019, learned a lot about running citywide since her last attempt, when she finished 9th in a field of 28 at-large candidates. At the time, she was the executive director of Juntos, an immigrants’ rights nonprofit, which provided her a base of support within the Latino community.
Problem is, that’s a Philadelphia voting block that doesn’t exactly turn out in droves – at least compared to other cities, Almiron said. So this time she intends to build a bigger coalition of voters who resemble “the whole city.”
“There needs to be a diverse set of voters that come to the table,” she said. “I think that is a formula for a win.”
If she wins, Almiron would become the first Latina in the history of Philadelphia’s at-large seats on City Council.
The Local spoke with Almiron about her experience as the head of Juntos, her work turning Philadelphia into a sanctuary city and where she stands on some of the city’s most discussed issues. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us what makes you unique as a candidate?
I'm the daughter of immigrants from Paraguay. I'm the first in my whole family to go to college, and at the time I didn't even know what financial aid was. My first year of college, I actually cleaned houses with my Mom to pay for school because I didn't know that there were other ways to pay for a college education.
I've been doing social justice work for more than 20 years, and I've fought for fully funded schools and education reform as assistant director for the Philadelphia Student Union. I worked at the American Friends Service Committee where I supported the Mexico/U.S. border program. But most people know me for my work at Juntos, where I was the executive director for almost ten years. I led a lot of the fights for sanctuary city policies at the time when it wasn't a popular policy or even a way to describe the city.
I think it is now something the city is very proud of, and I'm proud of the fact that I was able to lead some of the fights that got us to this place.
What are sanctuary cities, exactly?
The most prominent aspect of a sanctuary city is putting an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds. That’s when ICE would call local police and ask them to hold people who they thought were undocumented so that border agents could pick them up from the police station. The issue with that is you could get picked up for anything. You could even be a victim of a crime and get picked up. And there were lots of victims of crimes getting caught up in that dragnet.
So we said that was unconstitutional, and a violation of the Fourth Amendment, in particular in regards to searches and seizures. That was a huge success for us and the policy that we created here in the city was replicated over 80 times across the country.
We also put an end to sharing the arrest database with ICE, which agents were using to conduct home raids.
Would you consider Philadelphia a leader in these policies?
I believe so. We were definitely always at the vanguard of pushing for sanctuary policies.
What are your top issues?
I think that number one on everybody's mind – including mine – has always been public safety. I had an incident last summer where I had a stray bullet come through my front windshield while I was driving down Broad Street. The bullet got so close to hitting me that it landed in the cupholder next to my leg.
The hardest part of the whole experience was that I then proceeded to call 911 several times and I didn't get an answer. I've done a lot of digging to try to find out why that was. I think there's a big problem with how we're managing things. I also feel like we have to support our city workers with a living wage.
Public safety is followed by affordability – whether that's housing, how expensive your grocery bill has gotten and I would say education.
It sounds like you're making a connection between the state of the economy and crime?
We have a wide wage gap in this city. First off, we're the poorest of the large cities in the country, which means there are a lot of places in our city that are really struggling, and I think that the pandemic made things a lot worse.
We're seeing the way that inflation has impacted our communities. Poverty has always been a problem here, but it's getting worse. When that happens, people are going to do what they need to do to survive.
You can't address public safety without talking about poverty, and how we're going to address schools, and access to jobs. Without those solutions it's just going to get worse and worse.
The Philadelphia2035 plan is calling for more dense developments, especially near transit areas. Do you support this?
I think you can't have one without the other. Finding parking in the neighborhood is hard. We can have a critique about parking and the use of vehicles and pollution, which I agree with, but we also don't have good public transit out here [in the Northwest].
It takes at least an hour from Germantown – maybe longer from places like Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy – to even get downtown, unless you take Regional Rail, which is much more expensive.
I think we have to do some of the transit developmental improvements out here that would allow for people to be able to move between here and Center City and other parts of the city before we start [building dense apartment complexes]. Otherwise we're actually just going to make everything worse, because we're just going to have more people with cars out here.
How would you accomplish that? There's been some talk about cutting prices for Regional Rail down to what the subway costs. Is that something you'd support?
We should do that. Regional Rail functions in a way where it only comes out once an hour, and it's so expensive.
We should start by prioritizing city residents as a part of our transit system. People in Germantown are constantly talking about if we're ever going to get the trolley again, and whether or not that would improve transit. Are there routes that could be better? Could we get more routes out here in Germantown and Mt. Airy? The 23 comes by my house, but it takes a long time to get downtown. Some people will hop on the 23 and then hop on [the train] at Wayne Junction to go downtown - that still takes you forever. I just think there are ways that we need to restructure some of that.
What haven't I asked that you’d want people to know about you?
I'd like people to know that the experience that I bring makes me a really good fit for this job. To have fought for something like the sanctuary city policies that were really unpopular at first, and then to see everybody be proud of it - that's called helping build a movement. And in order to make change we have to build movements in this city that are exciting and that move people to want those changes.
I want to bring that. I want to build coalitions inside of City Hall, and also work with all the movement groups on the outside, as well as the people in the community who want change. I'm excited to do that because I'm really good at that.