Eryn Santamoor, a former chief of staff to Councilmember-At-Large Allan Domb and deputy managing director during the administration of former Mayor Michael Nutter, is running for an at-large seat.
Eryn Santamoor, a former chief of staff to Councilmember At-Large Allan Domb and deputy managing director during the administration of former Mayor Michael Nutter, announced last week that she is running for one of city council’s at-large seats – becoming the first non-incumbent to announce her candidacy for that office this year.
This will be a second attempt for Santamoor, who first ran for an at-large seat in 2019 and finished eighth among 30 candidates – failing to make the field of five Democrats routinely elected to Philadelphia’s at-large seats in City Council.
But Santamoor is hoping to improve on 2019’s run and announced her candidacy Thursday in a press release.
“When I was unsuccessful last time, I was devastated,” Santamoor said in an interview with the Local. “And I had a really nice conversation with Gov. Rendell afterwards. And he gave me a bit of advice that I will never forget. He said, ‘What makes you think you don't have to run twice in a town with 1.6 million people?’ He basically said pick your head up, get back out there, do what you love and keep working at it. That's what everybody does in this town.”
If she is successful, she could be the first at-large city councilmember to reside in Chestnut Hill since W. Thacher Longstreth in 2003.
“Any time a neighborhood in Philadelphia has someone elected either at-large or to a district council office it’s a net positive because that person knows the community, and lives, works, shops and maybe has kids in school here,” said David Thornburgh, a Chestnut Hill resident who also serves as senior advisor to the Committee of Seventy, an independent government watchdog group. “So it’s one more line of communication with City Hall.”
Santamoor, whose campaign website identifies her as coming from a working class family with parents who were a union leader and a nurse, calls herself as a “bridge maker.”
“I really love working with people and talking to communities about what they need,” she told the Local. “I just think we really need people who understand how government works so that we can change it.”
Her 2023 run for City Council at-large will be Santamoor’s first as a Chestnut Hill resident. When she ran in 2020, she lived in Fairmount. Since then, she said, she’s come to love her new neighborhood.
“When I first moved here, I had neighbors dropping off gifts,” she said. “It's such a lovely community that is warm and welcoming. I didn't realize Chestnut Hill was this close-knit.”
She plans to focus on three major issues: public safety, substance use treatment and quality services for every neighborhood.
“The city is facing simultaneous challenges of safety, substance use, and basic city service delivery,” Santamoor said. “I’m stepping up to help lead this city into a brighter future and I stand ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work on day one.”
The Local phoned Santamoor Friday to ask why she thinks she can win an election for council this time around, and where she stands on some important policy questions. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
What has working for Allan Domb and Mayor Nutter taught you?
So much. I am really lucky to have worked closely with both of them. Michael was probably one of the most important people. He basically taught me everything that has carried me forward through my career – like working hard, rolling up your sleeves, being smart enough, and how you have to communicate with people and work with them and build bridges to actually get things done.
Allan works so hard behind the scenes. I really learned how quiet hard work gets the job done better, sometimes, than really loud talking points. It's more important to get people what they need than it is to get credit for things. And that's the kind of humility Allan made sure I understood in his office. I'm grateful for those lessons.
You're prioritizing substance abuse treatment in your campaign. I'm curious – what would that look like?
There are so many people trying to work in this space and get the federal, state and local government working together. I've been a part of this community now for a number of years, with a lot of loved ones who have gone through substance use disorder, treatment and recovery. I've seen how difficult it can be for people and families to get through.
We need more bed spaces, and it needs to be more readily available for everybody. Whether you have insurance, whether you're on Medicaid, it doesn't matter. The kind of care you should receive has to be unique for each person, but it has to be all-inclusive for the family.
We've got to treat the whole family for diseases of mental health, emotional health problems, substance use disorder problems. Everybody needs to understand what their role is, what's happened to them and how we can get past it.
We don't make it easy for people to get through these government systems. We have to do a better job of realizing that it's about the patient and it's about the family.
Where do you stand on safe injection sites?
I think it's a topic worth talking about, but it certainly shouldn't overpower the conversation.
I want to talk about treatment for people who need it. That's where the conversation needs to start. If we don't even have enough beds for people who need them and we don't have full-circle care for families, we're not doing the basic stuff.
There is a broader conversation to have about harm reduction strategies, and there are many of them. I plan to talk with the medical professionals and the community members to figure out what works best where. But it has to be a community approach and a family approach first.
Crime is another really hot topic in the city. What do you think is driving the rise in violent crime and how can it be reversed?
Well, some of that comes back to the amount of grief and trauma and lack of opportunity in our neighborhoods. I think we have to get back to community public safety programming.
There's no one size fits all in the city of 1.6 million people. So we have to be more thoughtful in what we're doing. We certainly have the assets and tools to do it. How do police, the DA, the court system, the probation officers, the people in the community all work together? We need a cohesive set of plans for each neighborhood.
For instance, in Chestnut Hill, we can't apply what's going on here to other parts of the city, like Kensington or South Philadelphia. We have different issues, we have different types of crime. We have to recognize those things and work together to resolve them - and that's going to be a different approach in different places.
We also need a fully staffed police department, DA's office, and public defender's office. The court systems have to be working, and we need to understand diversion programs and what works.
We've got to use results-driven policy ideas, and that's what I've been doing most of my career.
SEPTA ridership hasn't come back to pre-pandemic levels, and we're really not sure if it ever will as more people are working from home. What do you think can be done for the two regional rail lines, Chestnut Hill East and West, that run through our neck of the woods?
There's no silver bullet in most things in government and SEPTA is no different. It's going to have to be a strategic plan for how we think about people moving in and around the city and why they're moving, when they're moving, and just develop plans with more thoughtfulness.
I think part of the issue is people just getting back to work and encouraging them to get back out there and come down to the Center City area. If we can do more marketing about what's going well in the city, I think we can start attracting people to leave their neighborhoods and come back to different places that are exciting and fun and social, including Center City and other commercial corridors and districts, for the things that we used to enjoy before the pandemic.
We're still recovering, and the city needs some cheerleading. I was just talking to Visit Philadelphia a bit ago about how we need to spend marketing dollars. We're falling behind other cities in marketing this as a place to live, work, have fun, raise a family.
But you know, SEPTA's doing a lot of work to get ready for all that. They're collecting better data, they're thinking about how they can use technology to keep people safe and keep the spaces clean. So the more they do that, the more they'll attract people back to it.
And local attention and investment helps. I have a neighbor at the Highland stop who's been keeping that space green and full of flowers and taking care of it. It's a beautiful space to use.
The last big policy question I want to ask you is about unsafe driving, which has been a big issue in Mt. Airy and Germantown. People complain about feeling scared by it. There have been a lot of accidents, some of them fatal. What steps would you take to ramp up the city's Vision Zero program, which is aimed at preventing these crashes and deaths?
I think what's most important is that we implement the plans that have already been put in place, and we continue to move forward with those plans. We did a great job of putting Vision Zero together, but we haven't done a great job of staying on top of it.
This is another area where technology improvements can really help. We have license plate readers, which is a way to communicate with drivers that they're being unsafe. It doesn't have to result in pulling people over. It doesn't have to result in tickets. It can start with a letter in the mail that says, 'Hey, we saw your license plate, and we saw you do this on our streets. We need you to stop that behavior, and if we catch it again, we will ticket you.'
You want compliance, and we don't want to ticket our way out of this. Creating safe places, where people are walking and moving around the city, is the goal.
In government, we often have a failure to launch. We just need to launch the work we've already done and stay on top of it. Accountability is key. If we don't hold ourselves accountable for doing the things we say we're going to do, then shame on us. That's not a people-based service model. That's not what the people want. They want to see results.
That's what I plan to fight for in city government - accountability. If we don't get change, if we don't get reform, if things aren't getting better, then we should be talking about that.
Correction: A previous version of this article identified David Thornburgh by the wrong title.