Seth Anderson-Oberman mounts serious challenge to Cindy Bass for city council

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/16/23

Anderson-Oberman reported gathering 3,812 signatures – more than five times the minimum of 750 required to run for office in a councilmanic district.

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Seth Anderson-Oberman mounts serious challenge to Cindy Bass for city council


As the window for filing objections to nomination papers for this year’s municipal election came to a close Tuesday, one thing became clear: Cindy Bass, who has represented the City of Philadelphia’s 8th Councilmanic District since 2012, is facing her first competitive primary challenger as an incumbent candidate. 

That challenger, Seth Anderson-Oberman, has reported gathering 3,812 signatures – more than five times the minimum of 750 required to run for office in a councilmanic district.

David Thornburgh, a senior advisor to the independent government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, described that number as “substantial,” adding that it suggests Anderson-Oberman has an “above average ground game.” The large number of signatures means his campaign must be enlisting a lot of clipboard-wielding volunteers, Thornburgh said, which suggests it is primed to compete – even against one of the city’s longest-serving incumbents. 

“Unseating an incumbent in Philadelphia is very difficult,” Thornburgh said. “It will still be a substantial uphill climb [for Anderson-Oberman], but this suggests the angle of incline is maybe a little less than it was at the outset.”

But one thing is certain. 

“This will be one of the contested district council races to watch this spring,” said Patrick Christmas, the Committee of Seventy’s chief policy officer. 

Supporters of Anderson-Oberman say the number of signatures they’ve collected indicates widespread enthusiasm for change – and that their candidate seems ready to make that happen. 

Mt. Airy’s Karen Bojar, a 9th Ward associate committee person and author, said it’s been a long time since she’s been this excited about a candidate.

“I think he understands the importance of public goods, public education, rec centers, libraries, and strengthening quality of life interests,” Bojar said. “I think he has a tremendous amount to offer the district and the city.”

Yvonne Haskins, a civic activist who is also supporting Anderson-Oberman, told the Local she likes his “solutions-oriented” approach to legislating.

“In the last 30 years in City Council, I haven’t seen any leadership that talks about solutions the way Seth does,” she said. “I think he has listened to different points of view. I think he’s willing to come together in coalitions with the community. We  need leadership that will bring us together to find solutions.”

For Anderson-Oberman, that means taking what some consider a progressive approach to issues he says affect “working” Philadelphians. He’s pledged not to take money from corporations and big developers, supports a moratorium on charter school expansion and said he would “look at” rent stabilization – which would cap rent increases at the rate of inflation – as a potential solution to the city’s housing crisis. 

But Anderson-Oberman doesn’t love the term “progressive,” he told the Local.

“To typecast it … as just progressive I think misses the mark a little bit,” he said in a phone interview last week. “There are lots of people who don't identify ideologically as progressive but are fighting for affordable rent and fair wages and for access to healthcare and fully funding schools. We are with them in those fights. I think of myself as a Black working class resident of Germantown who is fighting for a different kind of politics for the working people in our city.”

Anderson-Oberman said that when he looks around Northwest Philadelphia, including his hometown neighborhood of Germantown, he sees the changing racial and economic demographics in the North and Northwest – and no actions being taken by the city’s political leaders to protect longtime residents. 

“It's becoming richer and whiter” because residents can’t afford their mortgages, increases in property taxes and rising rents, he said. 

“Instead all we're getting are luxury apartment complexes that cost way more than anybody who lives here can afford,” he said. “It's shameful.”

As a result, Anderson-Oberman wants to triple funding for public housing, and says it can be paid for by instituting a city wealth tax and collecting payments in lieu of taxes - otherwise known as PILOTS - from the large nonprofits that currently don’t have to pay taxes. Another possibility is a vacancy tax.

“There are ways to get money into our budget,” he said. “We'd have to be creative, but we've got to stop raising taxes on working people, who are already overtaxed.  We need to tax wealthy people and corporations because that's who has the money.” 

The 8th District is big – and includes the high turnout, politically engaged 9th and 22nd Wards – a fact which helped put Sen. John Fetterman in office. 

“Whether it’s federal, state or local races, I know how important the 9th and 22nd Wards are,” Joe Pierce, statewide political director for the 2022 Fetterman campaign, told the Local last year. “People in those wards know how important it is to vote. They know when election time is and they know when to activate.”

The 8th District also includes the 59th, 12th, 17th, 13th, 49th and 11th Qards, which stretch deep into North Central Philadelphia. Anderson-Oberman will need to win at least some of those wards to win the seat, his supporters say. 

“He cannot win with just the 22nd and the 9th Qards,” said Maurice Sampson, a supporter and committee person in the 22nd Ward. “He needs to gather at least two other wards. That is the key.”

And as Christmas notes, there’s a lot more to campaigning than gathering signatures.

“It’s an important step, but it’s not the final step,” he said. 

The municipal election is May 16. 

Editor’s note: The Local will be taking a close look at the Bass campaign in next week’s paper.

Correction: This article previously misidentified Bojar as being a Chestnut Hill resident. She is in fact a Mt. Airy resident.