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City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez speaks with Hernán Guaracao, AL DÍA publisher and CEO, on March 14. Photo: Alan Simpson / AL DÍA News
City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez speaks with Hernán Guaracao, AL DÍA publisher and CEO, on March 14. Photo: Alan Simpson / AL DÍA News

María Quiñones-Sánchez: ‘I picked my enemies’

The City Council veteran reveals her strategy to defeat her nemesis state Rep. Angel Cruz.

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María Quiñones-Sánchez, the 12-year Philadelphia City Council veteran, said women need to proudly share their stories in political spaces.

“The talent has always been there,” Quiñones-Sánchez told AL DIA News. “...This is women feeling more comfortable and getting into those spaces and commanding their space.”

“I am never good about telling my story,” she added. “Because I don't do it to take praise. I do it because that's why I got into this.” 

City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez speaks with Hernán Guaracao, AL DÍA publisher and CEO, on March 14. Photo: Alan Simpson / AL DÍA News

The original disruptor

Quiñones-Sánchez’s story lines the solutions she puts forward, and residents in her district know it well.

Quiñones-Sánchez, 50, has spent more than a decade serving city council’s 7th District, representing El Barrio, parts of Kensington and Hunting Park, where she spent her childhood. She’s witnessed the effects of substance use disorder on her residents and on her father, who had a drinking problem, Quiñones-Sánchez said during Thursday’s AL DIA Talks.

She’s city council’s first and only Latina member and a proud boricua, the product of working-class parents who traveled between la isla and the U.S., her father, as a temporary farm worker and her mother, a garment worker. With them in the back of her mind over her dozen years in council, she’s championed fair wages, advocating for minimum wage increases on both the city and state level.   

Quiñones-Sánchez may be well-established in her office, but assures she’s not part of the establishment of Democratic leaders in the city, defining herself as a “disruptor.” She does have the contentious record with Democratic ward leaders to prove it — not once, but four times — pushing through her own party’s resistance to reclaim her 7th District seat. 

She thinks the party is “tone-deaf” to the progressive revolution seen across the country at-large, with young, nontraditional candidates willing to run grassroots campaigns and declining to cut deals with the powers that be. 

“People are going to come in at different times in the history of democracy and say, 'we're not going far enough' or 'we're not doing enough,'” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “And those voices get amplified, and that's the case here in Philadelphia. I don't play along. I don't play along and I'm not willing to compromise my values.” 

Quiñones-Sánchez has been weighed down by her opponents’ expectations to pay tribute to current leaders, who she said have threatened she’ll struggle to propel her political standing in the city if she doesn’t take a knee and try to unite the Latino community. As a woman surrounded by machismo, her confidence is interpreted as arrogance and her urgency as radicalism.

“I picked my friends, and I definitely picked my enemies,” she said. “People who are hostile to my community, who want to take advantage of my community, are not my friends. I'm going to stand up for the constituents I represent, and if that means unifying those forces together against me, which is what you saw last time, and what you'll see this time again.”

The Democratic primary election pitting Quiñones-Sánchez against her opponent state Rep. Angel Cruz on May 21 will be no different than any other council election for her. The district’s ward leaders voted last month to support Cruz, who represents part of the 7th District in his state senate position. 

The stories behind change

While Quiñones-Sánchez said she struggles to share her story as often, or as loudly as she would like to, her past is heard in the background of her legislative efforts. 

Just this past week, Quiñones-Sánchez moved to protect the rights of 16,000 domestic workers in the city, who are mostly women of color like some of her own family members, she said, working in others’ homes in order to provide meals for their families. Their unregulated work is conducted unfairly, with no guarantee of Philadelphia’s $15 minimum wage, according to Quiñones-Sánchez’s sponsored resolution passed on Thursday to have City Council examine its labor standards. 

“This is not about being punitive to employers, this is about asking employers to treat workers with dignity,” she added. “That there be transparency, that there be a contract, that there be predictability around hours and pay.”

She also sponsored a resolution on Thursday to fund third-party research on the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax, an additional 1.5 cent-charge on sugary drinks to assist the city’s pre-kindergarten programs, parks, and community centers. Quiñones-Sánchez has opposed the tax since Mayor Jim Kenney implemented it in 2017, citing her dislike for regressive taxation.

“I've had many cups of wine with Jim Kenney,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “He's a very nice guy, but I want to hold them accountable. He got elected to serve, and I got elected to defend my constituents. They should work synergistically and when they don't, I'm okay with it.”

Quiñones-Sánchez said she’s heard negative feedback on the tax from the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and residents in her district, who suggested the sugar tax has had unintended consequences on lower-income people and bodega owners, who are losing business to beverage distributors outside the city. 

“We do a disservice to the revenue discussion when it's like, ‘if you're against the soda tax, you're against children,’” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “No. I'm not going to let people use black and brown children as an excuse to do regressive taxes.”

Before running for city council and while working for the Government of Puerto Rico, she pitched affordable housing as a solution for loitering farm workers to male colleagues in Central Pennsylvania. She knew the root issue because she had experienced it before, observing men with too much time, and no family to return home to in the U.S., like her father when he came mainland to work. 

Quiñones-Sánchez, a regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration at the time, said women can bring well-rounded, family-focused solutions to the forefront, because they have multifaceted perspectives on public issues.

“It's that approach to problems that women bring to the table,” she added. “That's why women should feel very comfortable. I grew up with a mother who never told me I could not do anything. I can't even imagine a society where young women are told they can't, because that's not the one that I had in my household,”

“She allowed me to be, you know, María.”

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