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Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez speaks at the launch press conference for the People Over Politics Petition. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.
Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez speaks at the launch press conference for the People Over Politics Petition. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.

The People Over Politics Petition starts new conversation around Philly corruption reform

The new effort from state rep. Jared Solomon and Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez wants to take city government back to the basics of serving people.

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It’s been two weeks since former Philly union boss John Dougherty and Councilmember Bobby Henon were convicted in federal court for bribery among other corruption charges, and there are still only two public officials talking openly about what the case laid bare.

Philadelphia government is corrupt, and it has been for most of its modern existence, but the new People Over Politics Petition from State Rep. Jared Solomon and Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez hopes to bring the beginning of an end to how business gets done in the city. It was announced during a press conference held in the courtyard of City Hall on Nov. 29, 2021.

Throughout the duration of the six-week Johnny Doc-Henon trial and even in the immediate aftermath of its concluding convictions, the defense for the union boss and councilmember called their conduct business as usual at Philadelphia City Hall.

A juror on the case told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the trial was a crash course in Philly government, “and it was appalling.”

For Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez, it’s a reality she’s lived for the past 13 years as a member of Philadelphia City Council, representing District 7. Even before she came into office, her predecessor, Richard Mariano, was sentenced to prison for bribery. The district not only contains some of the most disinvested neighborhoods in all of Philly, but it is also often the district with the lowest voter turnout on Election Day.

She spoke about the everyday battle she has to fight just to keep her constituents believing (if only just a little) in the city government meant to serve them.

“There is a direct correlation between public transparency, public service, accountability, community engagement, and how our neighborhoods look and feel,” said Quiñones-Sánchez.

Her first point is a key thread across all of what her and Solomon’s petition tries to accomplish — a restoration of transparency and accountability from public officials across Philly government.

The petition has three specific avenues to achieve better transparency: restricting outside employment for public officials, considering public financing for elections, and eliminating dark money from politics in the city.

In regards to outside employment, Quiñones-Sánchez had long called out Henon for his employment at IBEW Local 98, and went on to call out others on council also holding other positions.

“Anybody who serves in city council who says they have the time to do something else is not serving their constituents,” she said.

However, later in the press conference announcing the petition, Quiñones-Sánchez did soften a bit on the issue, pitching an idea that would provide exemptions for those who teach or coach in some capacity. At the bare minimum, she said, the public should know what that outside employment is and what it provides the public official. City Council will debate the issue into the new year.

On public campaign financing, Quiñones-Sánchez said it was something city council had held talks on previously, and pinpointed it as a way to garner more of the much-needed public trust in the government.

In short, public financing would use tax dollars to fund candidates’ primary and general election campaigns, and would put a maximum in place for what they could spend.

“Public financing is an investment in ensuring our democracy and that people have faith in our system,” she said. “It is an investment, not an expense.”

What Philadelphia has now is what the rest of the country has as a result of Citizens United, which did away with many previous restrictions on what corporations and other outside groups could spend on campaigns. Mixed in with individual donations are bigger pots of money from PACs and SuperPACs often fronting for corporations and other larger organizations.

It’s how ones like IBEW Local 98 and its leader Johnny Doc could control what it did in Philly government, giving large swaths of money to campaigns across the city spectrum.

With Dougherty no longer the head of the powerful union, there is a vacuum of political power. But it will only be filled with similar bad actors should there be no action to change the current circumstances.

“There’s no way we will ever get a government that works for everyone until we stop having one that works for the wealthy and well-connected,” said Solomon.

The press conference on Nov. 29 ended with Solomon, Quiñones-Sánchez, and other partners signing the petition in support. The hope is to have more conversations and signatures as it goes across social media and to other parts of Philadelphia.

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