Though City Council is recessed for the summer, Councilwoman Cindy Bass was hard at work this week, squeezing meetings with reporters in between sit-downs with Parks Commissioner Susan Slawson and a line of others gathered at the door of her fifth floor office.
“We have a lot to do,” she said. “But, I’m excited about it. I just think that there is a lot more that our city could be.”
Bass replaced former 8th District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller after Miller’s retirement in January. She was one of six freshmen who have helped radically remake a body that was notoriously similar year after year. Bass is only woman in the “serious six,” as the group of six freshmen has been nicknamed by Majority Leader Curtis Jones. The nickname started as kind of joke but after the spring session — marked by strenuous budget talks — it’s not a joke anymore, he said.
“They’ve earned their title,” Jones said. “They were here to stand up for their core convictions.”
There is a definite bond among the freshman, and a feeling that change is needed.
“The six new freshman have added some energy and life into [council],” Bass said. “We do lunch on a regular basis. We do operate closely together, and I think that goes a long way in getting things done.”
All six were baptized by fire during this year’s budget talks, which was dominated by debate over the city’s eventual move to AVI — Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative — that will base property taxes on market value rather than the traditional fractional value.
Bass supports the move to AVI.
“It’s something that’s time has come,” she said. “For too long in Philadelphia … who you knew downtown determined whether or not you got a favorable tax rate. It’s been unfair for a long time.”
Debate over the issue splintered Council for months, as members worked to come up with an approach that could garner the nine votes needed to move legislation. Ultimately, AVI was delayed by Council because members were worried that the administration could not provide the data they needed to make a prudent decision.
Council President Darrell Clarke noted at Council’s last session that it was the most difficult budget season he’d seen in his 12 years on Council and quipped that after six months in the trenches, new members could no longer call themselves freshmen.
“You’ll learn that after your first six months you’re no longer a freshman,” he said, going on to praise the group for their contribution to Council’s work, and adding that Council has a whole deserved to be praised. “I just want to say thank you. You guys were awesome.”
Council’s delay of AVI means the issue is not going away any time soon.
But, with a bit of room to breathe, Bass hopes to begin moving forward with plans for her district. Her staff is putting together a report on the district that Bass hopes to use to guide her strategy as she moves forward.
“Our strategy so far has just been to stop the bleeding,” she said. “We do need to have a more strategic approach — so we’re sort of taking a step back now and thinking about things strategically.”
One of her first priorities is to change a perception that shrouded the 8th District under Miller — that its Council representative was inaccessible.
It was a charge that prompted Bass to start a weekly “Coffee with the Councilwoman” meeting that allows her constituents to meet her face to face.
“I hear about everything from drug sales in the neighborhood, a lot of people needing work, and then there are the bigger issues, policy issues from downtown,” she said.
Bass hoped to open a district office — something critics have pointed out she said she’d do but hasn’t — but said her office doesn’t have the money at the moment.
“We don’t have the budget for one and won’t for some time,” she said.
Bass also plans to work on some of the issues she campaigned on — improving business corridors and putting together an educational task force, working to cut crime and bringing jobs to her district.
“There is no shortage of things to be done,” she said.