The Sánchez Insurgency

Inspired but isolated, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is at war with her own party, Latino political bosses and half her Council colleagues. Her fighting spirit could make her mayor someday — or leave her career in ashes.
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Photograph by Jared Castaldi

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez woke to the smell of her house burning down. It was around 5:30 a.m. on March 28, 2014, and the Democratic City Councilwoman was in the middle of the bravest and possibly most boneheaded political campaign of her life. She had persuaded her Harvard-educated husband Tomas and three of her bright young Council aides to run against a group of entrenched Democratic incumbents in the General Assembly, even though they had little money, no profile and no meaningful allies.

Democratic Party boss Bob Brady and his ward leaders — especially those from Sánchez’s district — were aggravated. Sánchez had defied the party for years, but this? This was rebellion.

Smoke curled around Norris Square, a Puerto Rican community in North Philly. Sánchez and her husband were staying a few blocks away from their house at the time, at her brother-in-law’s apartment. They’d relocated, in part, because Tomas was challenging State Senator Tina Tartaglione, and Sánchez’s house was just outside Tartaglione’s district, while the brother-in-law’s was not. That maneuver infuriated the ward leaders all the more.

A man knocked on the door. As soon as Sánchez opened it, she knew what had happened. “Please don’t tell me that’s what I’m smelling,” she said aloud, and yelled for her husband. “He just started to cry,” she says. “He didn’t even go down there for hours. He just couldn’t.”

Sánchez, though, bolted down the road in her pajamas. She arrived, panting, and stared at the three-story rowhouse that had been her home for 17 years. It was engulfed in flames. This was where she’d married Tomas, raised her two sons, and built herself into one of the city’s most powerful political figures. Now, the windows were blown out. Her beloved Latino art collection was stained by smoke. Her family photos were melted. “I had been saying, in particular to my son Tomasito, ‘Let’s take a moment and scan all these pictures.’” They never got the chance.

Later that day, police showed her video footage of a possible arsonist. She couldn’t believe who was on the screen. “I was like, ‘This looks like Edwin. But it can’t be Edwin,’” she remembers.

Edwin Diana was a close friend of her oldest son, Edgar. Sánchez had known him since he was a little boy. She had just seen him, actually. “He was on the scene of the fire with us,” she says. “He brought us coffee. He was like, ‘Is there anything you need, Maria?’”

But as Sánchez saw it, there was something even more chilling about Edwin’s face on that grainy video: At the time, Edwin was living with the great-nephew of State Senator Tartaglione, Tomas’s opponent in the upcoming primary election. Sánchez feared that the Tartagliones — a powerful political family — might have been involved. She still has no evidence of that; Diana was convicted of burglary but acquitted of arson. (His lawyer argued that the fire was caused accidentally when Diana lit a candle in the home.) As for the Tartagliones, they adamantly deny any connection to the fire. That didn’t matter to Sánchez. “My son had seen a bunch of stuff in our political lives, but for the first time, I really felt he was scared,” she says.

“I told Tomas, ‘We need to get out of this business. This is not worth it.’”

FOR A FLEETING MOMENT a few years ago, it seemed as if Philly’s political machines might finally be losing their grip on the city.

Ultra-maverick Mike Nutter had smoked the city’s Boss Tweed in the 2007 mayoral race, the Machiavellian Vince Fumo was on trial, and political insiders were asking if labor kingpin Johnny Doc, who’d lost a state Senate race, was becoming irrelevant. Today, that’s all a distant memory. Last year, Doc got his brother elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and helped put Jim Kenney in the mayor’s office. Apart from the rare high-profile, high-turnout elections, the Democratic City Committee still calls a lot of shots. Philly’s big political factions may war with each other from time to time, but at end of the day, one of them almost always wins.

All of this has worked out well for career politicians and ward leaders but poorly for Philadelphia. Yes, there are hardworking, dedicated public servants who are party people through and through, but there are also plenty of hacks. Consider City Commissioner Anthony Clark, who chairs the city’s election board. Clark rarely votes himself, and rarely shows up at his office. And yet Brady stood behind him, because “he’s a Democrat.”

Philadelphia’s calcified political system has hurt the city in less overt ways, too: Last year, the mayoral field brought few new ideas to the table. When it came time for Mayor Jim Kenney to fill his cabinet, he barely looked outside of the city. There’s not a single millennial on City Council, even though Philadelphians under 30 make up 43 percent of Philly’s population. And though the rest of the city has become more diverse and cosmopolitan, our political class is stuck in a black-and-white rerun. Philadelphia’s Latino and Asian populations have grown dramatically in recent years but remain badly underrepresented in state and local politics.

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is a walking, talking rebuke to all of that. She is, at 47, younger, brighter and far harder-working than most local pols, and she says so — often. “I make the party better,” Sánchez tells me, “even if they don’t want me.” She has forced through Council some of the most ambitious legislation Philadelphia has enacted in the past decade. She has launched long-shot crusades to get more Latinos, more young people and more women into office. She’s not just an independent who keeps her distance from bosses, as Nutter did. She’s willfully antagonistic. She does her damnedest to damage the city’s machines.

And so the bosses hit her with everything they’ve got. John Dougherty, the electricians union chief and political heavyweight, has tried and failed to take her out at least twice. The Democratic City Committee has opposed Sánchez in every election she’s run in, including two in which she was the incumbent.

Sánchez is equally loathed by a number of Latino political leaders right in her backyard — in other words, some of the very people she should be able to rely on most.

Why the hate? Sánchez’s problems in her home district are more complicated, but there’s no mystery why the city’s machines can’t stand her: She didn’t wait her turn, and she’s constitutionally incapable of rolling over.

At 30 years old, she challenged 7th District City Councilman Rick Mariano, a white guy with close ties to Johnny Doc who represented the most heavily Latino district in the city, a tortured, twisting ad for gerrymandering that then stretched from the eastern side of North Philly to the Lower Northeast. Mariano’s idea of serving his Puerto Rican constituents was crude, at best. He once told a reporter he wanted to build a ballpark in his district because Latinos didn’t care about economic development projects. “[They] don’t mean anything to José from 2nd and Lehigh,” he explained. A ballpark, on the other hand, “means something. He can see and touch it. It’s a field of dreams. … These people, you got to throw them a bone.”

She lost that race. Seven years later, Mariano was gone, serving four years in federal prison on a bribery charge. (When he got out, CBS Philly reported, his first post-prison phone call was to Brady.) In another town, the Democratic Party might have sought to replace Mariano with the highly qualified Sánchez.

Instead, the city’s ward leaders picked one of their own, Daniel Savage (another white guy), to serve out Mariano’s term. In 2007, Sánchez ran again, this time against Savage. She crushed him, 52 to 41 percent.

All of this won Sánchez an impressively long list of bitter enemies, but it also earned her the admiration of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful and accomplished figures, who consider her a daring, freethinking operator in a political class otherwise dominated by bosses and their soldiers.

Sánchez’s enemies list (clockwise from top left): Angel Cruz and Carlos Matos; Bob Brady; John Dougherty. (Photos: Phillyrecord.com; Matt Rourke/Associated Press; Jessica Hawkes Webster)

Sánchez’s enemies list (clockwise from top left): Angel Cruz and Carlos Matos; Bob Brady; John Dougherty. (Photos: Phillyrecord.com; Matt Rourke/Associated Press; Jessica Hawkes Webster)

Former mayors John Street, Bill Green, Michael Nutter and Ed Rendell all endorsed her in last year’s election — which is unprecedented in city politics. Wilson Goode says he would have done the same, but couldn’t under the terms of a grant he receives. “She’s not like so many public officeholders are today — an appendage of some mini or major political boss,” says Green. Rendell says she’s “very strong,” and “an independent voice.” Judith von Seldeneck, the politically influential founder of a Philadelphia-based worldwide recruiting company, says, “She has a charisma about her. I’m in the people business, and you get a gut about certain people that have certain qualities, and she’s just one of those people.”

Some think those qualities might get Sánchez elected mayor someday, the machines be damned. “She has demonstrated a strong ability to organize and win, and I think that’s half of what you need,” says Goode.

But there’s something bleak about Sánchez’s story, too. More than 30 years have passed since Goode and other African-American activists wrested real power from what was then Philadelphia’s white-dominated Democratic Party. And yet Sánchez is confronting the same hostility, the same brand of intolerance, that Goode did decades ago.

Candidates with indie DNA can win in modern-day Philadelphia; there was Nutter, obviously, but also newly elected Council members Helen Gym and Allan Domb, State Rep Brian Sims and a handful of others. But an overwhelming majority of the city’s elected officials remain affiliates of one big faction or another, and that reality is even more pronounced outside the wealthy, progressive neighborhoods of Center City. To beat the machine on its home turf takes a lot more than good ideas and a smart campaign. You have to be almost superhumanly tough. You have to be whip-smart. You may have to contend with a barrage of racism and sexism. And you have to keep going once the fire is out.

IN 1976, at 6th Street and Hunting Park Avenue, Sánchez got beat up by a boy.

Sánchez, a third-grader at the time, ran home bawling. Her brother told her to fight the kid again. “I’m like, ‘I just got my ass kicked,’” says Sánchez. She was terrified, but she wanted to impress her brother, so she challenged the boy to a rematch.

Sánchez won the second round — or so she thought. Her brother had staged the whole thing: He roughed up her bully and told the kid to let Sánchez kick his butt, or else. “I went through life never letting anybody bully me, because I thought I had something in me,” she says.

That’s the story, anyway. It sounds half apocryphal, like a family legend. But it’s interesting that this is one of Sánchez’s favorite stories about herself. She brags about being a “really, really tough” kid, and riffs at length on how girls can win fights against boys. (“Take the first shot and run.”) She’s relished fighting her whole life.

In that first campaign against Mariano, she was frequently trailed, she claims, by what she describes as the electricians union’s “big goons.” “It was a little scary and intimidating,” she admits. But she got in their faces anyway, all five-foot-six of her. Sánchez uses fear and doubt as fuel. “I remember being like, ‘What are you gonna do to me?’” she says, and smiles. “I had a conversation with one of them later who said, ‘You’re a little gutsy.’”

Sánchez, her mother and her two brothers came to the United States in the late 1960s. They moved from Puerto Rico to be with Sánchez’s father, who spent much of the year on a farm in Jersey, picking blueberries and strawberries. The family reunion wasn’t a happy one, though. “My dad was an alcoholic,” she says. “That was one of the consequences of his work. You worked long hours and you drank.” By Sánchez’s sixth birthday, her parents were separated.

Afterward, the family got by on her mom’s salary as a factory worker. “You ate white rice and eggs, and it was because you didn’t have meat. But you don’t know until you’re older,” Sánchez says. There were other troubles: Hers was one of the only Puerto Rican families living in Hunting Park at the time. Sánchez says people would stare at her when she walked to the drugstore, and her brothers often got into fights.

Sánchez thrived, nonetheless. When she was a student at the Pennsylvania Advancement Middle School, she helped rename the building in honor of Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican baseball star. In high school, she became president of a citywide Latino youth-empowerment club that boasted hundreds of members. Even getting pregnant as a college freshman — her boyfriend told her to drop out — didn’t slow her down for long. She broke up with him, took a year off, and then re-enrolled at Lincoln University. It was Sánchez’s mother, it seems, who kept her in check. “She’s my hero. They took her out of school to raise her 18 brothers and sisters,” says Sánchez. “My mom and I, we will take charge in every scenario.”

Sánchez has an answer for everything, even if you haven’t asked a question. She’s demanding of the people who are close to her (she sends emails to her Council aides at 3 a.m.) but protective of them as well (she refuses to let those aides take SEPTA in the barrio after the sun goes down). And she’s incessantly, obsessively hunting for solutions to the city’s labyrinthine problems.

One autumn day, as she shuttles between meetings on I-95, I ask her what legislation she’s cooking up for the next year. Sánchez is wearing the uniform of a corporate exec — a slate gray suit, geometric glasses, power-fuchsia lipstick — and she’s talking a mile a minute. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff,” she says, grinning broadly. She does this often, in a disarmingly contagious way, her smile stretching far into the upper reaches of her round cheeks.

First, she tells me about a clever idea she has to catch slumlords. Next, she plans to crack down on the kinds of companies that tried to take advantage of her when her house caught fire. “They’re ambulance chasers!” she says.

She tells me next about her plan to fix the city’s bidding process. “We have five or six contractors who bid on all of the contracts, and they’re rigged, ’cause I know what so-and-so charges, and he knows what I charge,” she says. “We pay $700 for a trash can sometimes!” She goes on like this nonstop for 30 more minutes.

Remember the woman-in-a-meeting meme, which poked fun at the meek, roundabout language women often use in the workplace so as to not “offend” anyone? Sánchez is the opposite. She is breezily confident, unabashedly wonky and painfully detail-oriented. She knows her shit, and she knows she knows her shit.

She describes her political views as “socialist, kind of.” “I really believe we can have poor, working-class communities that are clean and safe. Poverty should not determine the quality of life you have,” she says.

But a lot of her actual legislation appears more practical than ideological. Sánchez pushed through business tax reform that benefited bodega owners much more than it did the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. She passed legislation to make it easier for people to buy publicly owned lots.

Sánchez has done this and much more despite being a divisive figure on City Council. As Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. diplomatically explains, “There’s a group of people [on Council] that just love her. Then there’s a group of people that may not love her but still respect her.”

Before former Councilwoman Marian Tasco retired last year, Sánchez was known to butt heads with her, even though she once worked in Tasco’s office. “We don’t always agree on the issues,” Tasco tells me. “Maria is a strong personality, and sometimes she wants things to be her way.”

Sánchez is “smart, very smart,” Tasco adds. But the former Councilwoman doesn’t understand why Sánchez won’t just play ball. “I don’t agree with her politics. I’ve tried to say, ‘Don’t be so hard in establishing I’m not going to go there. Because you may have to go there.’”

THE FIRST TIME Sánchez was offered an envelope full of cash, she says, was in 2008, by a business leader in North Philadelphia.

He was in trouble with the taxman, with L&I, with the fire department. “The place was a mess,” says Sánchez. She was there to tell him to shape up. “I said, ‘You got a lot of stuff going on here. None of it is legal.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, I really want to get it together if you work with me.’” Then out came the envelope. “I’m like, ‘Are you crazy?’” she says. “He taught me a lot of lessons in one day.” In the weeks and months ahead, Sánchez was offered more envelopes of cash — many more: “I can’t tell you how many.”

The 7th Council District has long had a dysfunctional political culture; two of Sánchez’s predecessors on Council did federal time on corruption charges, for instance. But Sánchez blames many of the district’s current problems on her rivals, Carlos Matos and Angel Cruz.

There’s a vicious political civil war under way in Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community, one rife with accusations of hypocrisy, sexism and outright corruption. On one side are Sánchez and her supporters, who consider Matos and Cruz to be lapdogs for the Democratic City Committee. On the other side are the party elites, who say Sánchez is ineffective in Council and that she wears a reformer’s mask but is actually in it for herself and her friends.

At least, those are the battle lines as they stand today. Political allegiances are known to shift often in the 7th District (as they do in many other sections of the city). At varying times, Sánchez has been friendly with Cruz, and at one point she gave ward leader Matos’s daughter a patronage job in her Council office.

But that all ended a few years ago. Sánchez says she tried at first to find common ground with Matos and Cruz for the sake of their constituents, but gave up after concluding they could not be trusted. “I always talk to [Matos] like I’m talking to the feds,” says Sánchez. “I believe he’s wired, so I’m very dramatic when I’m like, ‘Fuck, no’ with him.”

In the late 2000s, Matos served a three-year sentence in federal prison for bribing a trio of Atlantic City councilmen. (A judge said a group of city politicians, including Brady, wrote “an extraordinary number of letters” asking for leniency for Matos in the case.) A few years after Matos was released, the mental-health clinic he runs was raided by the FBI. Cruz and Matos were also both arrested in 1999 for allegedly trying to pay committee people to vote for Cruz in a ward election. (A jury couldn’t agree on a verdict, so the charges were dropped.)

Sánchez argues that there’s a “connection between that type of leadership and the conditions that my folks struggle with” in the 7th District — the poorest in the city. Her fans will also tell you Matos and Cruz are misogynists who hate her because she’s an assertive woman.

Sánchez sees her battle against Matos and Cruz as part of a larger war for the political empowerment of Hispanics. She says the machines have only embraced Latinos they’ve handpicked, instead of grassroots candidates. Other prominent Puerto Ricans, such as former city solicitor Nelson Diaz, agree. “The Democratic Party in Philadelphia has not traditionally opened a real door of opportunity for Latinos to run,” he says.

Matos and Cruz, meanwhile, consider Sánchez a serial liar and every bit as transactional as the good ol’ boys she criticizes. Matos says Sánchez turned on him not because of her high-minded ideals, but because he refused to endorse her husband for the state legislature. “They want to take control of everything,” says Matos. “It’s only about her and her alone,” Cruz adds. This is a complaint I hear often from Sánchez’s enemies — that she’s selfish and power-hungry.

Last year, Matos and Cruz tried to knock Sánchez out of office again. They had trouble finding a candidate, so they settled for Manny Morales, a little-known block captain. He was a nobody, up against perhaps the most accomplished Council incumbent. That didn’t stop the Democratic City Committee from endorsing Morales over Sánchez.

Unfortunately for Matos, Cruz, and the Democratic Party’s self-respect, the unvetted Morales turned out to be a dippy racist whose Facebook page had featured dozens of offensive posts over the years. One showed an image of a black man jaywalking while an animal crossed an overhead bridge above. “This shows who is an animal? Awesome picture,” Morales wrote. Another post asked if gay men, like flatworms, “use their bifurcated penises to fence one another.” Morales claimed he hadn’t made the posts. But Michael Blackie, Morales’s former spokesman, now admits that was a fabrication. “I’m not going to spin any more lies for this guy,” he tells me. “Manny, you know you did it. We’re Facebook friends.” Morales didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

The Democratic City Committee eventually withdrew its endorsement of Morales. But the party still didn’t support Sánchez, and Matos and other ward leaders in the 7th District stuck by Morales. “I saw the stuff and it didn’t seem to faze me,” Matos says of the Facebook posts.

Remarkably, Sánchez beat Morales by only 868 votes. She got crushed in Matos’s and Cruz’s wards. For all the love Sánchez has gotten from Philly’s former mayors, she remains shaky in her home district.

But Sánchez has her own theory for why the race was a nail-biter: Her enemies cheat. She claims Matos and Cruz paid people to support Morales. She says it works like this: A voter agrees to cast a ballot for Morales in exchange for cash. To prove that he or she voted for Morales, the voter asks a poll worker for help while voting. This is known as a “voter assist request.” At the end of the day, the ward leader checks with the poll workers to see how many voters got “assistance.” If it’s a number that makes the ward leader happy, the poll worker gets paid, too.

“For some of these people on election boards, Election Day has become a thousand-dollar day,” she says. As evidence, Sánchez points to a 400-plus percent increase in voter assistance requests between the 2014 and 2015 primaries in a handful of divisions in Cruz’s and Matos’s wards. Still, it’s a wild accusation, one that implicates dozens of poll workers, ward leaders and voters in a massive voting-fraud scheme. As of today, not a single person has been charged with wrongdoing, and Philly Mag found no evidence that any investigation of voting in the 7th District is under way.

Cruz and Matos strongly deny that they had anything to do with voter fraud. Matos says that Sánchez was “fairly beat” in his ward. (Likewise, all of Sánchez’s political enemies that I spoke with denied that they would ever set her house on fire, and none of them were ever charged with any wrongdoing pertaining to that incident.)

At one point while I’m reporting this story, I ask Matos about an ethics complaint Sánchez recently filed against him in his capacity as a ward leader.

He asks me, in turn, why the public is so interested in his ward’s business. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Maybe you could educate me.” Then he tells me a story. A few decades ago — he can’t remember the exact year — a Republican candidate was running for statewide office. “He was paying a particular guy, who will stay nameless, because they were helping him. It was the race of his life. And this guy came down with a bag full of money,” he says. “Then the Republicans come out with this finance reform, and yet they were breaking the law. Everyone was doing the same thing. The question is, who beats who to the drawing board?”

Eventually, I get off the phone with Matos. A few minutes later, he calls me back. He tells me he’s heard rumors that the FBI is investigating Sánchez. He has nothing to back it up. He himself doesn’t even know if it’s true. “People like to talk shit. This could be shit as well,” he says. “Usually I don’t like to spread shit, but this broad, she’s really getting out of hand.”

SÁNCHEZ IS PLOTTING. She’s at City Hall, getting ready for a town hall meeting at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School in Northeast Philly’s Oxford Circle neighborhood. It’s meant to be an introduction to some of her new constituents, ones she started representing this year after Council redrew the boundaries for the 7th District in a fairer, saner way. But Sánchez’s mind is on Johnny Doc.

In a few days, Council will vote on a new franchise agreement with Comcast. It’s a massive document that addresses everything from the company’s wages to its discounts for seniors. Sánchez sees the pact as an opportunity to add workers of color to Philadelphia’s building trades, which have long been dominated by white men. Her goal is to strong-arm Doc’s electricians union into accepting students as members right out of school, instead of first requiring them to go through the union’s apprenticeship program. That’s unheard-of.

“If they fight me on it, I can publicly challenge them as to why they don’t want trained Philadelphia high-school students,” Sánchez says. She laughs. “My husband’s like, ‘You’re enjoying the scheming part of that too much.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I am.’”

Sánchez does stuff like this all the time. To her fans, this is the work of a fearless and savvy advocate. Other anti-machine pols, like Nutter, have lost clout because they’re reluctant to get their hands dirty. Sánchez, though, is proud of her bloody knuckles. To her critics, this comes across as bullying. And not all her targets are as accustomed to taking punches as Doc.

Before she first took office in 2008, she learned that the Norris Square Civic Association was in talks with a developer about selling a piece of property that the School District of Philadelphia wanted to use for a new high school. The nonprofit wanted $3 million for the land, for which it had paid $500,000 six years earlier. Sánchez intervened, arguing that it wasn’t worth $3 million. “You’re taking from a nonprofit so that a for-profit contractor gets a greater profit,” says Pat DeCarlo, the civic group’s executive director. After the deed was finalized for about $2 million, the developer who built the school started donating to Sánchez’s campaign.

A few years later, in 2012, Sánchez blocked a low-income co-op project championed by the same civic association. The proposed project sat across the street from her house. Sánchez said the area was too dense already and that nonprofits in her district should be revitalizing decrepit homes instead of building new ones. DeCarlo saw this as an example of councilmanic
prerogative — the tradition that gives district Council members huge authority over development in their districts — run amok.

When I first ask Sánchez about her ongoing feud with DeCarlo, she sighs. “Do we really need to include her in this thing? She’s a bitch.” Reluctantly, Sánchez makes the case that she’s been forced to act as a “watchdog” over nonprofits in her area that receive public funds. These organizations can’t fool her, she says, because she grew up in the world of community development corporations. “I knew the games they were playing.”

When reporting this story, I get a tip that the city’s ethics board is investigating a political committee tied to Sánchez.

The ethics board tells me, as is the norm, that it can “neither confirm nor deny any possible investigation.”

So I bring it up with Sánchez. We’re sitting in her city-owned black SUV outside the town hall meeting in the Northeast, and she’s gleefully recalling the time last year she single-handedly killed a bill she thought was anti-small-business, by refusing to hold a hearing on it (the same tactic Council President Darrell Clarke was so roundly criticized for when he killed the proposed PGW sale).

When I ask about the ethics board investigation, Sánchez confirms there is one. But she says she’s not worried about it. It’s complicated, but the investigation appears focused on Sánchez’s role in two PACs. By law, she can only run one. Then she throws her Council colleagues under the bus. “They’re actually looking at everybody, all the PACs,” she tells me. “You’re going to hit me with that and not Bobby Henon? He’s still on the payroll!” (Councilman Henon, a close ally of Johnny Doc, used to be the political director for the electricians union. He still gets paid by the union as an adviser.)

One of the reasons Sánchez is seen as a reformer, even though she’s not above patronage or old-school transactional politics, is because she’s so disarmingly transparent. She blurts out what other pols instinctively conceal.

What’s she got to hide? Right?

SÁNCHEZ HAS WON many of her battles, but she’s not winning her war — not yet, anyway. Since she took office in 2008, only two additional Latinos have been elected at the city or state level. And she had nothing to do with that. Perhaps her power is blunted because she so often fights alone.

In the late 1960s, Wilson Goode sat down with a group of black pastors, educators and business leaders. Their goal was to create a movement to elect African-Americans without the support of the city’s Democratic machine. Before that, Goode says, “There were no black political officials who had been elected without being handpicked by the party.” Everyone from Hardy Williams to Dwight Evans to John Street became part of the coalition. They bickered. They fought. But they hung together tightly enough that within 15 years, they got Goode elected Philadelphia’s first African-American mayor.

Can Sánchez be to Latinos what Goode was to African-Americans? Can she transform political insurgency into political power? Can she be Philadelphia’s first woman mayor? Eventually, perhaps. Goode was a consensus builder, though, while Sánchez is a proud rabble-rouser. Goode, for one, thinks she has the capacity to grow beyond that. “The future of Philadelphia will be based on strong coalitions like the one that Jim Kenney had. I don’t think any one ethnic group in the city will be able to elect a candidate for citywide office,” he says. “I really believe she has the potential to build a coalition to be elected mayor, based upon her charisma and her ability to win across racial lines when she was not supported by the party.”

Sánchez can’t come out and say she’s going to run for mayor in 2023 without getting into trouble with the city’s ethics board. But it’s clear she’s thinking about it — hard.

She readily admits she has problems raising money, which she would need to run a serious campaign. She’d also likely be up against formidable opponents. Everyone from Doc ally Bobby Henon to condo king Allan Domb to Tasco acolyte Cherelle Parker could jump in the ring — a lot of people skipped last year’s race and have their eye on 2023. And who knows? Maybe she’ll be so fed up with politics by then that she’ll get out of the game: “I can work toward an eight-year plan and decide I want to go to my porch in Puerto Rico,” she says.

But then again … “I think in eight years, the city is ready for a woman,” she tells me. “There will be a generational shift going on, and a demographic shift. I think people want people who are battle-tested, and people who will work toward a resolution.”

In other words, Sánchez is saying, people want her. Of that, at least, she’s certain.

Published as “The Sánchez Insurgency” in the February 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.