I Love My Job: City Representative Sheila Hess

The Philly leader, known for her bright smile and networking chops, explains how she seems to be everywhere all the time.

City Representative Sheila Hess. Courtesy photo.

Sheila Hess loves her job, and it’s nearly impossible to find the Philadelphia City Representative without her signature smile and cheery attitude. And the leader seems to be everywhere all the time. Hess explains how she stays so energized and lets us in on her 2019 plans.

I grew up in… South Philadelphia at 30th and Tasker. That’s the original Grays Ferry neighborhood and a member of St. Gabriel’s (St. Gabe’s) parish.

Something I really enjoyed about my childhood is… hanging out with my friends in the summer. We had an open porch on my street and everyone would be outside. It was such a family community block. And I used to go to Lanier Playground that was located on the corner of my block for summer camp. And what I really enjoyed was going down the shore every summer. I was also a regular on Dancin’ on Air in my early teenage years. It was the American Bandstand back in the day for Philly residents. It was on after General Hospital. I’d go right after school. We had roll call, and I’d be like, “Hi, My name is Sheila. I’m from South Philly. I’m 15 years old.” [Laughs] Kelly Ripa was a regular on there with me.

Being the City Representative means I… get to live a dream. This is the world to me to be able to represent a city I love and am beyond passionate about. I want the world to know about our city. To be appointed to this position is a dream come true.

During a busy week I attend around… a dozen events. But it’s not necessarily just attending events. I’m representing the mayor at functions or meetings or conferences. It’s more than a couple a day, and that includes weekends. I say yes to something if I can find five minutes to be there. Everything has to be ethically approved. I’d go to a a lot more if it weren’t for the approval process. [Laughs]

My daily schedule is… not monotonous. I wake up around 6:30 a.m. and am in bed around 1 a.m. It is nonstop, and I love every second of it. In this position you have to be nimble and flexible.

On the weekends I… like to sleep in late! That’s my time to catch up on beauty rest. I sleep in till about 9 a.m. That is when I get my mental downtime.

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My favorite thing about representing the city is… every opportunity. It’s incredible to be able to attend events and say I’m there on behalf of Mayor Kenney. I once presented a Liberty Bell — the highest honor you can receive from the City — to Kevin Hart. I was the one to rep the city and present Kevin Hart with the highest honor. To the dignitaries that come in and the ambassadors and consul generals, it’s a humbling experience to say welcome to the City of Philadelphia and be the one who gets to do that if he’s not there or with him if he is and with my team.

My biggest accomplishment this year was… speaking in front of Independence Hall on the 4th of July. To do this gives you the chills, standing at birthplace of America. It’s live on television and seen nationally. It’s a celebration of freedom that’s beyond moving and very powerful. It’s also a give back event where we award heroes. This year we gave the Philadelphia Magis Award to a transgender woman of color for the first time ever.

Philadelphia needs to get better at… We know our city is always a constant work in progress. The imperfections, we are working on them. We recognize what those needs are, and we believe in ourselves and have a strong leadership team. We have committees working on transportation and infrastructure, homelessness, opioid addiction, litter and the dumping of trash. Powerful committees are currently working to address these things, and it’s going to take collaboration and teamwork to get it done.

Something most people might not know about me is… I’ve never cursed a day in my life. People who know me very well know that. They tell me, “I want you to get mad.” [Laughs] But I’m very spiritual and a strong Catholic. I don’t get mad. I always find the good. I think positive. Other things: I do calligraphy and did corporate photography. I’m also a matchmaker. I’ve done lots of successful matchmaking.

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I stay energized by… doing more. If you stop, that’s when you start feeling tired.

Something that motivates me is…. making others smile and if I could be a role model to someone, for the youth especially. There aren’t enough positive role models out there. It would be the most flattering thing for someone to say they look up to me. And I like to live my life with this Maya Angelou quote in mind: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I don’t leave the house without… My crutches! [Laughs] Nobody will have that answer! I have a sense of humor, if you haven’t noticed. But really, I don’t leave without my smile and positive attitude. I also have to have lipstick on. It makes me look alive. I like bright red and bright colors overall.

I’m grateful for… being spoiled by love and not materialistic things. I could not be more grateful for the support of my husband and love from my family and friends.

The best career advice I’ve ever been given is… get involved and get results. And I have my parents to thank for my work ethic. The first person I met while in this role told me the job isn’t about being behind the desk and representing the city. I have to be visible and get results.

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If I weren’t in this role I’d… probably still be in my position at Independence Blue Cross where I was for 24 years before this. But if you ask what I wish could be, it’s a local TV news anchor. I’d get to talk about Philly, and I’d want to do the softer news about the great things going on. I’d love to talk about all of the nonprofits out there doing great work. I’d have my own show. That’s how I came up with my social handle —@SheilaShowPHL.

I’m afraid of… creatures! Creepy, crawly bugs.

A challenge I’m constantly up against is… not having enough hours, and we have a very small office. With a bigger staff we could do so much more. Also, parking is a huge challenge for me for all the events we go to. There’s not enough parking in the city.

Being born with spina bifida… I really have no sensation or movement from my knees down. I get around with crutches. I’ve been on crutches all my life. The hardest part is standing very long. Walking far is also hard. If I go to an event, I try to park as close as I can to the entrance. And I’m not shy — I ask for a seat if there’s no seat around. And in the winter, with snow or ice, it’s really a challenge. I never miss work, but sometimes I know my parameters. I will soon turn 50, so I’m not as adventurous as I used to be when it comes to walking in the snow.

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My handshake is… really firm. It’s because my hands are callous from the crutches! People will look at me and say, “You’re so dainty.” But then they shake my hand. First impressions are lasting impressions.

I’m happiest when… I’m with my family. My dad passed eight years ago, and I was such a daddy’s girl. My mom is 86. She’s always out and telling me things happening in the city. Family includes my time with my husband. We don’t have children, but we have nieces and nephews.It brings joy to my heart, but I don’t get to spend enough time with my family.

In 2019 I look forward to… continuing to put Philadelphia in the national and international spotlight. I want to bring in new events, which then brings in new visitors. And I look forward to working with new partners and showcasing all the great things our city does. We have a large population of millennials so I look forward to seeing what this population is going to do and how we can work with them to make sure they stay here in our city. They are our future leaders and current leaders in the innovation space.