Here’s Why Jamie Gauthier Thinks She Can Defeat Longtime Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell
“I am the right person, for this moment, to lead the 3rd District into the future,” says the West Philly native and former executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservatory.
Last week, West Philly native Jamie Gauthier officially announced her bid for City Council in the 3rd District. A former executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Gauthier tells us why she’s running, her interest in addressing gentrification, and why it’s time for someone other than a Blackwell to serve West Philadelphia.
What’s your connection to West Philadelphia?
I’m from the 1100 block of South Divinity Street, in Kingsessing. When I was young, most of my family lived in that area. My dad is from Philly and had many family members nearby, while most of my mom’s family emigrated to Southwest from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a set of islands in the Caribbean.
We moved to Wynnefield from Kingsessing when I was 9, right after my little sister was born, but I moved back here as an adult to raise my own kids. So my connections to the area are many — I spent my most formative childhood years here, I’ve spent a lot of my professional life here supporting residents’ efforts to better their communities, and my civic and social life is strongly centered in West Philly, as well. It will always be the best part of the city to me.
Why are you running for office?
I’m running in this election because I love where I live, and because I believe I am the best person to lead this district into the future. I also think that this is a critical time for the West Philly, where we need to come together around a vision for our communities. I read an article recently that stated 81,000 West Philadelphians live in poverty. That’s astronomical.
But even with these challenges, there are so many things for us to grab onto. Our district is one of the biggest economic engines for the city. It is a place where there is the will among neighbors of all incomes to combat gentrification and ensure equity for all. I think I am the person that can help West Philadelphians to do that.
You’re the former executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. How has that position prepared you for one in politics?
I think all of the roles I’ve had prepared me for this moment. At the Conservancy in particular, I spent a lot of time engaging with communities around the creation of public spaces that are meaningful and relevant to them. Before the Conservancy, I served as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network, a membership organization of several hundred locally owned businesses committed, themselves, to a triple bottom line model of people, profit, planet and to advocating as a group for a more sustainable economy for our region. My experience leading organizations prepares me for this role, too.
There’s been a lot of community conversation surrounding the role of gentrification and councilmanic privilege in West Philly. How do you plan to address the ongoing displacement of lifelong residents, especially those who are black and brown?
I believe that West Philly is a place where everyone should be able to live, especially the longtime homeowners, many of them black, who have been in our communities for the long haul. I am also concerned about renters in the area, who are particularly vulnerable to price hikes. I mean, as a resident and someone raising a family here, I’ve definitely felt the price increases, and I hear the concerns of my family members and friends, too, who are feeling the squeeze. I would be excited to work with others in Council to expand resources for housing repairs, and to expand property tax relief programs for homeowners who can’t afford recent, dramatic increases.
Another thing I believe can help is the adoption of the Phila2035 plans. In much of West Philadelphia the plans have not been implemented because they are waiting on Council legislation to enact them. I would move forward with the zoning remapping necessary to further these plans, were I elected as councilperson.
If elected, you would be the first person leading the 3rd Council District without the surname Blackwell in 45 years. What kind of impact would you like to have in disrupting a longstanding political establishment?
The Blackwells, including Councilwoman Blackwell, have held this seat for a long time and have done their part to serve the community over the past 45 years. I believe, though, that I am the right person, for this moment, to lead the 3rd District into the future. And I have the energy, the vision, and the passion to do so.
I also think that to the extent that we get new ideas and fresh perspectives represented on City Council, it will make our neighborhoods, our democracy, and our city better. Do you know that Philadelphia’s City Council members are the longest-serving in the nation? Our councilmembers serve on average, for over 15 years. I think we have to question how that relates to the conversations going on in our city around transparency in government, pay-to-play tactics, and outright corruption, in some cases. I applaud the efforts of longtime councilmembers, but also think we need new, qualified people to also step up to the challenge, to create competitive elections, and to take on the mantle of leading our communities forward. That’s exactly what I aim to do with this campaign, and I am hoping to get the support and excitement of voters in the 3rd District.