Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Guide: Maria Quiñones Sánchez
The OG Progressive
Editor note: On April 9, 2023, Maria Quiñones Sánchez suspended her campaign.
Over nearly 15 years in City Council, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, 54, has earned a reputation as one of its most effective leaders, a skilled legislator with serious policy chops. “To a person, anybody who has sat down with Maria has come away wowed and impressed,” says Larry Ceisler, longtime Philly political analyst and founder of public affairs strategy firm Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy.
That’s not to say everyone is keen to sit down with her: Quiñones Sánchez, a self-styled “pragmatic progressive,” has overcome a number of political fights with ward leaders in her own 7th District, which includes Kensington and Frankford, to champion progressive bills on housing, development, taxes and wages. But she’s also been known to occasionally buck progressive trends — for example, by voting against the sugar tax in the early days of the Kenney administration.
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Philly by a mother employed in garment factories, Quiñones Sánchez worked for former Councilwoman Marian Tasco and led the education nonprofit ASPIRA before joining Council in 2008. She won her first campaign without the backing of the local Democratic Party — and her second, third and fourth. In fact, her willingness to go toe-to-toe with party bosses has worked in her favor, cementing her position as an independent … even as she’s also come to be seen as a coalescer. “She knows how to get a deal done,” offers Sam Katz, public finance expert and three-time Philly mayoral candidate.
Even so, her embattled district — specifically Kensington, which has, as senior principal of public strategies for Cozen O’Connor Joseph Hill says, become “emblematic of the city’s challenges” — plus a field packed with progressives and wealthy business leaders are hurdles for Quiñones Sánchez, who is pitching herself as the candidate with both the lived and the professional experience to manage tough conversations and find a path forward.
“I’ve lived in public housing; I’m first in my family to go to college,” she says. “I’ve lived all of our challenges.” And in government? “I was — as my son will tell me — the OG progressive on Council when it was hard and when we didn’t have a caucus. I didn’t need a bullhorn, and we got stuff done.”
Candidate Crib Sheet
City Councilmember for the 7th District
- Fortitude, exemplified often over four terms but also, Katz notes, in her disclosure of recent breast cancer treatment. To get through that and run a campaign? “That takes a lot of stamina, a lot of determination.”
- Partnerships with an unusual cross section of biz leaders, developers, unions, progressives and community groups.
- Not her first tough race. She’s won four times “despite never being endorsed by the party or the building trades,” Hill notes.
- Led tough fights in an often go-along-to-get-along Council, including successful efforts to create a Land Bank for repurposing vacant city-owned land, to require affordable housing in new development, and to increase the minimum wage for city employees and contractors.
- Established a $10 million poverty action plan.
- Won small-business tax reform in 2022.
- She’s made a few enemies among the ward leaders in her former district. And, Hill adds, “Her penchant for direct talk and never walking away from a fight has alienated” some Philly institutions.
- Her former district remains one of the poorest areas of the city. “People say, ‘How can she run for mayor when she failed Kensington?’” Joann Bell, director of the Philadelphia Government Office of lobbying firm Pugliese Associates, says.
State Reps Danilo Burgos, Jason Dawkins and Ben Waxman; Councilmember Quetcy Lozada; Latino Victory Fund; Alan Butkovitz, Danny Savage.
By February, had raised $501,639 — the fourth-most of any candidate.
Three Big Questions
Who and what is holding Philly back right now, and what will you do about it?
QUIÑONES SÁNCHEZ: I think what holds us back is the Philly shrug — the complacency about “That’s what happens.” I came into Council to disrupt, and I did, and I learned to get to consensus. I’m not going to accept the Philly shrug. That is what holds us back, that notion that mediocrity — and we have a whole lot of it in this race — is acceptable. We’re better than that.
What is your number one priority as mayor?
I want to do zero-based budgeting, so all expenses are justified and prioritized each budget cycle based on each department’s mission. This realigns spending to create the space to make transformative investments in how we provide operational services, improve infrastructure, and create affordable housing.
Locally, zero-based budgeting was successfully adopted in Montgomery County by now-Governor Josh Shapiro and Uri Monson. In 2015, then-Councilman Jim Kenney ran on zero-based budgeting, and I agree with Councilman Kenney that zero-based budgeting can work for Philadelphia.
Through this priority-setting process, every city department will articulate its anti-poverty plan, public safety plan, and economic opportunity and inclusion plan. I want every single department to have the same goals that I do. What is their anti-poverty strategy? What is their public safety strategy? What is their economic inclusion strategy? Let’s build that. After six years as Appropriations chair, I know the budget process better than any other candidate, and I know that we can do this.
How do you bring people/power in this city together and build consensus in order to get things done?
That is the most pivotal question of all. I am not a candidate who needs a villain to have a cause. I have worked with the Chamber of Commerce. I have worked with all of the major institutions and, as chair of Education, with Penn. The fact that the Building Industry Association has an affordable-housing committee — where does that come from? [Editor’s note: The committee formed as a result of debates over legislation Quiñones Sánchez sponsored.]
I am the person best prepared to say: We’re gonna bring everybody around the table. We will debate the policy. We will make a decision, and we will move forward when people don’t agree. I don’t know anybody else in this race that can manage that conversation and then just move forward.
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*According to February campaign finance reports
Published as “Maria Quiñones Sánchez: The OG Progressive” in the April 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.