Anderson-Oberman and Bass go head-to-head in 8th District debate
Philadelphia’s Eighth Council District race is heating up as Democratic incumbent Cindy Bass and challenger Seth Anderson-Oberman battle it out for the council seat. In last month’s debate, moderated by local journalists Cherri Gregg of WHYY and Carla Robinson of The Chestnut Hill Local, the two candidates went head-to-head on various issues, including the city’s school system, development, and affordable housing.
The debate started with Seth briefly introducing his background and platform. Born and raised in the Brickyard section of Germantown, he grew up in a working-class family with Black and Jewish roots. As a union organizer throughout PA and New Jersey for over two decades, he’s consistently advocated for fair wages, healthcare, paid time off, and better working conditions. He also shared his vision for Philadelphia, which includes fair housing, quality education, and good-paying jobs for all Philadelphians.
It didn’t take long for the gloves to come off, with Cindy needling Seth during her introduction with the phrase “Where have you been, Seth?” as she reeled off the challenges she’s addressed in Germantown during her time in office. The line seemed calculated as a burn and might have been more effective had she not repeated it over and over again – we counted at least 5 times, which distracted from the accomplishments she was trying to highlight. (Not a good look, as the kids say.)
See for yourself in the following video (via Germantown Jewish Centre), the first of two debates leading up to one of the most consequential local elections in recent memory. Other candidates have tried to unseat Cindy, but so far Seth is the first to be endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (his campaign has also out-raised hers, while refusing to accept donations from developers).
Despite the obvious tension, both candidates seemed mostly in synch on key issues such as charter schools and their role in Philadelphia’s school system. Cindy allowed that both public and charter schools provide quality education, while also calling for more accountability in academic outcomes. “If they’re not performing up to par, then obviously that’s a problem,” she said, noting that all schools need our investment.
Seth, too, had an expansive response, supporting increased budgets for all schools, as well as a stronger teacher’s union – the “frontline” in the fight for better funding and equity. Organized teachers make the most effective advocates, he said, because they know what their students need and are invested in making it happen.
They agreed, too, about the immediate need for repairs and asbestos remediation in schools across the city, including C.W. Henry Elementary in Mt. Airy, which was one of four schools to close last month due to asbestos. Cindy reminded the audience that construction is underway for a new school in the 8th District, for the students of T.M. Peirce Elementary (23rd & Indiana), whose school shut down in 2019 after asbestos was found in pipe insulation. “So right now, Henry is going through something similar,” she said.
Seth wasn’t quite so flip, calling the situation appalling and avoidable. “We’ve known for decades that our schools need massive, massive repairs,” he said, “But the school district hasn’t put forth a plan.” Although Cindy was quick to act when she observed open asbestos, lead paint, and unacceptable bathroom facilities at Peirce, the same thing is happening again now at Henry. And it will keep happening, until the necessary investment is made. “I think we can all agree that it’s a huge priority,” said Seth, “I’m a public school parent, my wife is a teacher. This is incredibly important.”
The candidates also weighed in on development in the Eighth District, with both expressing support for affordable housing and the need for community input in development decisions. Cindy highlighted the need for an overlay district like the one in Strawberry Mansion to control new development. (An overlay gives residents more say in standards and design of new development than the more common registered community organization process.) At the same time, Seth called for an end to tax abatements and then turned to a particularly passionate issue of his – affordable housing.
“I believe housing is a human right and the government has a responsibility to guarantee a safe and affordable place to live for every human being. I think we need a comprehensive plan, starting with a housing analysis of the 8th district. We should also create incentives for deeply affordable housing, focusing on low-income and senior housing. There is an urgent need too for mixed-income housing that could be supported by public-private partnerships, including with the Public Land Bank of Philadelphia.”
Cindy, too, recognized the need for affordable housing, and spoke out against current case-by-case policies where developers negotiate on how many affordable units to include in a project. She called on the City to take responsibility and build the housing that we need. Otherwise, she said, “We are never going to get to where we need to be.” Both candidates also agreed low-income senior housing is especially needed.
Throughout the debate, Seth and Cindy echoed each other’s reasonable calls for better services, more resources, safer living. With no policies to attack, the jabs – when they came — felt personal.
One constant theme running through Cindy’s answers was Seth’s supposed lack of experience and involvement in the community. She asked him to name the neighborhood groups he marched with in the Eighth District, the playground advisory councils he sat on, and the civic associations he was a part of. She challenged him, “Look, name five neighbors for me that people will know,” claiming that the leaders and organizations she works with don’t know who he is.
Of course, we all know who Cindy is — as incumbent, she’s been serving the 8th District since 2012.
Cindy’s experience and involvement in the community were key points of emphasis throughout the debate, with the incumbent council member pointing to her record of delivering for the Eighth District. “I have a track record, I have a history, I have a background of working in the Eighth District,” Cindy said. “So, before we turn over our keys to someone who’s never driven a car before, we need to ensure that we’ve got steady leadership in City Council and the Eighth Council District.”
For his part, Seth admitted that he was new to district politics and did not have the same level of experience as Cindy, who has served as the Eighth District Councilwoman since 2012. But he saw being an outsider as a good thing. He felt strongly that there was a need for new voices in City Council. “I’m not a politician; I’m a community organizer,” he said. “And I believe that we have so many problems in our city because we have the same people in power year after year.”
He quickly referenced one notorious problem that occurred on Cindy’s watch – the closing of the Germantown Special Services District (GSSD) and the conviction of Ingrid Shepard, its former president and treasurer.
Once a trusted aide handpicked by Cindy to lead the GSSD, Shepard now faces four years of probation after pleading guilty to embezzling up to $125,000 from the organization over four years. Shepard was charged in January with criminal information, often used when a defendant admits guilt and is possibly cooperating with investigators (the sentencing records are still under seal by the feds).
The GSSD was a quasi-government agency that aimed to clean Germantown’s commercial corridors with funds from a special tax on local businesses. The Councilwoman approved all Board members, including two of her own staff. In a historic move, more than 100 frustrated commercial property owners defeated the reauthorization of the GSSD due to the mounting trash problem and fees for nonexistent cleaning services.
Seth quickly followed up: “We don’t need four more years of this kind of experience. integrity matters, accountability matters, leadership matters. Decisions get made every day that have enormous consequences for our communities. And far too often we’ve not been included in those decisions. We’ve been an afterthought — or worse — a photo prop.”
Overall, the debate highlighted limited differences between the two candidates on a range of issues, and underscored the tension between experience and outsider status. With the Democratic primary just a few weeks away, voters in the Eighth District will have to decide which candidate they believe can best deliver for their community.
AGREE? DISAGREE? We appreciate your feedback on the video and our recap here. 🗣️🧠🙏 Please speak your mind in the comments below. Pro Tip: click the links in this post to dive deeper into both candidate’s track records.
🥊REMATCH: MAY 9🥊
On May 9th, Seth and Cindy faced off once more at Germantown’s Center in the Park. The sold-out event was even more dramatic than the first debate — we think. You’ll have to watch and see for yourself.
YOUR VOTE MATTERS THIS MAY!
Please make your plan for Election Day, May 16th. See the Philadelphia Citizen for candidate info and voting locations in your area.