Once Rick Mariano trundled off to prison last year, the position of Worst Member of Philadelphia City Council fell vacant. Donna Reed Miller is a top contender for that title.

She's been a reliable vote for maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo, and a roadblock to ethics and tax reform. Her top aide was convicted as part of the FBI probe into pay-to-play. Complaints are common that she ignores huge swaths of the Eighth District to dote on her favorite areas and supporters.

On the campaign trail, she seems quite annoyed that she's expected to show up and answer citizen questions (though she did show a flash of spirit at a Great Expectations forum Wednesday night in Mount Airy).

Northwest Philadelphia, a diverse hotbed of citizen activism with some lovely neighborhoods and some struggling ones brimming with potential, deserves better.

This time, this primary, it has good choices - maybe too many given how a crowded field splits up votes and benefits an incumbent.

Two of the challengers are standouts. By the narrowest of margins, The Inquirer recommends one of them, CINDY BASS, to the Democratic voters of the Eighth District as their best choice.

Bass, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and then-State Sen. Allyson Schwartz, is poised, gracious and smart. She's ready to put the skills and relationships she developed in those jobs to good use on Council. She has walked the walk of neighborhood improvement in Northwest Philadelphia as a staffer at the superb Mount Airy, USA community development corporation and as a president of the East Mount Airy Neighbors.

Her willingness to look anywhere and everywhere for best practices that Philadelphia could emulate would be a nice addition to an often-parochial Council.

If you also admire the resume of candidate Irv Ackelsberg, you'll get no argument here. In 30 years of providing legal services to those who might not afford them otherwise, Ackelsberg has proven beyond a doubt his passion for justice and community. He's an accomplished consumer advocate and scourge of predatory lending. He's worked hard to improve his part of Germantown.

At times, though, he does seem stuck in an old-fashioned populism. He's unduly suspicious of proposals that would trim Philadelphia's tax burden and red tape to attract more job-creating businesses.

The other Democrat on the ballot, Greg Paulmier, is a perennial candidate who is enthusiastic and likable, but not very practical.

To listen to a podcast of Wednesday night's Eighth District debate, go to http://go.philly.com/greatexpectations.