Pity voters in the Seventh City Council District of Philadelphia. They were badly served, then thoroughly embarrassed by former councilman and convicted felon Rick Mariano. Then they got little practical say in who would replace him.

The nice thing about democracy is that eventually another election rolls around. When the district's Democratic voters get their say on Tuesday, they'd be well-advised to choose MARIA QUINONES SANCHEZ as their party's nominee.

Quinones Sanchez has worked as a Council aide and voter registration activist. For four years, she headed ASPIRA, a large Latino educational organization in the city. While there, she founded the city's first bilingual charter school. She's a Hunting Park native who is comfortable at the grassroots, but has the polish to impress in any situation.

She has a solid grasp of the city's tax and fiscal issues, but analyzes them with an eye on how any changes would affect the working-class people of the Seventh District. That's important for a district as diverse as the sprawling Seventh, which has rising neighborhoods that feel the pressures of gentrification, and others that still struggle with the plague of blight.

Quinones Sanchez is a clear and innovative thinker on education. She wants the city to stop treating charter schools as zero-sum-game competition for the traditional school system - and to start grasping the potential that charters offer to stabilize neighborhoods.

She's also strong on ethical reform.

How impressive is she? She's the only candidate for City Council whom Gov. Rendell chose to endorse, calling her "smart as a whip."

While we're offering sympathy for the abused voters of the Seventh, let's also offer some for the short-time incumbent, Daniel J. Savage, too.

He's an earnest young man who's tried to do well since he was in essence handed the Seventh District seat last year in a closed meeting of Democratic ward leaders. It's not really his fault that he got on to Council through maneuvers that run so counter to the current thirst for political openness and reform. He frankly calls that type of secretive party decision "less than ideal."

By itself, that political history is not enough to disqualify him. But with Quinones Sanchez as an alternative, the history becomes decisive.

The third candidate in the race is Marnie Aument-Loughery, a Kensington resident with a fine record of civic service.