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The race begins: Philly Council members Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Derek Green are running for mayor

As many as six City Council members might resign to run for mayor in the coming months.

City Council members Derek Green (left) and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez are resigning their seats to become the first candidates to enter the 2023 mayoral race.
City Council members Derek Green (left) and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez are resigning their seats to become the first candidates to enter the 2023 mayoral race.Read moreStaff

The race to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor has begun.

City Council members Derek Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez are both resigning Tuesday and launching campaigns for the May 2023 Democratic primary for mayor, they told The Inquirer in separate interviews.

Former Councilmember Allan Domb resigned three weeks ago, but is still weighing whether to run to replace the term-limited Mayor Jim Kenney. Others are expected to join the field of candidates soon, including as many as three more Council members.

Green and Quiñones-Sánchez’s announcements mark the start of a nine-month marathon that comes as the city faces an unprecedented gun violence crisis, an uncertain economic outlook, and a massive staffing shortfall that has crippled agencies such as the Police Department and Free Library.

» READ MORE: The 2023 race for Philly mayor is starting soon. Meet the candidates who might run.

The race will also take place amid growing frustration with Kenney, whose increasingly rudderless second term has come to be defined by an off-the-cuff remark he made in July that he will “be happy when I’m not here, when I’m not mayor” due to the toll of the gun violence crisis.

Quiñones-Sánchez, 53, who grew up in public housing after her family moved from Puerto Rico to North Philadelphia, says the city needs a mayor who understands the need to improve the quality of life in all neighborhoods.

“After 30-plus years of community work, my own personal experiences having grown up in Hunting Park, and then representing neighborhoods like Juniata, if we’re really going to have an equitable, prosperous city for ... all neighborhoods, you really need someone with my background, my skill sets, my lived experience,” she said.

Green, known for tackling in-the-weeds policy issues while eschewing open conflict, is pitching himself as someone who can rise above the internecine battles that have defined debates over some of Philadelphia’s most important issues. Voters, he said, shouldn’t have to choose between police accountability and public safety, or between development and affordable housing.

“Too much of our city is saying, ‘If you want great city services, you can’t also reduce taxes,’ or, ‘If you want affordable housing, you can’t also have new development and growth,’” Green, 51, said. “We shouldn’t have to choose. There shouldn’t be an either/or.”

Beyond either/or

A Philadelphia native, Green graduated from the University of Virginia and the Temple University School of Law before launching a career that gave him experience in various areas of government law.

He served as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, a regulator for the Delaware Department of Justice, and a deputy city solicitor in former Mayor John F. Street’s administration. He then joined the staff of former Councilmember Marian Tasco, a legend in Black Philadelphia politics who also gave Quiñones-Sánchez her start in politics.

Green chairs the budget-writing Finance Committee, and has led policy pushes on ethics reform and the creation of a public bank that could loan to underserved businesses.

He played a key role in the passage of a tax-cut package Council approved in the spring that slightly lowered a business tax, cut the wage tax for city residents, and greatly increased property tax relief programs to combat skyrocketing real estate appraisals.

» READ MORE: City Council’s tax-cutting budget deal represents a return to the center in Philly politics

He lives in East Mount Airy with his wife, Sheila, and their adult son, Julian, who is on the autism spectrum.

Green said he believes that, with the right leadership, Philadelphia can experience similar growth and transformation to what Atlanta has seen since Maynard Jackson was mayor in the 1990s.

“We’ve got a lot of issues, but when I get out around the city, I see so many community members, nonprofits, small-business owners who are doing a lot and making great impact in our city,” Green said in an interview at his home. “We can be a global leader in so many things.”

The next mayor, he said, needs to be able to hear every voice on an issue.

“Listening to a lot of people all around the city of Philadelphia, listening to homeowners in West Philadelphia or the Northeast ... listening to employers who are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, listening to my colleagues and having a real strong understanding of how the budget works, how the city works — you have to be able to do all of that,” he said. “Most of us are not one side or the other. We’re in the middle.”

Run against the machine

If Green is at his best when he’s lowering the temperature in the room to bring warring sides together, Quiñones-Sánchez is at her best when she’s in a fight.

Now in her fourth term, Quiñones-Sánchez has never been backed by party leaders, and has fought off several challenges from establishment-backed candidates. She openly fought Kenney over policy issues such as the sweetened beverage tax, and was the most vocal Democratic critic of the administration during his first term. She has for years fought against the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

And most recently, she fought breast cancer, and won.

» READ MORE: Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: I have breast cancer

The last struggle, she said, played a role in her decision to take on yet another fight and run for mayor.

“It’s been a little bit of a journey. You feel very vulnerable when you think you’re invincible, especially given that I’m always battling somebody,” she said in an interview at her mother’s home in Juniata. “But it also refocused the issue around time and what you do with your time. If I had a doubt about running for mayor pre-cancer, cancer really said look, ‘No, do what you want to do now.’ ”

Like Green, Quiñones-Sánchez is also known as a policy wonk. On Council, she has worked extensively on housing and land-use issues, sponsoring legislation that created the Philadelphia Land Bank. She chairs the Appropriations Committee, which handles midyear budget transfers, and the Education Committee.

She lives in Norris Square with her husband, Tomas Sánchez, and has two sons. She said she hopes voters will see her as “the person who is willing to buck systems to fix it so it works for everyone.”

Quiñones-Sánchez, who became Philadelphia’s first Latina elected official when she was sworn in to Council in 2008, said she is “unapologetic” about her belief that the next mayor should be a woman.

“We’ve had 99 male mayors,” she said. “With all due respect, I think the women in this race are more qualified than the men in this race.”

Filling Council vacancies

As many as six of Council’s 17 members could resign in the coming months to join the mayoral race. Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter requires city officeholders to resign their current positions in order to run for a different office.

That would include City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, as well as two Democratic Council members, Cherelle Parker and Helen Gym, who are said to be considering running for mayor. Republican Councilmember David Oh is also rumored to be eyeing the race.

The Charter tasks Council President Darrell L. Clarke with calling special elections to fill Council vacancies, and he has not yet publicly indicated how he will handle the resignations. Typically, special elections are scheduled to coincide with regular primary or general elections, which increases turnout and saves the city money.

With preparations well underway for the Nov. 8 general election, Clarke would have to issue writs of election soon if he wants any Council races to appear on the ballot. Nominees for special elections are chosen by the parties’ ward leaders.