by Manuel McDonnell-Smith
Jamie Gauthier wants Parkside to know that she’s still working for your vote — not only because there’s a general election still to win in November, but because she knows that there are still hearts and minds to win over in West Philadelphia. “I fully see the victory as one that was powered by people. I got here by talking to people, by listening to them, and I’m going to do a good job by continuing to engage with them, continuing to listen to them and by delivering for them.”
In two wide-ranging interviews with the Parkside Journal, the presumptive Councilwoman discussed her goals and visions and how she hopes to effect change in Parkside, as well as throughout West Philadelphia. It’s clear that she’s spent a lot of time listening to resident concerns and had begun seriously considering how she will be able to better engage constituents when she takes office in January. “I know that people want to be served.”, she says of our community. “I don’t get the sense that Parkside is an area that feels incredibly connected to their government. I got the sense that more folks in that area wanted more attention.”
But is she really for us? We asked Gauthier about the perception held by many neighbors that her campaign was rooted primarily in the concerns and interests of University City residents, where she resides. “That was an incorrect conclusion that people jumped to that’s not true at all. I knocked on doors since the opening of the petition period. I especially focused on talking to voters in the areas thought to be Blackwell’s base.” The door knocks delivered in a big way for Gauthier When the votes from May’s election were fully counted, she won six of the eight wards of the Third Councilmatic District delivering a decisive primary election victory.
For nearly a generation, neighbors in West Philly knew to “call Jannie’s office” for every municipal service from schools to trash. While residents have voted for change, will there still be an office that’s accessible and ready to respond to constituent concerns on Day 1? Gauthier responded with an adamant yes. “I know that people will be looking to my office to help them with the day-to-day issues of navigating the city. That’s the job, I embrace it, and I’m going to do it well.”
Originally, there was a hope that her campaign headquarters with a central location in the district on 52nd Street could be converted into a district office. But the owners have plans to turn it into a restaurant by the end of the year. Now her team is in the process of searching for a new location. While the address of the future office is unclear, Gauthier says it will be operational from day one of her term. She also promises increased access to services for the district through the office, with initial plans having the office open at least five days a week “with some level of weekend hours also.” Hiring considerations for the office are also in progress. “Definitely, I’ve been a leader who has been intentional about hiring people of color and about hiring black women. I want to have staff that folks can connect with.”
Coming out of a career in city planning while juggling responsibilities as a divorced co-parent of two sons in public school, Gauthier knows the importance of strong communication. Not every city council member chooses to hire a communications specialist, but Gauthier already is. She’s especially looking for that candidate to be skilled in both inperson and social media experience. In another area, she’s also looking to hire someone on her future staff with urban planning experience who can represent the concerns of citizens, especially around development and gentrification. “We’re going to focus on connecting with the constituents in the best way they feel comfortable, whether it be a conference call or by providing childcare at community meetings.”
While she would not reveal any of her specific plans for bills or policies, she would be introducing during her first term, Gauthier did share which priorities she thought were important to Parkside’s neighborhood, starting with abandoned buildings and lots. “I know that vacant properties are an issue.
People want to transition those vacant properties in a way that would be equitable and beneficial to the community.” She also spoke of the preservation of homes and helping to keep long-term owners in their homes that only need “just a little TLC.” .
The Journal has also been involved with meetings that Gauthier has been having in the neighborhood with business leaders including the Centennial Parkside CDC. “I know that folks are wanting to build up more of the commercial corridors,” she says, “so that they can have more access to products and services that they can easily access right in the community.”
During our interview, Gauthier revealed that long discussed plans for the Mantua Greenway will be moving forward and “to the extent that we can make foot traffic more attractive and accessible” to our businesses and neighborhoods, that it could be a “good thing” that helps to address many community concerns regarding access to recreation and transportation.
But discussions of those plans are sure to stoke fears of more displacement and gentrification. When it comes to community relationships with the large cultural institutions in the area, where will she stand? “The 3rd District has world-class institutions, whether it’s the Zoo, or the Universities or the Hospitals.” she explained. “The challenge of any person that holds this role would be to leverage the existence of all of this access, knowledge, and resources in a way that benefits people within neighborhoods. Whether that be connected to jobs, business development, procurement opportunities or bringing that knowledge into public schools.”
Having worked as an urban planner, non-profit leader, and as a leader of her own community organization, Gauthier says she has a unique perspective into the challenges between the institutions and the community, and she will leverage both to bring more to the table. “They have a role to play in doing more. This is not to disparage them or their current efforts. We should be aiming for more and better. The fact that we still have a 33% poverty rate in the 3rd District, higher than in other parts of the city, means that we all need to do more and better.”
Overall, we’re encouraged by her ideas and plans. And we’ll be looking to see how she will be helping to move Parkside and West Philadelphia forward in her term to come. Count on continuing coverage in the Parkside Journal of Gauthier and all of our elected officials.