South Street West Civic Association Votes In Progressives, Defeats Incumbents

The Grays Ferry Triangle Plaza at the heart of SSWCA's territory.

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Earlier this week we wrote about the power Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) have in shaping the future of their neighborhoods. A progressive RCO will balance the needs of both a developer and a community, shepherding projects that maximize benefits for the community, while minimizing downsides. A regressive RCO acts to stymie development, claiming that they represent the will of the community, oftentimes without holding meetings that are properly advertised, or even paying nearby residents to vote to oppose projects they don't approve of. 

Just a few days ago South Street West Civic Association (SSWCA), was an organization that could be characterized as such. Rather than striking a balanced tone with development the way others in the area have like SOSNA and CCRA, SSWCA outright opposed project after project in their area while claiming to represent the interests of the community. It was the actions of SSWCA and their leader Barb Failer that is one of the reasons 2300 South is still vacant, not contributing much to the economy or tax base of Philadelphia. Notice the tone of the email sent earlier this week regarding elections:

SSWCA's letter sent just a few days earlier by prior-Chair Barb Failer, advising of a public meeting with elections.

Last night an emboldened community had their say and their say overwhelmingly rejected SSWCA's vision for the area. 4 positions, including Chair, were up for election from residents and business owners living within SSWCA's catchment. Those residents and business owners created a landslide victory for 4 new folks seeking to change the candor of SSWCA. Brad Dakake, Matt Olesh, Fred Ritter and Jessica Beaver all won their respective offices by extremely wide margins of 35 to 3. All four new officers have been involved in the future of the neighborhood in other capacities. Dakake & Olesh are both committeepersons in the 30th Ward of the Democratic Party here in Philadelphia. Ritter ran for committeeperson. Beaver has been involved with SOSNA's economic development committee led by Chris Durham, another 30th Ward committeeperson and SOSNA board member. 

Brad Dakake has also been a driving force behind setting up the Grays Ferry Triangle Plaza at 23rd and South. He offered some thoughts after the election last night worth sharing: 

“We're thrilled that the community came out to show its support and look forward to working hard for everyone to make our slice of Philadelphia the best it can be. The new board will be meeting in the coming days to setup its governing procedures, layout a transparent online presence, and begin the work we were elected to do.” 

Matt Olesh also offered some thoughts given that just a few days before, South Street West Civic Association had sent a last minute email regarding their elections and yet the margin of victory for new board members was overwhelming.

“If anything has been made clear during this process, it is that the area defined by SSWCA's boundaries is populated by a lot of residents and business owners who deeply care about the future of this neighborhood. It is a great place with seemingly endless potential. I welcome the opportunity to continue to work for the betterment of it and its residents.”

The type of change we experienced last night is a victory for the area SSWCA operates, but it also gives a vision into the future of Philadelphia politics if younger engaged folks get involved in their community. Much hemming and hawing has been written about if and when the millennial generation will step up into the world of Philly politics. Last year in the 30th Ward, a slate of new committeepersons were elected into office, including myself. Beyond the confines of ward politics RCOs set the tone of development in their neigborhoods. Here where Graduate Hospital meets Fitler Square, change has come. 


Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February 2015 @ 08.51
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geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

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