From the Editor: Uncertain futures

So the election is over.

But what happens now? How does the vote work in favor of the voter – particularly in rapidly gentrifying districts like my neighborhood of East Kensington?

On Tuesday, I struck up a short conversation with two longtime residents sitting outside my polling place that made a lasting memory. Under the glow of District 7, it was announced that incumbent City Council member Maria Quinones-Sanchez won her third term for the seat against controversial state Rep. Angel Cruz.

But both candidates were topics of conversation with Mary Bannion, 63, who resides on the 2000 block of Cumberland Street, and a woman who didn’t want to give her last name or age but would only tell me her name was Jana. Both attended Kensington High School and grew up in the neighborhood. Jana told me that she moved away but came back after she left her “shitty husband” in 1993.

That’s a story for a different column, perhaps.

Today’s topic was about the original residents, the ones that are being priced out of their homes and the ones that are finding the neighborhood less and less like the one they remember.

“I get a phone call at least twice a month from someone asking if I had any interest in selling my home,” said Bannion, who has been in her home since 1978, moving just two blocks south from her original family home on Huntingdon Street. “Every time, I ask them, if I sell you my house, where am I supposed to go? They never have an answer because they don’t care. I don’t even know how these fools get my number.”

Bannion has no desire to move but noted that rising taxes and living next to neighbors benefiting from tax-free properties is making her feel less and less welcome in the neighborhood she grew up in. As for Jana, her gripe is the overwhelming amount of garbage and litter on the streets that no one seems to do anything about.

“We as neighbors are doing all the cleanup,” Jana said. “I go into Society Hill and Old City and I see signs posted that I can’t park my car on a particular block because they got a street sweeper coming. Where’s our street sweeper at? It’s like we’re in a forgotten part of the city and it won’t change until more of the people in City Hall actually give value to move in. But trust me, we have enough of them around here, so the city should consider doing something nice for us too.”

Bannion shook her head as Jana spoke.

“I have a doctor who lives next to me,” said Bannion. “He’s a nice guy and all and we get each other’s packages from the stoop, but [I] already know he’s not sticking around. He’s a six-figure player on a block where people are on disability and public assistance. It’s an investment property. But we don’t have that luxury. I don’t know if the people responsible for keeping the community looking attractive know or even care that the mindset around here is to benefit from all this tax-free land the city is giving out and then sell it.”

She paused and continued.

“It ain’t jealousy. I’m not jealous,” Bannion said. “I just wonder why the mindset has shifted so much over the last few years. You know there’s a whole lot of us that have no desire to leave this city and we are committed to it, good or bad. But we’re not the ones the politicians seem to care about keeping happy. To me, that’s the shame.”

I asked why they volunteer their time at the polling place and how much value they put into local elections and the sentiment was clear.

“To me, these races are very important,” Jana said. “My father used to always say that [these races give] you have a line into who’s directly accountable for the good of your community. I’ll never forget that.”

I think about what the next four years will look like in my rapidly changing neighborhood. I wonder if I’ll see Jana and Mary in the next four years, or if they’ll be forced out of the neighborhood the same way residents who clawed to stay close lost out to rising taxes and greedy developers. I also wonder what a three-term incumbent, essentially the lesser of two evils, will do to make residents feel safe, not just in favored sections of the district, but district-wide.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see. All I ask is that Quinones-Sanchez listens to long-time residents like Mary and Jana.

They have a ton of worthwhile things to say.


  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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