24 November 2023
Despite a growing Latino population, Latino representatives struggle to secure at-large seats on Philadelphia City Council
The recent election of Cherelle Parker as Philadelphia’s first Black female mayor highlights the importance of representation in local politics. However, when examining the composition of City Council, a glaring question arises: Why has it been so difficult for a Latino representative to secure an at-large seat, despite the city’s rapidly growing Latino population? This article explores the challenges faced by Latinos in Philadelphia politics and delves into the reasons behind their underrepresentation.
The Growing Latino Presence in Philadelphia
Latinos make up over 16% of Philadelphia’s population, residing both within and outside of the city’s historic barrio in Northeast Philadelphia, known as the 7th District. Despite this significant presence, the addition of a second Latino voice on City Council has become a new glass ceiling since the election of Maria Quiñones Sánchez to the 7th District Council seat in 2007. Currently, Quetcy Lozada, who replaced Quiñones Sánchez after her resignation, remains the only Latina on the 17-member Council.
The Problem of Engagement
Some argue that the lack of Latino representation stems from low engagement. General election results reveal that the average turnout in Latino-dominant wards was only around 13% of registered voters, half of the city’s overall turnout. However, when speaking to Latino voters, many express feeling taken for granted and unheard in the political process. They believe their voices are being ignored and that they are locked out of politics.
The Democratic Party’s Role
In a city controlled by Democrats, it becomes clear who holds the key to political power. Some argue that Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, along with various factions of the progressive movement, conspire to keep Latinos out of positions of influence. While the party may endorse Latino candidates, critics claim that these efforts are merely lip service, with the political machine ultimately delivering votes to their preferred candidates. The party’s adversarial stance toward Philadelphia’s broader Latino community, focusing on machine candidates and neglecting Latinos in neighborhoods outside of their controlled system, further exacerbates the issue.
Progressive groups in Philadelphia have also contributed to the frustration and disengagement felt by Latinos. By prioritizing unpopular mayoral and council candidates over at-large Latino candidates with a real chance of winning, they have failed to address the pressing economic and neighborhood issues that impact the Latino community. This lack of attention to bread-and-butter issues has left many Latinos feeling disconnected from the progressive movement.
The Need for Change
The declining turnout of working-class and Latino voters in Philadelphia reflects a larger national trend where the Democratic Party has struggled to maintain support from these demographics. Democrats have prioritized super voters and engaged individuals, often leaving behind the growing Latino population. As Pennsylvania prepares for the upcoming presidential election, it is crucial for the Democratic Party and the progressive political machine to engage and empower the city’s diverse communities.
The underrepresentation of Latinos in Philadelphia politics raises important questions about the city’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. To address this issue, the Democratic Party and the progressive wing must prioritize the concerns of low-income and working-class Philadelphians, including the Latino community. It is time for performative politics to be replaced with genuine action and for Latino voices to be heard and represented. As Philadelphia heads into a critical election year, the city’s political leaders must choose whether to continue ignoring the Latino community or embrace the opportunity for change and inclusivity.
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Rafael Álvarez Febo is vice president for advocacy and community development at Esperanza. He was executive director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s LGBTQ commission and was an adviser for Maria Quiñones Sánchez’s mayoral campaign.