A decade of working in city government and volunteering for community groups and nonprofits has given Lauren Vidas a valuable piece of insight that’s fueling her run for City Council: A lot of good can happen in communities when government is working properly.
And right now, she said, it’s just not.
That’s why she decided to launch a bid against Second District Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, citing corruption in the body that has the city “sliding back into the bad old days.”
“We’re really at a crossroads here, and I wanted to jump into the race because the city’s changing very rapidly,” Vidas said. “It’s becoming less and less affordable; our poverty rate is still headed in the wrong direction. It just doesn’t feel like there’s a sense of urgency about solving any of these problems in the way that there should be.”
Vidas’ experience in the chamber goes back to 2008, when she served as legislative aide to Councilmember Bill Green. She made waves in that role when she successfully sued Mayor Michael Nutter to stop the closure of several library branches.
In 2010, she was hired to serve as an assistant finance director in the Nutter administration, where she said “ethics and transparency and good government were really beaten into you every day as part of your job and commitment to the city.”
These days, Vidas says, city government seems to be heading in the opposite direction, where the politically connected are favored over everyday citizens.
Vidas described her “get-up-and-go drive” as the main thing that sets her apart from opponent Johnson, who was first elected to City Council in 2011.
“I have plans. I have ideas. I have a vision for where I think the Second District can go,” she said. “I’m just much more aggressive in terms of trying to get ahead of problems rather than being forced to react to them. It’s easier to not let the fire start than it is to put it out.”
Nowhere is this more true than in the city’s growing affordable-housing crisis, which she plans to improve by fixing the broken property-assessment system, preserving programs that provide affordable housing to residents and creating a system to keep rental costs down.
“[Affordable housing] is a problem that we’ve seen tracking and trending for years, and the city still hasn’t had a meaningful response,” Vidas said. “It’s [the number-one issue] for me, because it impacts everyone’s day-to-day life. It’s hard to have a job if you don’t have a roof over your head. It’s hard to send your kids to school and expect them to get a good education if they don’t have a consistent and safe place to sleep. So I think it needs to be a priority to provide every Philadelphian with a right to an affordable home that they can enjoy with their families.”
Vidas resides in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood with her dogs Alfred and Louie and cat Marmalade. She has a partner, Vanessa, whose support she credits with keeping her sane during the grueling campaign season.
If her run for Council is successful, the born-and-bred Philadelphian will be the first openly gay candidate to serve in the chamber, and she already has ideas for policies that would improve issues for the LGBTQ population.
“The city leads the way in terms of the protections that we offer to LGBT residents in Philadelphia, but I think we can always do more — particularly in looking at the trans community,” Vidas said. “When you look at the rates of violence against, particularly, trans men and women of color, it’s shocking and it’s deplorable and we as a city need to step up and really ensure that those folks are safe and protected in the same way that cisgender members of the community are.”
Some ideas she has in that realm include updating policy protocol in a way that prohibits deadnaming, and working to ensure incarcerated trans men and women are able to go to a prison that reflects their gender and not what’s on their ID.
Vidas said she also wants to work with the First Judicial District to make it easier for people to update their names legally.
But really, she said, all the issues that she wants to focus on could be considered LGBTQ issues, particularly education, which Vidas cited as a key component to local economic growth.
“When I talk to LGBT groups, I notice that we only talk about issues that affect our community, but if you are a gay parent with children, education is an LGBT issue. It affects all of us.”
Her stance on education involves finding a more cost-effective way to fix up local schools so that students can learn in safer environments. Vidas applauds Mayor Kenney’s effort to eliminate the School Reform Commission, but says that’s just round one of the battle.
“We still have a long way to go to ensure that we have a fair-funding formula, to ensure that teachers and principals have the resources they need to educate. It will be right up there with affordable housing in terms of something that I strive to deliver to neighborhoods.”
At the end of the day, the neighborhoods are where Vidas plans to focus, namely on day-to-day improvements that will better the lives of those in the Second District — like cleaner streets and well-kept public spaces.
“It’s little quality-of-life issues that I think are really important, because those are the problems that you can solve,” she said. “It’s both looking at tackling those larger, more difficult, ingrained inequities, but also focusing on the wins where you can get them, like ensuring we have clean streets and libraries and recreation centers that are open for our kids six, seven days a week.”