Hunting Park: Conversations with Councilwoman and Her Staff

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez spoke during a council session.

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Growing up on the 4100 block of North Reese Street in Hunting Park Maria Quiñones-Sánchez never dreamed that one day when she would serve as the top elected official in her community. She now holds the distinction of becoming the first Latina ever elected to the City Council of Philadelphia.

Representing most of Hunting Park within the 7th Council District the twice elected Quiñones-Sánchez also holds the distinctive first of serving in a district seat on Council unlike her two Hispanic predecessors in that body who served in citywide at-large seats.

“There are a lot of trail blazers, and when you meet them as a kid- it’s great thinking of the doors they opened,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “When I’m there as the trail blazer, I wonder what it means.”

After a brief pause, Quiñones-Sánchez recalled a recent Council session on the property tax Actual Value Initiative where a mother said that her son loved the councilwoman. When that woman’s son came to pick up his mother, he asked to take a picture with the elected official.

“There’s a notion that you’re this bigger than life character, and it’s kind of cool,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.

Growing up, Quiñones-Sánchez did not anticipate being a larger than life character. She actually planned on becoming an accountant.

When Quiñones-Sánchez was 15 years old, she began working for the Hunting Park Community Development Corporation. There, she began working as an assistant to the grant writer.

Quiñones-Sánchez would work at the Hunting Park Community Development Corporation for three years. At 17 years old, she was acting as the bookkeeper which had her managing a $500,000 organization.

“As the neighborhood changed, we saw government divestment from the neighborhood,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “Our job there was kind of block-to-block organizing and I found that work fascinating.”

That fascination with community work became paired with her persistent desire to do her job well. That fascination and desire remain wedded inside her.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez spoke during a council session.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez spoke during a council session.

“Everyday, I go through highs and lows,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “I wake up with this sense of urgency because I will wake up in the middle of the night and take notes if something comes to my head.”

“Quiñones-Sánchez said that during those late night note taking sessions she often prioritizes the remainder of her day. “Then you read the paper and undoubtedly something throws off your schedule.”

What is peculiar about her, though, is that she will not have her staff write briefs for the day’s different meetings because she has thought through everything to the point of memorization.

When Quiñones-Sánchez gets home after her work day, it takes her about two hours to “debrief” – her term for reassessing that day.

“At night, I will rethink everything and ask if I was as successful in everything as I could possibly be and then try to make the next day more productive,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.

While this practice may seem very mechanical, it is necessary. It is not only necessary for  Quiñones-Sánchez, but her family as well. This became evident as she progressed through her first term in Philadelphia’s legislature.

“The first year I got elected, my husband and kids were super excited,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “They were thinking, “Wow, Mom’s getting to do what she wants to do- what she’s good at.””

In the second year of her first term, Quiñones-Sánchez began facing more time constraints. Then in the third year of the term, facing an upcoming reelection campaign, her personal life became truly strained.

“The third year, I nearly got kicked out of my house,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “There was a high level of frustration,” she said because she was the boss but she was not managing her time properly.

“My husband and I did counseling, my oldest son was struggling with school and had his girlfriend and my youngest was like, ‘I’m not asking your opinion because you’re not around,’” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “We worked through that.”

For Quiñones-Sánchez and her husband, Wednesdays are now their date night. She stated that this is the only time when she will put her phone aside.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez with her family.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez photographed with her family.

Shutting off her telephone to spend uninterrupted with her husband is a big step but a necessary one, the ever occupied Quiñones-Sánchez said. “Even when I go away, I read when I am on the beach.”

Quiñones-Sánchez said she will set aside one month every summer to vacation at her house in Puerto Rico. This is her therapy even though she is still working.

“When I’m on vacation, my staff will know when they come in at 8:30 a.m., there will be emails because I will be emailing at 4 o’clock in the morning. But I get up at that time. I  watch the sunrise,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “The great thing about technology is you’re never totally unplugged.”

With such a drive in regards to her career, Quiñones-Sánchez has pondered the possibility of running for mayor of Philadelphia.

“If I want to aspire to provide citywide leadership, I have to demonstrate to folks that my success in my district helped the rest of the city,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “So, I think I have at least one more term in here.”

“Then after 12 years [as a councilwoman], I really do have to revisit what other contributions can I make that others can’t,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “That’s when I ask, ‘should I run for mayor?’”

Quiñones-Sánchez’s staff can certainly envision running for mayor.

“I think that she can become mayor maybe one day,” Madeline Quevedo, constituent service liaison, said. “I wish for that.”

“I can see her bypassing council president and becoming the first Latina mayor,” director Quetcy Lozada, the office director, said she can see her boss bypassing the council presidency achieving another first, Philadelphia’s first Latina mayor.

Jason Dawkins, special projects and constituent service liaison, has a slightly different take on the subject.

“I can see her exceeding [the position as mayor,]” Dawkins said. “[However,] I want her to move on to somewhere where she is happy.”

Quiñones-Sánchez said she doesn’t think much about future terms in Council or the possibility of running for a higher office.

“If you’re focused on running instead of working for the district, then you’re less likely to take on challenges because then you’re concerned about offending a constituency that you might need citywide,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “If I do a really could job in my district, then I can do it.”

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