Greg Paulmier is running as the independent candidate for the 8th District’s City Council seat, which includes Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Nicetown, and Tioga. A lifelong resident of Germantown, Paulmier has been involved in the community for decades, as both a ward leader and Democratic committee person.
This is Paulmier’s fifth time running for City Council; in 2011, he lost the Democratic nomination to Councilwoman Cindy Bass by just over 4,000 votes, coming in second in a field of seven candidates. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, he will face Bass again, this time head-to-head.
Paulmier said he first got involved in politics when he noticed his community was in need of a leader who could empower them. He won his first race for committee person at age 21, shortly after buying his first home in Germantown. He became ward leader in 1994 and ran his first City Council race in 1999. In 2007, Bass challenged Paulmier’s standing on the primary ballot, successfully petitioning to have him removed. The case went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who reinstated Paulmier’s place on the ballot. In 2015, a Germantown resident alleged signatures on Paulmier’s nominating petitions came from outside the district, and Paulmier withdrew his candidacy just before the Democratic primary after a court challenge.
This year, Bass’ would-be primary challengers Patrick Jones and Tonya Bah also withdrew from the race after their candidacies were challenged—Jones for invalid signatures on his nominating petitions and Bah for failing to file financial documents properly. Unopposed, Bass won the primary, which encouraged Paulmier to run again, this time as an independent.
You’ve lived in Germantown your whole life. How do you believe that allows you to serve and understand the community better than another candidate?
I don’t know if I would say it prepares me better than anybody else. I think it certainly has prepared me because I’ve lived here my whole life and been involved in community organizations, in the Democratic Party, and with my neighbors. You know, I didn’t finish college, but I went to high school here and lived here my whole life. So, I think it certainly has prepared me and that my communication with my neighbors and understanding of the community’s history has helped to prepare me for it.
Why are you running as an independent in this election?
I’m only an independent because I had to in order to give people a choice in this election between the incumbent and another candidate. So that democracy would at least be honored.
I wasn’t expecting to be running again because I sat out the primary for someone else—a woman named Tonya Bah, who, unfortunately, got thrown off the ballot. As a result, I was unable to run as a Democrat, because the dates in which you must file had expired. I realized the only candidate on the ballot for the primary would be the incumbent and I wasn’t very satisfied with the incumbent’s term in office, so I registered as an independent.
For the first time in my life, I’m an independent. I really believed in [Bah], but I realized the point here is the power of the community. I didn’t want to split the votes, as I’ve seen happen in the past with my own candidacy. I wanted to make sure it was a head-to-head.
Your platform mentions transparency. In your experience, why is that vital to a politician’s platform?
I think one of the biggest problems is the ability for people to know how their dollars are being spent. That’s transparency. The nice thing about our city, in many respects, is the fact that this is the city where democracy began with the Declaration of Independence.
We have 17 council people and a mayor. We have this budget and different departments that we use to implement the process, and all of them have public hearings which we can participate in. But, the one department, the one that delegates the dollars out, is our City Council, and that’s the only department in the city that we don’t have public hearings on.
That’s where this term councilmanic prerogative comes into play. It’s an unhealthy institution, in that it weighs to some council people different than others. It’s largely because we don’t have transparency [in that process].
My candidacy is largely about educating people on why local government works and doesn’t work. This is what impedes our government from being real democracy. Democracy is the sun shining down on things—the people who pay taxes knowing how their money is being spent.
What would you say the biggest issues in the Northwest are?
As a result of the fact that we have not been served appropriately by the local government, then I would say that one of them is crime. I’m talking results here. If we created healthy business districts, healthy schools, and healthy housing for folks, then the biggest issue wouldn’t be crime.
In other words, the biggest issue is a combination of things. The biggest issue is the lack of dynamic local government support for this community. It is the single biggest issue in this community because, if we know about civics, we know that federal government and state government funds city government and city government is where we either see things happen or we don’t. And so, we’ve had many different people in the White House over the last 50 years, but it hasn’t [had an impact] in Germantown. Mt. Airy is doing pretty well, but Nicetown and Tioga are more and more underserved by government and thus, the crime that’s affecting Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill if, I’m theorizing this, is probably coming from the lower end of the district.
So people, their knee jerk reaction, might be crime is the biggest problem, but the real issue is there’s a number of factors here that are creating the chaos that we have in our communities. And that’s the lack of real support for the neighbors in this community, throughout this district. That support largely can come from local government.
You’ve lived here for so long, so you’ve seen the community change a lot. How do you feel about the changes you’ve seen in the last several years?
It’s been very hard to watch. It’s been very hard to watch the overall community. Parts of it have done well, and Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill are doing reasonably well.
But the lower end of the district, for instance, Germantown, at one time it was the second-highest business district in the country, I mean in the city, I should say. So now, really, it’s kind of skeleton remains of what it once was and that’s been hard to watch. That’s, again, why I run. Because I think we can do more. Because the business district doesn’t just serve us with goods and services. It serves us with jobs and opportunities.
So, it’s been hard to watch and thus, I run. This will be the fifth time. I run because I feel like, at the end of the day, I’ve got to do all that I can in order to sleep at night. In order to feel like I’ve done my part.
What would you like voters to know about you before the election?
That I never give up. That I believe in community and that I think, for the first time in a long time, people have a very clear choice over somebody that’s been in politics for a long time. The incumbent has been working in politics long before they got elected to these two terms.
We don’t have to settle for people that haven’t been serving us. We have a choice. We have a choice between the last eight years and possibly an eight years that are dramatically different. We have a choice between somebody that’s has worked in government for a very long time. The incumbent has worked for a state senator, worked for a congressperson, and now has directly worked for us for eight years in January.
I’ve never worked for an elected official. I’ve worked within the Democratic Party and the organization. I’ve always worked with the neighborhood, with the community directly. Much more directly than any of the leaders that we’ve elected into this office in a long time. I don’t know when the last time we elected a self-employed individual to this office. That shows, in itself, somebody who’s kind of a self-starter and has a spark.
What do you feel your chances are for Tuesday?
I think they’re the best they’ve ever been because it’s a head-to-head and the disadvantaged voters won’t be split. And when you split the electorate, you don’t necessarily get a majority. You don’t get a democracy. So, I think it’s a good opportunity. Hopefully, we get a good day and people turn out and we’ll get a new leader in the 8th District. And maybe it’ll even be me.
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