Copyright Lindsay Docherty Photography http://www.lindsaydocherty.com
Lindsay Docherty

Why Philly bike guru Andrew Stober has a real chance to win a Council seat (Q&A)

Andrew Stober is Philadelphia’s bike guy.

As the co-creator of Indego, Philadelphia’s new bike share program that launched this spring, Stober has quickly developed a good reputation among Philadelphia’s urban planning and transportation wonks.

Now, Stober, who worked under Mayor Nutter in the Office of Transportation and Utilities, is making a run for City Council as an independent this fall instead of a Democrat — and he says that the move to independent could help him win.

Seven of the 17 people who sit on Philly City Council are “at-large” council members, which represent the interests of the entire city instead of a single geographic area. Of those, City rules say that at least two must be from the minority party. Traditionally, Republicans have held these seats. But nothing says an independent can’t.

So rather than running in the Democratic primary in May against a crowded field of progressive, at-large candidates, Stober, 36, is making a run this November. All he’ll have to do is beat out a Republican incumbent, whether it’s David Oh or Dennis O’Brien, who have held seats on Council since 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Stober comes from a town outside New York City, and worked for several years in Colorado with the state Department of Transportation there. He moved to Philadelphia and got a job in Nutter’s administration about a year after Nutter took office.

From there, Stober, a South Philly resident, was employed in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and worked toward launching one of the office’s most notable accomplishments — bike share — earlier this year.

Billy Penn sat down with Stober last week to talk about his run for office and how he hopes to appeal to voters beyond the city’s transportation wonks:

Billy Penn: So how long have you been thinking about running for this seat?

Stober: I’ve been thinking about it for a few years now. I’m really seeing an opportunity and a need for new voices on Council, and really a feeling that Philadelphians shouldn’t have to be stuck with who the Republican party offers them for the two Council at-large seats.

Billy Penn: You worked for Mayor Nutter and are a progressive candidate. Why not run in the Democratic primary? Did you feel like it was a crowded field of progressive candidates like yourself?

Stober: Every primary you have strong progressive voices, often people who are accomplished outside of politics running in the Democratic primary. We don’t see that in the Republican primary, and I was a Democrat until 2013 at the local government level, getting effective policy and successful programs accomplished. Those things aren’t Democratic or Republican, they are about the people who can best represent the values of the city, and I think I can best do that as an independent.

This year is the right year to do it for an independent. We saw in the Democratic primary, voters chose two people who could not be more different in Allan Domb and Helen Gym. What Allan and Helen both have in common is very accomplished lives outside of politics, and people have varying views of their accomplishments as Condo King and public education crusader, but these are people who have gotten important things done and bring that expertise to Council. I’m someone who brings a similar skill-set, but with a different background.

Billy Penn: You’re known well among the urban planning, development and transportation types. Do you fear that people see you as a one-trick pony?

Stober: The people who know me from my work in transportation policy and programs and energy programs know that I am someone that, through the implementation of all of that work, have always thought a lot about the interests of the entire city, both from a geographic perspective — so what neighborhoods we’re doing work in — and also from an equity perspective. Whether it was when Philadelphia launched a parklet program, we were the first to make sure we really had parklets in every neighborhood.

We really made sure that when we were rolling out programs in MOTU, while often our programs downtown got a lot of coverage — I think, frankly, that’s where the media has its own bias in what its paying attention to — we were paying attention to the whole city.

For the folks who don’t know me, I get to introduce myself. And when they meet me, I think they’re going to meet someone who really connects with their priorities, which is not something that they’re hearing from my competition.

Billy Penn: Your parents are public school educators. And, like many candidates, you stress what you can do for public education on your campaign website. But how do you promise to do something about education when Council can only control so much?

Stober: I think we can do more than we give ourselves credit for in Council, and I think part of that is about taking the issues really seriously and demonstrating through actions on Council that we are committed to a successful public education system and demonstrating that to Harrisburg that the citizens of Philadelphia, through their elected representatives, are standing for their schools and standing up for their schools. And that’s something we don’t see the Republicans doing.

There’s a larger governance issue between funding and governance, and at some point that may come to a head, but just because it’s not clear or easy, doesn’t mean that we don’t need strong clear voices having a constructive dialogue with the school district.

Billy Penn: You said you feel there needs to be new faces on Council. What’s wrong with how it operates now, from your perspective?

Stober: I think that it’s really what I see going forward. So we have a new mayor coming in, and voters want to know that their tax dollars and the money they send to City Hall is being well-spent. And voters want to make sure they have someone who can partner with the next mayor to help advance initiatives important to the city, but also someone who has the expertise to hold the next mayor accountable. I will be one of potentially two members who spent any significant amount of time working in the executive branch. I know how the city budget works, I know how city departments work.

Billy Penn: So what are some of your legislative priorities?

Stober: I’m going to be talking with voters a lot over the summer and into the fall and hearing what their concerns and priorities are. But the things I’m going to look most closely at are public education, neighborhood services like vacant lot cleaning and anti graffiti efforts — it’s really that bread and butter stuff, looking at the streets department funding and making sure it’s getting what it needs to have our streets be safe for all travelers… (and) how we collect all the taxes that are owed to the city before we go about raising taxes.

Just because you live in a poor neighborhood in the city doesn’t mean you should have to deal with overgrown vacant lots, which create not only a public safety hazard in terms of places to hide, but also a health issue, and those are basic city services. These are things that very much connect with people.

Transportation is huge, and in our intersections that often feel treacherous to cross, particularly when you get to some parts of the city that have development patterns that lead to bigger intersections. And whether you are walking, on a bike, on a bus, or in your own car, all of the potholes and the street defects and trenches that utilities and plumbers are putting in as the development boom goes on, need to be repaired.

Billy Penn: You would be one of the youngest members on Council. You have this growing contingent of young people in the city, and they don’t come out to vote. People who live in Center City and surrounding neighborhoods often turn out more. How do you get young people to care, and especially how do you get young people in the city’s underserved neighborhoods to care?

Stober: Our turnout rates are abysmal. We have more than a million registered voters in Philadelphia and they’re turning out in the barely 100,000 range. Much of that comes from, particularly with young people, they either take for granted what we have, or they have given up on government. And so if you graduated from college, move to Philadelphia, stayed in Philadelphia and got a good job and you’re enjoying affordable housing and the great quality of life you can have, you may not be showing up at the polls because you think it was always this way and it will always be this way.

If you are someone who our public education system hasn’t had the resources to help, if you are living in an neighborhood where you spend too much of your time being afraid of some of your own neighbors and even afraid of the police who are there to protect you, and you don’t see your community getting resources, you may have given up. So if no one is looking out for me in City Hall, why should I pay attention or be engaged?

And my message to both of those groups is that it really matters what goes on in City Hall, and you deserve someone who is going to be there looking out for your interests and the interests of all Philadelphians, and make sure the money we’re sending to this building, you deserve to know that it’s well spent, and spent on priorities. And the only way that gets reflected is by you voting.

Billy Penn: So what are some of your campaigning strategies?

Stober: Right now, one of the great things about running as an independent is you can collect your signatures in the summer when people are also out and about, and you get to meet Philadelphia voters more easily. In just the last two weeks, I have been to a block clean-up in South Philly talking to voters there, I had block parties in Graduate Hospital, I was at the night market, I went to Manayunk during the lunch hour last Friday and talked to voters on Main Street.

It’s really about being out where Philadelphians are and meeting them and having those conversations and meeting with community leaders and groups all over the city. The next few weeks I will be at the Frankford and Olney Transportation Centers so I can hear from voters all over the city.

Billy Penn: You’re going after talking to voters on SEPTA?

Stober: That’s how I get around. I get around on my bike or on SEPTA. We have a car, we don’t use it very much. But that’s how I get around, and that’s where Philadelphians are, and so I think both of the Council members from the Republican side take city cars. If I’m elected, I’m not going to take a city car.

Billy Penn: So you’re not going to park on the City Hall apron, I assume?

Stober: I can assure you that I will never park on the north apron of City Hall. I also do not park in the median of Broad Street either, for what it’s worth.

Photo: Lindsay Docherty Photography via AndrewStober.com

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