Election 2022

Quetcy Lozada’s rise to power: How the North Philly organizer snagged a City Council nomination

Maria Quiñones Sánchez never had Democratic party backing. Her likely replacement won that key support.

Quetcy Lozada talks with a constituent outside her campaign headquarters on North 5th Street

Quetcy Lozada talks with a constituent outside her campaign headquarters on North 5th Street

Emma Lee / WHYY
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Quetcy Lozada has always thought of herself as a person “in the middle.”

She’s slightly more conservative than her longtime mentor, former District 7 councilmember and mayoral candidate Maria Quiñones Sánchez, but she still considers herself to be progressive. Politically, she’s frequently found herself as the liaison between dueling personalities, the 52-year-old Northwood resident told Billy Penn.

She credits that ability to meet in the middle for the path she’s on now: the very likely next representative for Philadelphia 7th councilmanic district. Quiñones Sánchez, for whom Lozada was chief of staff, was able to win enough votes to hold that seat for 14 years in spite of the Democratic party machine, whose ward leaders never united behind her.

But Lozada got their support — and did so without abandoning her former boss.

“What they’ve seen is that I’m not the obstructor, I’m not the person who’s the divider,” Lozada said. “I’m the person who has historically been the person to say, ‘we need to figure out how we work with them.'”

Since 2020, Lozada has been VP of community organizing at faith-based community organization Esperanza. In her efforts to address public health and safety issues, she appealed directly to residents and recruited them as community ambassadors.

She’s also been working with allies in the district, particularly in the 43rd ward, to recruit residents to run for Democratic committeeperson — elected every four years, these neighborhood representatives choose ward leaders, who are tasked with endorsing candidates and selecting nominees for special elections, like the one Lozada is about to run in.

Lozada’s opponent in seeking the nomination was state Rep. Angel Cruz, who is also a ward leader in the district. Cruz challenged Quiñones Sánchez in 2019 and campaigned hard. With the Democratic City Committee’s backing and the support of Philadelphia’s politically powerful Local 98 electrician’s union, he was confident about his chances, but ultimately lost to Quiñones Sánchez in the primary.

Together, she and Quiñones Sánchez say it’s a big win for their district, and for the future of Philadelphia’s Latinx political community.

“All of this would not have been possible without every single person, including the ward leaders and the party, being open to change,” Lozada said.

Quetcy Lozada is the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia's 7th councilmanic district. She'll be on the ballot Nov. 8.

Quetcy Lozada is the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia's 7th councilmanic district. She'll be on the ballot Nov. 8.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Quiñones Sánchez: ‘I didn’t pick’ Lozada, support was ‘earned’

When Quiñones Sánchez resigned from City Council to run for mayor at the beginning of September, the immediate question for her constituents became: Who would take over as the District 7 representative?

That would be decided by the area’s Democratic Party ward leaders, who were tasked with picking a nominee for the special election set for Nov. 8. In this district, which has a strong Democratic majority, the party’s nominee is extremely likely to win the council seat.

In scenarios like this, it’s common for Philly ward leaders to rally around whomever the outgoing councilmember chooses. But in the 7th district, that support for the councilmember’s choice couldn’t be taken for granted. All four times Quiñones Sánchez ran for Council, the ward leaders endorsed her primary opponent.

So the question of who would get the nomination to replace her wasn’t so simple.

Quiñones Sánchez knew that, and it’s why she didn’t resign sooner — she always knew she would need to kick off her campaign early to fundraise enough for her mayoral run. “As much as my team wanted me to leave, I felt a responsibility… to do whatever I needed to do to get Quetcy the nomination,” Quiñones Sánchez told Billy Penn.

In the end, Lozada got the nomination handily.

“I didn’t pick. Quetcy earned. She had to earn the support of the ward leaders,” Quiñones Sánchez said.

Maria Quiñones Sánchez at a summer groundbreaking at McIvain Playground in Distric 7

Maria Quiñones Sánchez at a summer groundbreaking at McIvain Playground in Distric 7

JARED PIPER / PHL City Council Flickr

The 7th district has 12 ward leaders. Ten of them voted for Lozada as the special election nominee, and two voted for Cruz — including Cruz himself.

That marks a big change from less than four years ago, when eight of the 12 ward leaders backed Cruz’s challenge to the incumbent Quiñones Sánchez.

Two of the wards that backed Lozada have new leadership as of June.

In Ward 43, that’s state Rep. Danilo Burgos, also a former Quiñones Sánchez staffer. Lozada and Quiñones Sánchez helped mobilize that neighborhood politically, getting civic-minded residents into committeeperson roles that ultimately elected Burgos as ward leader. So it’s no surprise that Burgos backed Lozada.

In Ward 18, Lauren Rinaldi became ward leader in June. The 18th is an “open ward,” meaning its committeepeople vote on endorsements rather than letting their ward leader make the call. In 2019, the majority voted to back Cruz. Last week, 60% voted for Lozada.

Rinaldi said the swing votes included some newly elected committeepeople, and some incumbent committeepeople who supported Cruz in 2019 because they wanted a change in district leadership. In 2022, they see Lozada as a preferable change agent.

Among the ward leaders who backed Cruz in 2019 and shifted away from him this time, Lozada and Quiñones Sánchez both pointed to Carlos Matos (19th ward) and Sen. Christine Tartaglione (62nd ward) as pivotal votes. “It was a different conversation than in 2019 when I ran,” Quiñones Sánchez said.

The two ward leaders — who are related by Matos’ marriage to Tartaglione’s sister, Renee Tartaglione, and part of a deeply embedded political family — got on board with a plan that includes getting one of their own in the mayor’s office.

Matos has publicly disagreed with Quiñones Sánchez and backed her opponents at times in the past. “People in politics, they fight, and they make up,” he told Billy Penn. Now he sees a bright path forward for his neighborhood, with Quiñones Sánchez in the mayor’s office and Lozada in council. He doesn’t have anything against Cruz, he said, but Lozada was the better choice.

“There’s a massive plan in place and Maria is the architect of that plan,” Matos said. “There’s a bigger purpose at hand. It can only benefit us as a community to stick together.”

Building the movement

If she wins the District 7 seat in November as assumed, Lozada plans to run for reelection in 2023. All 17 councilmember positions are up, with the first round of the local political battle set to play out in the May primary.

Cruz reportedly is planning to run for the District 7 seat next year too. He did not respond to Billy Penn’s request for comment.

Quiñones Sánchez said she made the decision to run for mayor after Jim Kenney’s term expired back in 2019 — and new Lozada would be a strong successor. Lozada had always planned to run in 2023, she said, whether there was a special election this year or not.

That kind of pre-planning, whether by resigning officials or Democratic party officials, has left voters with the creeping feeling that special election winners are anointed, not elected.

“Folks give you their vote of confidence for you to make those decisions for them,” Quiñones Sánchez said. Elevating Lozada in the party was “a team effort,” she asserted, that stemmed from getting more residents engaged in politics.

Quetcy Lozada talks to a man setting up her campaign headquarters in American Legion-Latin American Post 840

Quetcy Lozada talks to a man setting up her campaign headquarters in American Legion-Latin American Post 840

Emma Lee / WHYY

About a year and a half ago, Lozada and Quiñones Sánchez, along with Burgos and other allies, started meeting with residents who had shown an interest in local government and elections, recruiting new committeepeople for the 43rd ward.

“We met on the block with people — in their neighborhood, in their community centers, in their churches — to be able to identify people that would really change the dynamics of that ward,” Lozada said.

Almost half the district’s Ward 43 committeepeople were newly elected in 2022, including two who filled vacant positions.

Now, she said, residents are watching, and waiting to see if the 7th district’s more unified leadership is real, and worthy of their trust.

“If we’re able to maintain the respectful, open-communication-type relationships that we have created, community residents will feel that we’re all on the same page,” Lozada said. ” I believe, at least hope and pray, that we will get a greater participation from them.”

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