Maria Quiñones Sánchez at a mayoral candidates forum in January 2023. She dropped out in April, saying her campaign couldn't keep up with the "obscene" amount of money entering the race. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Former Philadelphia City Council member and mayoral candidate Maria Quiñones Sánchez has taken a $150,000-a-year job as council’s director of strategic initiatives.

Quiñones Sánchez, who dropped out of the mayoral race in April, said in an interview that the new position is temporary and she isn’t sure how long she’ll have it. She reports to Council President Darrell Clarke, who isn’t running for reelection and will leave office at the end of the year.

Her responsibilities involve helping ensure City Council can communicate its priorities to the new mayor who will take over in January, she said.

“We want to be helpful to the new administration and we want to make sure some of the work that has started can continue, so we can make recommendations to the new administration,” Quiñones Sánchez said.

The work focuses on anti-poverty programs that she and Clarke spearheaded while serving together, she said.

“How do we work towards getting a hundred thousand people out of our poverty population?” said the 54-year-old, who was the city’s first Latina legislator and represented Kensington’s District 7 for nearly four terms. “We’ve made some tremendous progress in this phase and we want to make sure this work can continue.”

While on Council, Quiñones Sánchez led efforts to create the Philadelphia Land Bank, pushed for inclusionary zoning that required affordable housing in new developments, and championed the successful effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 for city employees and contractors.

Philadelphia has a long tradition of former councilmembers and other elected officials landing in newly created positions after they leave office or lose their jobs. In some cases, the jobs tided them over until they could get permanent employment or accumulated enough hours to receive retirement benefits.

Money a barrier to political participation

Quiñones Sánchez is a close ally of Democratic mayoral nominee Cherelle Parker and could end up serving in a top administration position if Parker wins the November election. Parker is heavily favored to win over Republican David Oh.

The Parker campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Quiñones Sánchez’s role.

Quiñones Sánchez served on Council for 14 years until she stepped down last September to run for mayor. The city’s resign-to-run rule requires current officeholders and city employees to quit if they seek another elected office.

The rule has been criticized for making it difficult for candidates who aren’t wealthy to run for office.

Unlike self-funded candidates like Jeff Brown and Allan Domb, or union favorites Parker, Helen Gym, and Rebecca Rhynhart, Quiñones Sánchez and candidate Derek Green lacked the resources to continue campaigning through the May primary.

When Quiñones Sánchez exited, she cited “the obnoxious, obscene amount of money” pouring into the race. Overall, the mayoral primary contest was the most expensive in Philly history, per The Inquirer, with candidates and supporting PACs spending nearly $38 million to influence the result. 

‘Membership has its privileges’

Clarke created a job for a former councilmember at least once before. In 2016 he hired four-term councilmember W. Wilson Goode Jr. into the new position of senior policy advisor, after Goode lost a reelection bid. Goode remained in the new position for about five years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Former mayor and council president John Street frequently hired former councilmembers who needed jobs into new or obscure positions. 

In 1997, for example, Street said he would create a job for Patricia Hughes, a ward leader and former one-term councilmember who had just lost her job with the Delaware River Port Authority. She ended up serving as Council’s internet coordinator.

“We generally see to the employment of former councilmembers,” Street told the Inquirer in 1996, when he was council president. “Membership has its privileges.”

Among other former councilmembers Street hired at various times after they left office or lost their jobs were Jack Kelly, who became a Harrisburg lobbyist for council, and Augusta Clark, who served as his secretary of authorities, boards and commissions, earning $135,000 a year.

Former councilmember Alvin Stewart became Street’s “special assistant” and ex-legislator Ann Land got the position of community relations manager for the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works.

Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Billy Penn covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...

WHYY reporter Tom MacDonald is a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident who has worked in the region since the mid-1980s. Tom started in commercial radio covering the MOVE standoff with police for WFIL-AM....