Amanda McIllmurray is ready to serve. For Philadelphia.
Early this month, the lifelong Philadelphian announced the intention to become an at-large candidate for City Council.
“I’ve lived in Philly my whole life,” McIllmurray said. “I have done progressive organizing here for the past decade. This feels like the next step that I personally can take to continue to improve the lives of everyday working Philadelphians. I’m really excited, especially with the turnover on the Council, to be able to shape what the new Council looks like.”
City Council elections will take place in November for the 10 district seats and the seven at-large positions, of which five are allocated to the majority Democrat Party. The primary is May 16. McIllmurray currently resides in South Philly but has lived in neighborhoods across the city.
An at-large member represents the entire city.
“You really get a holistic view of the whole system,” McIllmurray said. “I have enjoyed getting to meet people from across the city my whole life. I grew up in Riverwards. I’ve lived in a lot of neighborhoods and worked all over the city. It felt like the right opportunity for me to from those relationships and connections and experience. I have experienced the city in almost its entirety.”
The 2023 Council elections presented a unique opportunity for McIllmurray. The stars have aligned.
“I’m running for one of the five Democratic seats,” McIllmurray said. “There are two incumbents running for re-election. Council members (Isaiah) Thomas and (Katherine) Gilmore Richardson are running so there are three open at-large. I hope to earn one of those three spots.”
No one who chooses to run for elective office looks at the job description and thinks, “That sounds fun!” At least, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. For McIllmurray, it’s a calling, the natural progression of her life’s work.
“I cofounded a research organization that works on housing, justice reform, education reform, and also elections. I also ran the campaigns of Sen. Nikil Saval and Representative Elizabeth Fiedler.
“This is an opportunity to prioritize and make sure that we are really fighting for working people when it comes to affordable housing, when it comes to our schools and our parks and our representers and our libraries being funded and open. I want to make sure that all of our families are cared for.”
Winning a political office is a heady proposition. Many politicians map out a path to ever-higher office that can satisfy their political aspirations. McIllmurray is the other kind of politician.
“At first, a bunch of community members brought the idea to me,” McIllmurray said. “We had a series of conversations. I went through like the due process of reflecting on it. I had about 200 conversations with different community members across the city. I realized, you know, if not me, then who?”
Once the who was sorted out, figuring out the “what” became the next task. As it turns out, McIllmurray had already done the groundwork on that.
“My goal is to represent people all across the city,” McIllmurray said. “I want to help people of all races and every neighborhood to work in collaboration with the other members of the Council to make sure that every single person in our city has a safe and affordable home. I want to ensure every single school is fully funded, that our parks and our rec centers and our libraries are, not just funded but actually open nights and weekends. Our kids deserve it.”
Less than a month into the 11-month process as a candidate, McIllmurray is getting a feel for the scope of the undertaking. The unrelenting schedule and demands of a job McIllmuray doesn’t even hold yet have been eye-opening.
Eye-opening and comforting.
“The thing I have learned so far is while people across the city have different ideas of what we should do, we’re all struggling with the same things,” McIllmurray said. “Everybody is struggling with paying for their houses, with their medical bills. We might have slightly different ideas about how to fix it but we’re all struggling through the same stuff. But the people of Philly are all fighters.”