Rue Landau hopes to bring her long history of activism and political organizing to Philly City Council
Landau recently spoke to AL DÍA about her potentially historic run in 2023.
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Rue Landau officially launched her run for an at-large City Council seat in 2023 earlier tonight, Dec. 13, at the John C. Anderson Apartments. The site holds a significant meaning for Landau, as Anderson was a former Philadelphia Councilmember, first elected back in 1979 — and not out about their sexual orientation — who died from AIDS shortly before pursuing re-election in 1983.
Since then, some LGBTQ+ judges have been elected in Philly and two state representatives are openly gay, but such representation in City Council has been nonexistent. Landau is not only looking to be the first openly out LGBTQ+ Philly Councilmember, but is looking to bring about change for the city she loves, and the millions living in it, just as she has done for the last two decades as an attorney, political organizer, and activist.
In a recent sit down with AL DÍA, Landau spoke more in-depth about her early life as an activist, political organizer, attorney, her current City Council run and her plans if elected.
Fighting since day one
Fighting is nothing new to Landau, who was an activist and housing organizer from early in her career. She was in the trenches fighting for economic justice, access to affordable housing in Kensington and organizing to provide social services during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990s as an active member of ACT UP, Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) and Women’s Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM!).
“My parents instilled in me that each one of us needs to help heal the world… We were fighting for issues that we faced at the time. During the AIDS epidemic, the government was not doing anything for those contracting the virus, not making services available, and doing nothing to help with prevention,” said Landau. “We're in a better place now but not with housing. What we were fighting for then is the exact same today. The bureaucracy makes it extremely difficult to get access to it. Folks can't afford to pay market rents. We have poverty, and housing unaffordability, harming Philadelphians every single day.”
About the photo:
"That's a photo from the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. On the bottom left is Gloria Casarez – Philly civil rights leader and LGBTQ+ activist. She was the director of the Mayor's Office of LGBTQ+ affairs and a really good friend of mine. She was a leader in our community," Landau said. "I first met her when she was doing work with KWRU."
Landau is on the bottom right with the baseball cap.
"She's lifted up by both the Latino community and the LGBTQ+ community as an incredible leader. I feel like we have similar backgrounds that we took our fights for social and economic justice into City Hall. There's a shelter named after her – Gloria Casarez Residence with Project HOME. And now the school Gloria went to in Kensington needed a name change, and now we have Gloria Casarez Elementary here in Philadelphia. The legacy lives on," she added.
Then, Landau went to law school and for more than a decade, worked as an attorney at Community Legal Services (CLS), helping thousands of low-income renters in Philly avoid eviction from their affordable housing. She kept families together, and successfully challenged government bureaucracies, including the city’s Housing Authority and the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Going to law school was for Landau, “a natural progression.”
“It seemed like a great next step for me. I did it intentionally just to do public interest work to make sure that I was working towards economic justice and social justice. It was my full intention of going to law school. I didn't go to be a corporate lawyer, I went specifically to try to get one of these highly coveted jobs like CLS,” she said.
Landau also saw law school as a way to bring about change on a bigger scale.
“I had thousands of individual tenants who I helped facing eviction. We were able to file class actions against the housing authority when they weren't following the law and harming thousands of Families in Philadelphia. I also was able to help create changes in court rules that also helped thousands of people. That kind of launched me into my next phase,” she said.
A model for the nation
Her next phase was becoming Director of the Philly Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) and the Fair Housing Commission (FHC), the city’s civil rights and housing enforcement agencies. In her 12-year tenure, she turned the agencies into national models for government and community engagement, social justice, and equitable opportunity.
Alongside Philly City Council, she spearheaded efforts to expand the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance and Fair Housing Ordinance, adding civil rights protections such as wage equity, fair chance hiring for those with criminal records, accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and good cause eviction safeguards, and more. She was also involved with bolstering existing laws to create added protections for marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+ community.
“I was able to help overhaul the law, make it stronger, and add protections for all our most vulnerable communities,” said Landau. “We had a Community Relations Division that brought people together from different backgrounds, and tried to do conflict and violence prevention work by trying to get folks to get to know each other. We would go into communities after there were bad acts of conflict that included many hate crimes, and bias incidents, especially after the most recent President got into office [Trump]. We would try to do some community healing, and victim services to help folks who were affected.”
Additionally, at the Commission of Human Relations, she expanded the multilingual outreach and education and significantly increased the number of Spanish speakers and those who spoke other languages as well on their staff. Landau said it was essential that they were getting their messages out into communities in other languages.
“I have a passion for public service, fighting for social justice and equity. When I am on council, I want to reinvest in our communities. This was an intentional act by the government to disinvest, and it harmed people of color, particularly Black and Brown communities. Whether it was redlining, or other forms of lending discrimination, we have to reinvest. That will help turn around our gun violence epidemic, and housing affordability crisis. Investing in our libraries, and rec centers with a variety of activities available at all times. Those are needed to turn around decades of neglect,” Landau said.
Deciding to run for an at-large City Council seat is a big decision that prompts campaigning, fundraising, and many other aspects. As for why she decided to run, Landau believes that with her decades of organizing, activist, and legal experience in which she has accumulated many skills and relationships, it seemed like a natural next step.
“We need leaders who have been proven change agents to come in and make the change that we need. Having a strong city council, and mayor, we will be able to turn Philadelphia around and make it the amazing place that it is because I am Philadelphia's biggest fan,” said Landau. “We've got the people who want to make change, the resources, we've just got to have the leadership in City Hall in order to make it happen. I want to be a part of that.”
LGBTQ+ Council history
Landau is married to her wife, Kerry, and received the first same-sex marriage license in Pennsylvania when it became legal back in May of 2014. Historically there have not been many, if any LGBTQ+ individuals running for City Council or any public office. If elected, Landau would be the first openly out LGBTQ+ person to serve in Philly’s City Council. Landau touched on her feelings on the growing number of LGBTQ+ individuals running for public offices as well as how crucial it is to have such representation in government.
She is one of a number of openly LGBTQ+ candidates running for City Council in 2023 — so far, AL DÍA has also interviewed Michael Galván and Daniel Orsino.
“We've come a long way in our community. It's fantastic that there's so many running for office. I hope to be the first out LGBTQ+ person on council. I think we're going to make history here in Philadelphia. We're the only large city in America that has never had one. We have fantastic local laws, and we've created Philadelphia as a bit more of a safe haven for our community. But we need to continue to build on that,” said Landau.
This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.
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