Person of the Year: Rue Landau

City Council member at large elect Rue Landau raises her arms in the air while smiling in front of a podium. The front of the podium has a sign that says
Rue Landau declared victory for an at-large City Council seat during an election night party at Cockatoo on Nov. 7. With this seat, Landau is the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to Philadelphia City Council. (Photo: Kelly Burkhardt)

Rue Landau made history this year by becoming the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to Philadelphia City Council. 

“For over a year, all throughout every part of Philadelphia, no matter where I went in Philadelphia… I came out to every group I was in,” said Landau about her experiences on the campaign trail. “And on many occasions, somebody would stay to meet me after the meeting in the back of the room and thank me for being out, being open about who I am.”

“I’m proud of winning [the election] in general and also for finally representing our community as an LGBTQ+ person,” said Landau, who identifies as a lesbian and queer. “But some of my proudest moments in my career were while I was the director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.”

“I worked on some bills that really helped to transform some people’s lives in Philadelphia,” she said, including legislation that prohibits employers from asking applicants about criminal records and previous wages. This removes some barriers for marginalized job-seekers.

“On the community relations side, I’ve done a lot of work to try to bring people and communities together during conflict or to prevent conflict and promote understanding,” she explained, underlining that this work was particularly important following the 2016 presidential election, when Landau said Pennsylvania saw a “significant rise in hate crime and bias incidents.” She often supported immigrants, communities of color and LGBTQ+ people to prevent harm or seek healing.

While working for the Fair Housing Commission, she championed low-income tenants who now have a process for attempting to resolve issues with landlords before they’re directly taken to court.

“During my 12 years of overseeing both the Commission on Human Relations and the Fair Housing Commission, I transformed those agencies into national models for government and community engagement, social justice and equitable opportunity,” she added.

“My younger self would be super proud of me,” said Landau, who attended law school at Temple University with the goal of becoming a public interest lawyer.

Landau, who is 54 years old, learned about serving vulnerable people during her childhood. She said, “Growing up in a Jewish household, we were always taught the concept of tikkun olam,” which means to repair and improve the world. Landau explained that she wants to “help create the world we all want to live in — that we all should live in.”

During her campaign, LGBTQ+ people and allies shared their concerns with her, and she’s learned, “It’s all of the issues I’ve always worked on — housing, nondiscrimination, civil rights, schools. All of these are extremely important to our community.”

“There are some issues specific to our community that deserve extra attention,” she added, underlining, for example, “gender-affirming healthcare and ensuring that we’re treating nonbinary people with the dignity they deserve.”

LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to experience homelessness and people of our community are over represented in every stage of our criminal justice system — from juvenile justice to parole,” she said.

“The only way we’re going to have positive outcomes for our community, especially the most marginalized parts of our community, is if we invest in them,” she said, pointing to the importance of local nonprofits, health institutions, LGBTQ+ specific initiatives, housing efforts, small businesses and schools.

“Being a parent has been an incredibly growing experience for me,” said Landau, whose son is a teenager. “It’s also really allowed me to see the city through the eyes of a young person and to see a future that we need to create for everybody in Philadelphia through those eyes as well.”

Understaffed and unfunded public schools have led to issues with programming and infrastructure — but Landau believes investing in young people and their spaces will ensure the city has a bright future.

State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, who is also a parent, shares Landau’s passion for revitalizing schools and recently helped pass a $175 million budget for improving school facilities. Up to $30 million could be used to repair some of Philadelphia’s crumbling school buildings. Fiedler said she and Landau will work together on matters related to education, school facilities, recreational activities and career development opportunities for young people.

Rue Landau

“I’m really excited to work with her professionally but also to support each other in a more personal — human — capacity,” she said of their friendship. Fiedler underlined that “particular tones and expectations are set” for women in politics, which can be difficult to navigate. Defying those norms requires courage to persist despite adversity in order to pursue change.

“That often means not sitting quietly in the back. It means being an active participant in making that change happen,” she added. “In that sense, I’ve found a kindred spirit. We’re both highly driven to work as hard as we can to make the world better and to make life better for our neighbors.”

Fiedler applauded Landau for her ability to accomplish tangible goals by bringing more people into conversations. She said that even when others don’t remember to pause and reflect, Landau steps back while problem-solving and asks, “Who else should be here?”

As a solutions-focused person, Landau views herself as a bridge that brings people together which, she said, is the only way to enact change. 

“The good news is that I have a history working with the city government and communities throughout the city, and as a known leader and advocate, I’ve had many successes,” she added. “And those successes have shown that I can get things done.”

Landau will be sworn in on Jan. 2, and she wants to hit the ground running. The hardest part of the new role will be practicing patience.

“The real challenge for me is having so much that I want to do — that I’m eager to do — but I also know that these things take time,” she said of her many campaign promises.

In the meantime, Landau and her team are taking classes and participating in trainings that will better equip them for budgeting — City Council’s first task of the new year — and other processes or systems they need to become familiar with. 

“I’ve also been tapping all of my colleagues who are subject matter experts and learning from them what they’ve been working on, what I can do to help once I get to City Council and just getting a well-rounded view of the pressing issues in Philly right now,” she said.

“It’s also been interesting to learn where we’ve made gains and where we still need to go,” she added. Landau feels that previous leaders weren’t working together to progress the city forward following the pandemic, but she’s hopeful that this group will be more cooperative and collaborative. She underlined that stronger communication is key to success.

“This council is going to work together to tackle the big issues in a different way than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a good one for our LGBTQ+ community,” she added, noting that she’s hopeful about the new City Council president, incoming mayor, and other members of the administration. “We have some strong allies.”

Landau, whose seat is an “at-large” position — meaning she represents the entire city — truly believes every nook of Philadelphia has something special to offer its residents and guests.

“Being in Philadelphia, I’m as giddy as an adult as I was as a young person when I get to see and experience all that Philly has to offer,” she said, highlighting some favorite activities — like meandering through museums and local shops, trying new restaurants and attending festivals. “Even taking a walk down the street feels like you’re on vacation.”

“To be honest, when I’m not working, I love just being a part of it,” said Landau. “It just brings me so much joy.”

At PGN, we’re also raising our hats to other notable movers and shakers in our community. To read more about them, click here.

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