Interviews & Profiles

A Q&A with Rue Landau

City & State speaks with the first openly LGBTQ+ candidate in Philadelphia to be elected to city council

Rue Landau


With 2024 at the doorstep, and incoming lawmakers in Philadelphia bracing to establish their place in City Hall, there are plenty of questions surrounding the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection and how it will usher in a new era in city politics. 

City & State spoke with one incoming lawmaker – Rue Landau – about her campaign, issues plaguing the city and how a new-look council will work alongside a groundbreaking go-getter in the mayor’s office. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Was there a specific moment or one event that led you to think ‘now is my time’ to run?

Certainly having so many people resign from City Council and the vacancies made it a very unique time in history to run for council. It gives you a greater chance. In Philadelphia, running against incumbents is difficult, so adding in the vacancies cleared the path for many of us. 

You have an extensive background working in housing and assisting tenants. What were some experiences from that time that still guide you now?

I was a lawyer at Community Legal Services representing low-income tenants for 10 years. Then I was appointed by Mayor Nutter, and reappointed by Mayor Kenney, to run the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Fair Housing Commission for 12 years. It was all those experiences – but particularly working within city government – that made me realize that I can make significant changes on city council and really lead on some of the issues that are plaguing our city. 

The Human Relations Commission in Philadelphia enforces the city’s civil rights laws and fair practices ordinance. It prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. Over my years working at the city, we were able to fully overhaul the law to make it stronger, much more relevant for modern times, increase penalties and add protections for many marginalized communities throughout the city. We just kept adding on top of that. Some of the big wins we had during my time were ‘ban the box’ and fair chance hiring to make sure people with criminal records had a chance of getting a job without having their record as an immediate obstacle to employment. Employers now are not allowed to ask you what your wages or salary was at your previous job before setting your salary at the job you're trying to get – that certainly helps women, people of color, disabled community and the LGBTQ community, who have been historically underpaid for their work. 

For the Fair Housing Commission, we were dealing with landlord-tenant cases, usually when there’s outstanding Licenses & Inspections code violations and the landlord is trying to evict a tenant without fixing the property. I was able to really help build up that commission as well, adding many protections to the law and working on everything from good cause eviction protections to the rental assistance coming from the federal government. 

I’m no stranger to City Hall and how things work. And importantly, I bring a unique perspective to this job because I’ve been on the administration side, which allowed me to see what it means to implement the laws passed by city council. We need to make sure that we are working with the administration on any new legislation that is passed and helping them be successful in implementing it. We need to work across all branches and aisles in order for us all to work together right now and make sure that the city is tackling its most pressing issues and that also means we are fully implementing the policies and laws we have on the books and making sure the administration is functioning properly.

What other issues did you hear about while on the campaign trail and which of them do you think is not being talked about enough?

I was reminded on the trail we have a very large city with many different perspectives on issues. The one theme that came up a lot obviously was public safety, and another thing that came up was L&I and cleanliness. I think that both of those issues in different ways go to personal safety and quality of life. These are major issues that we need to tackle immediately and the great news is, all the council people and the administration were talking about these as well. Everybody’s in line and ready to tackle these issues on day one.

With your knowledge of the legislative and implementation process, and how council operates overall, what would you like to see done to improve council’s efficiency and the smoothness of its operations?

We will not be able to have a high functioning government until we fill our staffing vacancies.We must be fully staffed…I’ve told our next mayor that I’m going to be available to work with her and to advise her on anything that I could be helpful with, being somebody who's worked on the inside knows what it's like to be in the administration. I can certainly speak to things that are working and that have not worked well and need to be changed. (Parker) is fully committed to having a high-functioning government, so that collaboration is going to work really well. 

Without a doubt, council needs to understand that when they pass a law, there is an agency that needs to enforce it and that agency needs as much support as possible. They need time, they might need more staff and more resources, and they could certainly use more help in outreach and telling people about the law. 

When City Council passed a law that landlords needed to have a certificate of rental suitability in order to rent their property. There was a lawsuit that held up the implementation of the law for many years. When the lawsuit was finally resolved, the city did a very bad job of telling landlords they now needed to have this certification to rent their property. Landlords didn’t know about it, and when tenants started to realize their landlords needed to hack this document in order to rent their properties, it became a significant issue because landlords without this document are not allowed to collect rent, nor are they allowed to terminate the lease. As a city, we needed to do far more outreach to landlords, and council could’ve helped with it. Landlords were in a very difficult position of jumping through hoops at the 11th hour of trying to get this important document that oftentimes, in the beginning, they didn't even know they needed to have.

Given that this is among the least experienced and most progressive city council’s in recent memory, how do you think new members will work alongside a Parker administration?

Council will be made up largely of pragmatic people, many of whom are progressive. That falls in line also with Cherelle Parker. The new council is a breath of fresh air and it’s a great thing. 

Most Philadelphians feel like the city is not working for them right now. The opportunity to have a new council with a new mayor is already a positive. We are all saying the same things – sometimes in different ways – but we’re saying the same thing. Our top priority is to get the city back on track, fully functioning, working again with the priorities of public safety, neighborhood investment and housing and healthy communities. We really are all saying the same things. We just need to work together across branches to make it happen. 

I feel incredibly positive about the trajectory of our city starting on January 2. I believe we are going to immediately set a tone in the city that there's new leadership with folks with sleeves rolled up, ready to get the job done, working together, communicating with each other and on a path to not only Philadelphia's recovery, but to a place where everyone in Philadelphia can thrive.

The city is experiencing a few firsts with the election of Parker as well as council members like you and Nina Ahmad. Can you speak on the importance of these firsts and what they mean for the city as a whole?

We are a city of firsts. I love that we are, in particular starting in 2024, we have three strong female firsts. Cherelle Parker as our 100th mayor, first female mayor and first Black female in that position, our first openly LGBTQ council person who also happens to be the first female Jewish person on council, and Nina Ahmed who is our first immigrant (on council). 

I think it’s really interesting and exciting that at this pinnacle in time we have so many new strong leaders who are representing different demographics than had existed before in our city government. To me, that’s essential not only for visibility but also for having a seat at the table and not just an advisory role – actually having a seat at the table and being able to craft the way in which our city is going to make sure we are fully inclusive and thinking of all communities and providing opportunities for other people to step into roles in government. I’m always saying I might be the first but by all means I’m not going to be the last. I will always have my door open and help others who are coming along the way so they can get experience and hopefully elevate to positions in government as well.