Carla Cain, the committeeperson suing Bass, says in the lawsuit that Bass improperly removed her as the designated primary contact for the 22nd Ward Democratic Committee RCO, a registered community organization she created in 2019.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Cindy Bass, who is also leader of the 22nd Democratic ward in Mt. Airy, is being sued in federal court for allegedly violating the First Amendment rights of one of the ward’s committeepersons.
Carla Cain, the committeeperson suing Bass, says in the lawsuit that Bass improperly removed her as the designated primary contact for the 22nd Ward Democratic Committee RCO, a registered community organization she created in 2019. Cain was removed from her post by Bass, the lawsuit argues, in retaliation for Cain’s refusal to back Bass as ward leader. The lawsuit goes on to say that Cain was replaced by two 22nd ward committeepersons who “are known supporters of Bass.”
Cain ran unsuccessfully against Bass in the 22nd ward’s election for ward leader approximately four years ago. RCOs are neighborhood civic associations that allow neighbors to provide community input on local issues such as development projects.
Bass dismissed Cain’s complaint in a phone interview with the Local, saying that Cain’s RCO never had any standing because she had never approved it. According to Bass, the creation of any ward RCO must have consent of the ward leader, which in this case is Bass.
“City rules dictate that if it's a ward RCO, it has to have the consent of the ward leader,” Bass said.
The city said this isn’t true.
“The RCO application process does not require a ward leader signature,” said city spokesperson Paul Chrystie in an email to the Local.
According to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s regulations, An RCO may submit a written request to correct or update its registration information at any time, but “the request shall be submitted or verified by the primary contact person as listed on the RCO’s current registration unless the primary contact is unavailable due to death, medical condition, or other exceptional circumstances.”
Cain’s lawsuit argues that this rule means she couldn’t legally be removed as the RCO’s primary contact person because, as the primary contact person herself, it would require her own approval, which she did not give.
Cain and her lawyer, John Carnes, both declined to comment for this article in phone calls.
In her lawsuit, however, Cain stipulates that “Bass has used the authority of her position as a member of City Council to bypass the regulations… governing the operation of RCOs in order to appoint her supporters and allies.” The suit continues claiming that “Bass’ pattern of antagonism aimed at Cain… establish[es] that Bass’ actions against Cain were taken because of Cain’s criticism of Bass for [her] actions as Ward Leader and City Councilperson.”
The lawsuit also alleges that an “anonymous user” submitted an application to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission to replace Cain in August 2020. Cain was notified about the application the following month, the lawsuit says, when she received an email about it from the city’s RCO coordinator, Jonathan Goins. That email was included in a set of documents that were sent to the Local.
According to the lawsuit, Cain believes Bass was the anonymous user because her signature is on the application that certifies Cain’s removal as the RCO’s representative.
The documents allege that Cain had complained about Bass’ lack of transparency in regard to her “dealings with other political associations, adherence to party rules, making disclosures regarding campaign funds, and running for political office.”
When asked about new committeepersons being appointed RCO representatives, Bass said the city planning department asked her to make a recommendation. The city “asked that if we did not have an authorization from Cain was there somebody that we wanted to have,” Bass said.
According to the lawsuit, an unnamed planning department employee confirmed that Cain's removal had been done "pursuant to Bass' direction." The Local was unable to independently confirm this.
The Local reached out to the city’s Department of Planning and Development with questions about the unnamed employee, the anonymous application and potential records that would show Cain was removed as the RCO’s representative. Chrystie declined to comment on these matters.
Cain’s lawsuit includes details about an incident that occurred during an RCO meeting in the wake of her having been removed as representative. At the meeting, the lawsuit alleges, “individuals acting under Bass’ supervision refused to give Cain any material which was provided to other RCO members, while the head of the RCOs in the 8th Council District, also allied with Bass’ political interest, refused to acknowledge Cain at the meeting.”
No other specific details of this event were provided in the meeting.
In the wake of this incident, the lawsuit says, Cain was removed from her position as the RCO’s representative two more times. The lawsuit is unclear about how Cain would have been reinstated to the position.
Cain’s lawsuit stated that her lack of standing has kept her RCO from participating in any development projects in the area, including a controversial development project at 361 Hortter St., where a 24-unit apartment building is proposed at the site of a former grocery store.
In addition to running against Bass for ward leader, Cain ran for Philadelphia City Commissioner in 2019, but lost to Lisa Deeley. She also ran unsuccessfully for an at-large city council seat in 2015.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it went to press for the print edition dated Feb. 3, as a city spokesman was unable to respond before the print deadline. The printed edition does not include the city's statement that, contrary to Bass' statement, city rules do not require councilmembers to approve leadership roles for registered community organizations.