Donna Reed Miller dies

Former City Councilmember represented the 8th District


Donna Reed Miller, a former Philadelphia City Councilmember who represented the 8th District for 16 years and worked to improve the quality of life in some of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, died last week. She was 77.

No cause of death was immediately announced, and as of press time on Tuesday, funeral arrangements were still pending.

Miller, who served on the City Council from 1996 to 2012, was known for her efforts in criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, and advocacy for minority hiring in city contracts. She held the seat now occupied by City Councilmember Cindy Bass, representing the city’s 8th Councilmanic District – which stretches from Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy to Germantown, Nicetown, and Tioga.

Mayor Cherelle Parker, Philadelphia's first Black woman mayor, remembered Miller as an early advocate of criminal justice reform, ban-the-box legislation and gun violence prevention.

“To all of former Councilmember Donna Reed Miller’s family and friends, I send my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies,” she wrote on her Instagram feed. “Councilmember Reed Miller came from a long line of community organizing greats – who fought for social, racial and economic justice before it was a popular thing to do….I will also never forget the support and encouragement that she provided me on my journey to become your Mayor. I will miss her deeply and a grateful City acknowledges her service.”

City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who succeeded Miller as 8th District Councilmember, said she was “one of the hardest working” members. 

“She always put herself a distant second behind the community she served and received criticism from those who had never worked in public service and did not know the sacrifices she made,” Bass said. “Despite that, she continued to faithfully serve the constituents of the 8th Council District and the citizens of Philadelphia throughout the years.”

Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Miller entered politics as a protégé of the late State Rep. Dave Richardson, one of the first Black state representatives in Pennsylvania history. She won her council seat in 1995, unseating incumbent Alvin Stewart in a special election. 

Throughout her career, Miller focused on issues that directly affected her constituents. She co-sponsored hearings on alleged police misconduct and was a driving force behind several gun control measures. In 2007, she par with Councilmember Darrell L. Clarke to pass laws requiring the reporting of lost and stolen handguns, prohibiting gun ownership for those under domestic violence restraining orders, and restricting firearm ownership for individuals deemed a danger to the community.

Miller's tenure was not without controversy. Her close association with Emanuel Freeman and Germantown Settlement, a social service and housing agency that went bankrupt in 2010, drew criticism from some constituents who accused her of enabling the organization to hoard property in Germantown at the expense of other potential developers.

In 2011, she sparked controversy by introducing a “spot” zoning bill that allowed a discount grocery store at Chelten Plaza, a new shopping complex being developed at Chelten and Pulaski Avenues in Germantown. The discount store was fiercely opposed by many residents, more than 3,000 of whom signed a petition against it. 

Miller’s office was also marred by two corruption scandals involving her staff members. In 2005, her former chief of staff was found guilty in an illegal tax scheme tied to the federal bugging of then-Mayor John Street. In 2008, another aide pleaded guilty to extortion related to a real estate scheme.

Still, Miller maintained a strong political base, particularly in the southern part of her district. One of Miller's most notable achievements was the successful redevelopment of Cricket Court Commons, a massive Germantown housing complex that had fallen into disrepair. She also played a crucial role in securing city funding for development projects in Nicetown, including a $15 million mixed-use development and a planned $20 million project.

In 2007, Miller took on her most visible role in a face-off with building trades unions over minority hiring. She threatened to withhold approval for the $786 million Convention Center expansion without a public breakdown of unions' minority makeup. Although she initially faced resistance, her efforts eventually led to improved minority inclusion in city projects.

When Miller announced her decision not to seek re-election in 2011, she stated, "It is time to give another person the opportunity to represent this wonderful district. I never believed this position to be a lifetime job, and though I know I have the political and physical ability to serve, it is the right time for me to move into another type of public service."

Her decision came amidst controversy over her participation in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which would have awarded her a lump sum payment of $195,782 upon retirement.

In the years following her council service, Miller maintained a low profile but continued to be involved in community affairs, and was an active supporter of Mayor Parker's historic campaign.

Miller is survived by her family members, including her niece Kacy Nickens.