Donna Reed Miller, Former Philadelphia City Council Member, Dies at Age 77

Donna Reed Miller, a former City Council member who represented much of Northwest Philadelphia for 16 years, died last week at age 77.

Mayor Cherelle L. Parker, who got her start in the same black political circles in the Northwest, said she was grateful for “the support and encouragement I have received.” [Councilmember Miller] provided me during my journey to become your mayor.

“Council Member Reed Miller comes from a long line of distinguished community activists who fought for social, racial and economic justice before it was popular to do so,” Parker said in a statement.

Councilmember Miller has championed gun control legislation and authored the “ban the box” bill, which aimed to raise the employment opportunities of Philadelphia’s former inmates by preventing employers from asking applicants about their criminal histories.

She was a protégé of the behind schedule state Rep. David P. Richardson, leader of the famed black political organization known as the Northwest Coalition. A Democrat, she began working as Richardson’s aide in 1987, around the time she lost her 20-year-old daughter to cancer.

Richardson convinced her to run for Council in 1995, and she defeated incumbent Al Stewart. Richardson died a few months later.

“We didn’t have the support of the Democratic Party, but we had the support of the community,” she said at the time.

Councilwoman Miller enjoyed powerful support in the southern end of her district, which included poorer black neighborhoods in Nicetown and Germantown, where she lived. She also clashed at times with neighborhood leaders in the wealthier, white northern parts of her district, including Chestnut Hill.

On the council, she stayed out of the public eye and focused mostly on the issues in her district and was part of a bloc of lawmakers supporting Mayor John F. Street. She struggled with type 2 diabetes for much of her time in office.

Councilwoman Miller has proven herself to be a political survivor, defeating back-to-back Democratic challengers in the primary and avoiding repercussions from two controversies in which members of her staff were accused of corruption.

In 2005, her former chief of staff, Steven A. Vaughn, was convicted of fraud in a case related to the high-profile corruption investigation into Street’s administration.

Three years later, her former assistant Theresa Pinkett was charged with accepting bribes and pleaded guilty to extortion for actions she engaged in while working for Councilman Miller and in the city controller’s office.

Councilmember Miller was also a prominent supporter of Emmanuel Freeman’s leadership in the Germantown Settlement, a nonprofit social services and housing organization founded in the 1880s, fell apart amid allegations of misconduct under Freeman before it went bankrupt in 2010.

Councilmember Miller declined to run for re-election in 2011 and was succeeded by Councilmember Cindy Bass.

Former Councilman Derek S. Green, also an alumnus of the Northwest Coalition, said Councilman Miller was a “fierce advocate for her community.”

“She cared deeply about making sure the constituents she represented and citizens across the city got the services and benefits they deserved,” he said. “I will miss her conversations and her leadership.”

Funeral arrangements were underway.

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