Rue Landau’s father Mike Landau grew up at Har Zion Temple back when the Conservative synagogue was in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood. And her mother Dotsy Landau came of age at a Reform temple, Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street.
But even though they hailed from different denominations, the Landaus preached the same Jewish value to their daughter: tikkun olam.
“When I was growing up, my parents taught me that we all have a role to play in healing the world,” she recalled.
Since reaching adulthood three decades ago, Rue Landau has tried to do her part. She’s been a housing organizer, an attorney for Community Legal Services and the director of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations and Fair Housing Commission.
And now she wants to try to do her part by serving on the Philadelphia City Council. The 53-year-old announced her campaign for one of the seven at-large seats on the body on Dec. 13 before friends and family members at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Center City. At-large council members represent the entire city.
Landau, a Democrat, is one of more than a dozen candidates in the race for those seven seats, including five incumbent reps in Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kendra Brooks and Jim Harrity. If elected, she would become the first openly LGBTQ+ member of council in Philadelphia history. John C. Anderson, whom the apartment complex is named after, was a gay but not out councilman from 1979 to 1983 before dying of AIDS complications.
“Throughout my career, I’ve done work in basically every neighborhood in this city,” Landau said. “Between those connections and my love for every neighborhood, that makes me a good candidate for at-large.”
Landau’s parents moved out of the city to raise her in Cheltenham. But after she graduated from the University of Delaware, she moved back into Philadelphia at an apartment at 10th and Clinton streets. She had just come out as a lesbian and felt like there was a “more vibrant community in the city than there was in the suburbs,” she said. Landau received acceptance from her parents and found a gay community through bars, coffee shops and bookstores.
She also started her activist work by assisting Kensington residents in finding affordable housing and by helping to provide social services to victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 1998, Landau earned a law degree from Temple University and started a decade-long tenure at Community Legal Services, where she represented low-income tenants fighting evictions.
Starting in 2008 and continuing into 2021, she served as director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Fair Housing Commission, where she worked with city council to, as a campaign email put it, “overhaul the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance and Fair Housing Ordinance.” Landau’s efforts helped returning citizens get a fair shot in job application processes, provided better housing accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding women and added eviction safeguards.
But she left those commissions to teach housing law at Temple and to become the director of law and policy at the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Over the past couple of years, though, she has watched her beloved city fall into a cycle of violence. And now she wants to help.
“I want to use my skills to help Philadelphia turn around and become the city we know we are and can be,” Landau said.
Landau and her wife, legal aid lawyer Kerry Smith, are raising their son in South Philadelphia. They attend Reconstructionist synagogue Kol Tzedek in West Philadelphia even though Smith is not Jewish.
The candidate wants other families to see Philadelphia as a place where you can get married, raise a kid and go to synagogue. To her, this means supporting low-income renters, full school funding, increased funding for libraries and recreation centers, more street lights and an overall investment plan that includes businesses.
“All of those things have been proven to immediately reduce violence in neighborhoods,” she said.
Smith met Landau 20 years ago when she was helping a friend sub-lease a New York City apartment to Landau’s friend. As Smith remembered it, her future wife walked in the door and had infectious energy. So they started dating, even though Smith lived in Boston and Landau in Philadelphia. But as their relationship developed, it became clear to the Bostonian that she was going to have to move to Philadelphia. Landau would take her around the city, talk about everything they saw and run into people she knew.
“It’s the way she talks about Philly and looks at Philly. She’s like a tour guide,” Smith said. “Here’s our people and who we are.” JE