BY TONY WEST/ The delayed reapportionment of General Assembly seats, which is taking place this year, has triggered primary challenges for several State House incumbents whose districts arenâ€™t what they used to be.
State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Northeast), whose 202nd Dist. once snaked along in the general vicinity of Roosevelt Boulevard from Olney to Rhawnhurst, has been redrawn. Today it is a compact district lying between Robbins Street and Cottman Avenue, from Frankford Avenue to the city line at Cheltenham Township.
The result is Cohen is unfamiliar to two-thirds of his voters now. Although this scion of a progressive political family has had an illustrious career in the House of Representatives for 40 years, chairing the Majority Caucus until the Democrats lost the majority in 2010, it may have escaped the notice of most people who will go to the polls this May.
Spying an opportunity, Jared Solomon is waging an aggressive campaign for the new 202nd. This 35-year-old wasnâ€™t even born when Cohen first went to Harrisburg. But this attorney, Army Reserve captain and civic-group leader has been scouring the Lower Northeast meeting people, using a time-honored tactic of offering free dinners.
There may be generational-change issues on Capitol Hill as well. Normally State Reps donâ€™t mess with their colleaguesâ€™ political business. But freshman State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.), who is of Solomonâ€™s generation, has taken the unusual step of endorsing Solomon for the 202nd.
In the 194th Dist. of Northwest Philadelphia, State Rep. Pam DeLissio, now in her second term, is also looking at challengers. When that seat became vacant in 2010, five people contested for it in the primary. Although DeLissio, like the rest of the field, lived in Roxborough, she had strong business connections across the Schuylkill in Lower Merion Township, where she was a hospital administrator. Lower Merion support gave her the edge.
The new boundaries of the 194th have dropped Wynnefield in West Philadelphia and trimmed a bit of DeLissioâ€™s base in Lower Merion. Added has been the rest of Roxborough (such as Andorra) and important parts of East Falls and East Mount Airy.
Now she is facing three challengers from Roxborough again, well-known union activist Dan Pellicciotti, attorney Sean Stevens and former Army Capt. David Henderson.
DeLissio has been busy and visible â€œalong the Ridgeâ€ since she took office, but new voters are always wild cards. It must be a comfort to her, though, that three opponents are seeking to take her on instead of uniting behind a single candidate.