POLS ON THE STREET: State Rep Rumbles Are Underway

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AS IS HIS tradition, Council President Darrell Clarke gave away hundreds of window fans to senior constituents at Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Photo by Wendell Douglas

As if there wasn’t enough happening in the turbulent political waters of 2017, a few of its local mariners already have an eye on the distant beacon of the 2018 primary election.

State representative races are the easiest opportunities for newcomers to try to make an entry into elected officialdom. Two adjoining districts, the 184th and the 182nd, have attracted three interested challengers.

Together they take in half of Center City and half of South Philadelphia, areas that are seeing an influx of new residents and spiraling property values. These new voters have no loyalty to established representatives; indeed, they are unlikely even to know who they are. They provide fertile ground for insurgents.

State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Philadelphia) upset an incumbent in 2012 to take the 182nd, which covers Logan Square, Rittenhouse Square, the Gayborhood and Bella Vista. Young and fiery, Sims made his name as Pennsylvania’s first openly gay legislator. He is also restless, having undertaken a brief run for Congressman Chaka Fattah’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the 2016 Democratic primary which was won by the current incumbent, Congressman Dwight Evans.

PARTICIPATING in the 9th annual “Nicetown Give Back” community gathering were, L-R, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Nicetown CDC leader Majeedah Rashid and Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif. Photo by Wendell Douglas

So it’s poetic justice, perhaps, that Sims faced a bevy of equally restless opponents in both the 2014 and 2016 primaries. He won with a plurality of 40% in 2016 against three of them.

Their leader, State Senate aide Ben Waxman, who reaped 34% of the vote that year, has long been clear he intended to come back for a second round. Late last month, he made that official.
A former journalist and staffer for State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.), Waxman now works for Wage Change, a nonprofit action group that advocates voluntary wage increases among small employers.

Why the early launch? Waxman’s top need is to discourage others from entering the primary. By establishing an early lead, he hopes to draw other progressives who are disaffected with Sims to his banner before they develop ambitions of their own.

Sims enjoys a campaign and is steadily working his base.

“There’ll be plenty of time to discuss the many differences between us, but here’s the biggest: My opponent has made it clear over the years that being in elected office is his dream while I ran for office and have been re-elected twice because I have always been focused on fulfilling other people’s dreams,” he said in his latest statement.

AN IMPRESSIVE turnout filled a Temple University hall for State Sen. Sharif Street’s Diverse & Minority Business Forum. Business people were given workshops and panel discussions – along with dozens of tables staffed by public- and private-sector vendors, complete with shopping lists. Among presenters were, L-R, Deb McClain of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Brittany Rivera of the Minority Development Council, Sherry Nacci of the Women’s Enterprise Council, Mary Brougher of the US Business Leaders network, Mathew Tharakan of SEPTA and Katherine Peters of PennDOT. Street was joined by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and Mayor Jim Kenney.

State Rep. William Keller (D-S. Phila.), whose 184th District picks up below Sims’ at Wharton Street to take in the Downtown neighborhoods of East Passyunk, Pennsport and Whitman, is in a somewhat different situation. Two first-timers – Elizabeth Fiedler, a former journalist for WHYY, and Nicholas DiDonato, Jr., a former detective, have expressed a desire to boot him out of a seat Keller has held since 1992.

They are going about it in different ways. Fiedler, who says education and health care are her key issues, is targeting college-educated young professionals who are changing the demographics of this traditionally blue-collar district with close connections to the port. Organized labor is Keller’s home base and his affiliation with prominent IBEW Local 98 leader John Dougherty is of long standing. Fiedler sees this as a fault.

DiDonato comes from a more-typical South Philly background. He has caught onto the latest hot issue in his neighborhood – a proposal by Philadelphia 3.0, which bills itself as a good-government lobby, to eliminate mid-street parking on S. Broad Street. This idea is about as popular in the 184th as burning the American flag and DiDonato has made himself the neighborhood tribune in opposition. It will win him attention and recognition for sure.

With two opponents targeting different types of voters, Keller has few worries so far and is keeping a low profile. He knows the votes that count next spring will be rounded up by strong labor and ward organizations, with Local 98 and the 1st Ward in the lead.

Brady’s Eyes on 2016 Prize

State rep rumbles don’t trouble the Democratic Party chairman, Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.)

“There’s nothing new here,” Brady commented. “It’s always been like this. People develop an interest in running for office, and it’s their right to do so.”

The Democratic City Committee is concerned with ensuring wins for its candidates for district attorney and city controller, Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart, in the November General Election, when they will be opposed by Republicans Beth Grossman and Mike Tomlinson respectively. While DCC is confident of victory, it wants to leaver nothing to chance.

L-R, CONTROLLER CANDIDATE Rebecca Rhynhart, judicial candidates Vikki Kristiansson and Shanese Johnson, Ward Leader Greg Spearman, DA candidate Larry Krasner and Deborah Canty at the 60th Ward’s Urban Arts Gallery. Photo by Wendell Douglas

This year’s primary drew many new voters into the fray. Democrats would like to see them show up again in November – in part for more than local offices.

Brady called the statewide judicial races “very important.” There are four seats up for grabs on Superior Court, two on Commonwealth Court and one on the Supreme Court. For Democrats, it is crucial to retain their grip on the Supreme Court because that will give them muscle to prevent another disastrous redistricting in 2021 like the one that crushed them after the 2010 US Census. They want to make gains in the other two appellate venues as well.

Philadelphia has a direct stake in two of these elections. Native daughters Judge Carolyn Nichols and Maria McLaughlin are going for Superior Court and Judge Ellen Ceisler is running for Commonwealth Court.

Insiders know there is more to courts than legal or political philosophy. Location matters greatly at the appellate level, just as in real estate. When Philadelphia cases and Philadelphia issues are heard, it is essential to all Philadelphians that they have adequate representation on these courts.

Judicial races are often ignored by low-information voters. But a judicial candidate’s home county is listed on the ballot, and it is known that some voters in the rest of the state are biased against the City of Brotherly Love. So DCC is hoping for a strong turnout in Philadelphia, preferably with voters pulling the party lever in support of the entire ticket, to counter that and buoy its hometown hopefuls to cruise to appellate seats.


District Attorney candidate Beth Grossman joined pupils of the Northeast Karate Academy at the National Night Out at Lincoln High School. Photo by Wendell Douglas

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