(Pols ) POLS ON THE STREET: Fresh from Vegas, Ciancaglini Eyes S. Philly Race

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CONGRESSMAN Bob Brady joined other city leaders at City Hall to press for expanded federal relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

The 184th Legislative District seems to have a magnetic allure for political newcomers this year.

This seat, representing the South Philadelphia neighborhoods of Bella Vista, East Passyunk, Pennsport and Whitman, has been served since 1993 by State Rep. Bill Keller. A longshoreman by trade, Keller has quietly tended his largely blue-collar constituency while keeping a steady eye on its chief economic asset, the properties of PhilaPort. Keller makes no enemies and stands by his friends. At 66, he is still spry enough to run. He does not look like an easy target to topple.

Yet challengers are popping up like mushrooms in Keller’s backyard ahead of the 2018 primary election. The first to announce was a former WHYY reporter, Elizabeth Fiedler. On her heels came Nick DiDonato, Jr., a former police detective.

Now a third contestant has emerged: attorney Bill Ciancaglini. And he enters the race with a flourish – having just survived the Las Vegas massacre.

Ciancaglini, who has a background in the casino industry, was in Las Vegas on vacation Oct. 1. Strolling the Strip three blocks from the Mandalay Bay Resort, he was suddenly faced with a panicked mob fleeing the fairgrounds where a mass shooting had just taken place.

“I’ve never had a day go from so good to so bad that quickly,” Ciancaglini mused. “We watched the Eagles win the game … and then I’m literally running for my life.”

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA detective Nick DiDonato, Jr. made a formal campaign launch in his bid for the 184th Legislative Dist. Seat in the May 2018 Democratic primary.

Ciancaglini knows his way around the Philadelphia Democratic Party process, having run for Common Pleas Court judge. His casino expertise may help him in South Philadelphia’s unending war to establish a second casino in that district – he won a head-turning case against the Philadelphia Turf Club.

Now he has a campaign story to tell that few voters will forget when they hear it. Ciancaglini is already weighing how to frame security issues in the Stadium District as a campaign issue.

But that makes four in the race, with the primary still more than six months out. What are the odds?

It is obvious that if an incumbent is being challenged, he would rather be challenged by three than by one. So Ciancaglini’s entry into the race should be a boon to Keller. Still, the appearance of three foes – where once there were none – could make observers wonder.

One possibility is that some people are betting Keller, a staunch ally of union leader and political kingmaker John Dougherty, will become ensnared in the FBI investigation that centers on Dougherty – perhaps creating negative headlines between now and May 2018. But the mills of the FBI grind slow. And the very size of the FBI probe acts to limit its impact. Virtually everyone in South Philly who has ever dealt in public affairs has gotten a letter from the FBI, based on the fact they talked with some subject of the probe at some time. When everyone is under investigation, no one looks particularly bad.

10TH DIST. Councilman Brian O’Neill, L-R, appeared along with Ward Leader Mark Wuller, Commissioner Al Schmidt, and Ward Leaders Bob Barrilli and Linwood Holland.

Besides, the FBI took a pass at Keller some years back and got nowhere.

Are we looking, then, at ethnic rivalry?

For decades, Italian Americans functioned as the de facto elite in this complex, multiethnic community. Their indigenous professional class produced the likes of Tom Foglietta, Frank Rizzo and Vince Fumo. Both DiDonato and Ciancaglini stem from that lineage. Can DiDonato pry labor support away from Keller? Can Ciancaglini loosen the pockets of major donors?

Then there’s Fiedler. She represents the new, young, white-collar voters who have been settling in the 184th since 2000, driving up housing values. It’s unlikely they will form a majority in 2018; but in a four-way race, who needs a majority? A highly motivated group that shows up to vote in a primary can beat lightly motivated voting blocs, even those with official party resources.

Philadelphia saw this clearly in the May 2017 primary, when DA candidate Larry Krasner and city controller candidate Rebecca Rhynhart cleaned the clocks of their mainstream opponents. If this phenomenon lasts into next spring, all bets are off in Philly politics.

State legislative races are the purest form of retail politics in Pennsylvania. The challenge facing challengers is to reach and move 60,000 people in the course of a campaign. Vigorous young door-knockers can unseat sluggish old-timers through sheer foot leather.

Thanks, 184th District, for putting on a good show for political observers this year!

Muroff Slams Meehan on Drugs

Health care is front and center in the national political debate these days. That can mean extra attention for a local candidate who figures out how to surf a national wave.

Philadelphia’s Dan Muroff, a former Democratic 9th Ward leader and candidate for the 2nd Congressional seat ultimately won by Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Phila.), is trying to do just that with health care. He is now going after the 7th Congressional District post held by Congressman Pat Meehan (R-Delaware).

Big Pharma is a massive player in this suburban district; even more so, perhaps, than Philadelphia proper. Many of its office campuses and professional employees are settled in the 7th District.

At first glance, Muroff’s strategy – to slam Meehan for accepting $161,000 from pharmaceutical companies implicated in the opioid epidemic – might seem counterintuitive. But it may be smart.

COUNCILMAN Derek Green held his fall fundraiser at Time lounge in Center City. Among many attendees were, L-R, Local 98’s Marita Crawford, Dan Sullivan, David Dunphy, Green and Billy Miller.

Nobody likes the opioid epidemic, least of all pharmaceutical pros. Most workers in these companies are proud professionals who view their business superiors with an oft-jaundiced eye. A stand against prescription-drug abuse may entice them to pull the lever for a challenger.

Muroff can easily run on this issue because of his personal story. “I lost my sister to the ravages of addiction,” he said. “I understand how devastating the opioid epidemic is to families and communities all across Southeastern Pennsylvania and well beyond. I am encouraged that legal action is being taken against the drug companies, in Delaware County and across the country, who have put their profits over the health of people. Pure greed drove these drug companies to push for increased painkiller prescriptions, resulting in an enormous increase in addictions, and in drug company profits. The drug companies’ pursuit of profit at the expense of thousands of lives is unconscionable.

“Sadly, much of these same profits find their way to the campaign coffers of our elected officials,” he continued. “As congressman, I will work tirelessly to ensure increased federal resources are provided at the local level to defeat this epidemic. I will work closely with local and state government as well as service providers, and I will not accept campaign contributions from the Pharma PACs who hope to buy silence from elected officials.”

EMILY’s List Backs Rhynhart

EMILY’s List, the country’s largest resource for women in politics, endorsed Rebecca Rhynhart for controller of the City of Philadelphia. The organization actively works to increase the number of women involved in every level of government.

STATE REP. Jim Roebuck enjoyed seeing the Franklin Institute’s Terracotta Warriors exhibit, more than 2,000 years old, at the opening reception. Photo by Bonnie Squires

“Rebecca’s experiences as chief administrative officer, city treasurer, and budget director make her beyond qualified to be controller of Philadelphia. She has shown unwavering commitment to making city government work for all residents and businesses,” said Geri Prado, senior director of state and local campaigns at EMILY’s List. “EMILY’s List is confident that she will be a positive force in Philadelphia, not just for women, but for all community members throughout the city.”

“I am very grateful to receive the endorsement of EMILY’s List, an organization that embodies the same spirit and drive I believe are needed in city government,” said Rhynhart. “We need more women in public office, and EMILY’s List has been a key supporter of female candidates across the country – I am thrilled to be one of them.”

Rhynhart surprised the Philadelphia political establishment in May 2016 by winning the Democratic nomination for controller of the City of Philadelphia with 58% of the vote. With 15 years of financial experience, she spent the last nine years working at the City of Philadelphia, first as city treasurer and budget director and then as Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief administrative officer. She resigned from the mayor’s administration at the end of 2016 in order to run for controller.

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