POLS ON THE STREET: Team Trump Brings Its Tune to Philly

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VICE PRESIDENT Mike Pence came back to Philadelphia…

The national Republican team came to Philadelphia on Monday. Republicans cheered and donated; Democrats booed and protested. What is not clear is if anything changed as a result. But it is evident that the Republican Party is trying to move the needle in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

For the second time since President Donald Trump’s address at a GOP confab on Jan. 26, 2017, early into his term, a White House leader came to Philadelphia, in the form of Vice President Mike Pence. Both the president and his running mate have worked Pennsylvania crowds before, but they have usually stuck to areas where their base is strong, in Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania, with occasionally a stab at the Southeastern suburbs. Trump took only 15% of the city’s vote in 2016 and few expect it would be higher if a re-election were held today.

TO URGE ON Republican loyalists for their U.S. senatorial candidate, Congressman Lou Barletta.

But the Philadelphia media market is crucial to a statewide race; and one is underway right now that is of utmost importance to Trump and his national party. That is the effort of Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne), an early and ardent Trump supporter, to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). It was Barletta’s cause that Pence came to promote.

“I am a big fan of Lou Barletta. Lou thank you, not just for being here today, but thanks for being there every step of the way supporting this President, supporting this administration, and always putting Pennsylvania first,” Pence told a Republican crowd at a rally at the Sheraton Downtown Hotel. “The president and I love Lou, we really do.”

UNUSED to the limelight in a Democrat-dominated town, Philly Republican activists turned out in force for Mike Pence’s stop to promote Lou Barletta. Among them, L-R, were congressional candidate Bryan Leib, Ward Leader Matt Wolfe, congressional candidate Rev. Todd Johnson and activist Cornell Harley. Photos by Wendell Douglas

To be specific, the president and Pence love every Republican senatorial candidate running in a state that their ticket won in 2016. Pence’s next stop, on Tuesday, was in North Dakota, where one-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is being challenged by Congressman Kevin Cramer.

Despite talk of a “blue wave” this fall, Republican senatorial prospects look bright. Granted, they hold only a razor-thin 51-seat majority in that body. But of the 35 seats up for election in November, 26 are held by Democrats.

Republicans will do everything in their power to grow their majority, ensuring a favorable jury for President Trump even if Democrats retake the House of Representatives – which observers consider likely – and then proceed to press for impeachment. While the House may impeach, only the Senate can try the case.

A FUNDRAISER for one of its own, senatorial aspirant Linda Fields, was hosted at NUHHCE District 1199C HQ in Center City. Hoping to score another win was legendary Eagles tackle Brandon Graham, R, posing here with Laborers member Phil Goldstein. On her team were, L-R, State Sen. Sharif Street, basketballer Marcus Morris, Fields, Markief Morris and legendary Eagles player Brandon Graham. Photo by Wendell Douglas

That’s where the president stands. Where do the locals stand when it comes to Barletta and Casey?

Pence did not come to town to win converts, but to rally Trump’s base. Blue-collar white voters have proved to be his staunchest supporters; Pence would like them to remain fired up for Trump, and by extension Barletta; or, if they remain Democrats, to be unenthusiastic and skip voting for Casey on Nov. 6.

In the city, Pence doesn’t have a big pool to fish in. But three wards did vote for Trump and he would like them to fall behind Barletta. Barletta’s Italian background may sway some votes, especially in South Philadelphia’s 26th Ward.

Pence’s visit generated regional TV coverage, however. Pockets of blue-collar voters in Delaware and Bucks Counties were reachable.

Pence’s other goal was to drive money into Barletta’s pocket. Q2 figures show him way behind Casey, with $1.5 million on hand, compared to Casey’s nearly $10 million. So the fundraiser at the Union League may have been a more-important stop for the vice president than the speech at the Sheraton. Q3 results will tell if it worked.

CITY COMMISSIONER Lisa Deeley gave an informative presentation on best practices in registering voters at a recent meeting hosted by Grassroots Advocacy for South Philly in East Passyunk. Flanking the Commissioner are South Philly’s WDA Community Liaison Fred Druding, Jr., L, and longtime education advocate and popular 26th Ward Democratic Committeeman Luigi Borda. Photo by John Zimmerman

Barletta is not a statewide name. He needs money to project himself. Casey, on the other hand, is very well known in Pennsylvania and his record has generally been moderate. In the past two years, however, he has adopted more-progressive rhetoric. Pence hoped to capitalize on that by telling Republicans that Casey “votes more like Bernie Sanders than like Pennsylvania.” Pence also criticized Casey for opposing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

As a fundraising tool, such attacks may work. As a vote-winner, though, it is unlikely to strike fear into the average voter. Bernie Sanders actually appeals to many Trump voters, and Supreme Court picks matter more to traditional conservatives than to Trump Democrats.

Meanwhile, Casey is deploying his money on commercials that stress his pragmatic, soothing, bipartisan image. Expect to see a lot more of them than of negative ads put up by his undersourced challenger.

But in veering to the anti-Trump hard line, Casey is playing the numbers. The latest polling shows the president under water in Pennsylvania.

Can Soda Tax Put Fizz in Wagner’s Hopes?

Unlike Barletta, Gov. Tom Wolf’s Republican challenger State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) has paid close attention to Philadelphia issues.

MICHAELS Organization, a real-estate firm with a specialty in mixed-income and affordable housing, donated scholarships to North Philadelphia low-income housing students under the aegis of Council President Darrell Clarke, 2nd from R rear. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Top of that list is the city’s signature Sweetened Drinks Tax. Although the State Supreme Court has declared it settled law, it remains a sore point with the grocery and restaurant industries, faces staunch opposition from the Teamsters and other unions, and is unpopular with many consumers.

Wagner adopted the soda tax as a cause last year, when he attempted to hold a hearing of the Senate Local Government Committee on that subject in City Hall, at the request of State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.). Protestors shut down that hearing. But Wagner reconvened it later in Harrisburg (at a safe distance from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office).

Wagner appears to have taken the grievance of soda-tax foes to heart. At a town hall meeting in Montgomery County, he went on at length about it.

“I learned from Jeff Brown, who has the ShopRite supermarkets, that 3,400 items are taxed. Almond milk – listen, we are all told Almond Milk is good and it is healthy for us, but it is taxed. Honey is taxed. That kind of stuff. So those are the kinds of things that I tend to be a little baffled by.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Wagner released a statement saying, “I think the people of Philadelphia deserve to know what their next governor will do on the issue. It is my belief that this tax places an unfair burden on hardworking Philadelphians and is not even being used appropriately. As governor, I will work to end it.”

This is the sort of statement that might catch the eye of a nonpartisan swing voter. It may also loosen up quiet support for Wagner in some business and labor circles.

Construction Tax Looms as 2019 Philadelphia Primary Issue

Affordable housing is an issue that is very real to many Philadelphians and that will not go away by next year, when the mayoral and councilmanic candidates will be active in the Democratic primary.

JOINING PennEnvironment activists were State Reps. Jim Roebuck and Chris Rabb, 2nd & 3rd from L front, as they rallied to defend federal clean-air standards. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Therefore, the narrow split on Bill No. 180351, the construction tax, has the potential to be a campaign-maker. Whether Mayor Jim Kenney decides to veto it, and how council members come down on an override vote if he should do so, will give major fuel to challengers as interest groups on both sides seek to reward some politicians and punish others.

Although most Philadelphians are not yet aware of it, the May 21, 2019 primary race has already begun.

One pressure group already at work is the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. It has asked its members to lobby the mayor not to veto the bill.

“The revenue generated by the tax would allow Philadelphia to increase investment in production of new affordable rental units for very low-income households, as well as preserve existing affordable units,” PACDC said in a statement. “It would also allow us to boost investment in programs to help moderate income people become homeowners through down payment and closing cost assistance. The need for these investments is enormous as Philadelphia battles with rising housing costs and persistently long-waiting lists for housing assistance.

“Unfortunately, the Kenney Administration testified in opposition to the bill and urged members of Council to vote no. That raises real concern that Mayor Kenney may veto the bill when Council returns from summer recess.”

Dems Settle down, with Changes in S. Philly

COUNCILWOMAN Cherelle Parker hosted a senior fair at the West Oak Lane Senior Center on Ogontz Avenue. Community leaders who received an award from Parker were, L-R, Mack & Gwen Duncan, Marlene Hardy, sponsor Tomika McFadden, Earlene & Mitch Mitchell and Parker. Photo by Leona Dixon

Democratic City Committee has largely finished digesting the results of the May 2018 primary. Many faces are new, but structures and policies remain intact for the most part.

One exception is South Philadelphia. There, the new leaders of the 1st, 2nd and 48th Wards – Adams Rackes, Nikil Saval and Anton Moore respectively – have declared an “open ward” policy in which they, as leaders, will leave it up to their committees to make endorsements.

Open wards are common in some whitecollar parts of town and this movement likely reflects demographic changes in gentrifying areas.

But if these leaders retain their offices for a few terms, they will inevitably develop superior political knowledge and influence; and that in turn will make their voices increasingly powerful and authoritative, even if they hold “open” votes. Experience has a way of turning today’s rebels into tomorrow’s establishment.

Isaacson Moves up in the 175th

MARY ISAACSON, long-serving chief of staff to State Rep. Mike O’Brien, will take his place in November on the Democratic ballot in the 175th Legislative District.

Soon after his last primary victory, State Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-Kensington) announced he was stepping down. Ward leaders in the 175th Legislative District chose his chief of staff, Mary Isaacson, to replace him on the ballot, following the path O’Brien himself had followed when he replaced his boss, State Rep. Marie Lederer, in the State House of Representatives.

“Unfortunately, Mike has health issues that have come up and he has chosen to step down,” Isaacson stated. “I am proud to have support of my ward leader as well as the others that make up the 175th district. I would be proud to be the candidate of the Democratic Party.”

That rankled Debby Derricks, a veterans’ activist who had challenged O’Brien in the primary, winning a respectable 42% of the vote. Derricks called the ward leaders’ vote “an affront to the democratic process. The system is rigged.”

Derricks may eventually become reconciled to the City party. But the 175th is an awkward district to control, showing great diversity of class and neighborhood and a high rate of demographic change. Isaacson should know this as well as anybody, to be sure, having worked it closely for years. Still, it is an area that is susceptible to penetration and takeover by Reclaim.

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