POLS ON THE STREET: The Shape of Elections to Come

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L-R AT Laborers’ Local 332’s holiday party on Poplar Street were Talia Taylor, Stanley Straughter, Councilwoman Janie Blackwell, William Lelli, Mayor Jim Kenney and State Rep. Rosita Youngblood.

What will be the driving issues in the 2019 Philadelphia Democratic primary?

Let’s talk practical for a moment. Elections must by held on schedule and contestants must campaign about something. So what are the issues that will surface and steer the primary?

One that has long been hanging out there is the famous or infamous Sweetened Drinks Tax, depending on where you stand. Championed by Mayor Jim Kenney from the start, it has become his signature issue as he faces re-election. It has been criticized for not delivering all the money it promised for social projects and it has aroused ire in the city’s retail businesses. But that in itself does not seem enough to overturn an incumbency with broad popular support.

A GATHERING of merrymakers assembled in Democratic City Committee for the holiday gathering. Lawyers, civic leaders, staff and the Public Record thanked Party Chairman Bob Brady for his years of service to Philadelphia in Congress. A bittersweet moment that passed quickly, with great hope for the future. Photo by Joe Stivala

But many hospitality industries were just dealt another blow in the form of the Fair Workweek bill that most Council members passed and Kenney signed. This is guaranteed to win voters but could alienate core donors in Philadelphia’s burgeoning entertainment world, where workforce flexibility is often vital.

Combined, these two issues could have an impact in the 21019 primary. A lot of humble Philadelphians make a living by selling food and they would like to earn higher wages with more-predictable hours. But they wouldn’t like to be put out of business either and they might be susceptible to a high-energy campaign against the soda tax.

Some other core issues are guaranteed to dominate the primary race. They include the recent rise in the crime rate, which for decades had been plummeting; the soaring epidemic of opioid abuse will also fuel challengers.

If the national economy slips into a slowdown or recession, as many experts predict is overdue, then expect a further souring of the mood of the average Philadelphia voter. And such souring is never good news for incumbents.

HIGHLIGHT of the Annual Register of Wills thank-you party for employees at Galdo’s in Packer park was a presentation of a U.S. flag flown over the national capitol to Register of Wills Ron Donatucci. This was the last such flag requested by Congressman Bob Brady. The flag was presented by Carmella Jacquinto, Esq. with State Rep. Maria Donatucci and her son Tom in attendance. Photo by Joe Stivala

Where’s the Money? Cycle 6 Tells

Cycle 6 campaign-finance filings, which were submitted on Dec. 6 to the Pennsylvania Department of State, don’t give a comprehensive picture of the upcoming municipal primary. Far from it. But they do give a glimpse of political battles to come.

Campaign-finance committees don’t have to limit their expenditures to the candidate in whose name they are raised. This way, an elected official with a secure position can position himself as a sugar daddy, dispensing his own kitty to other candidates in greater need. So we cannot assume that just because someone has amassed a war chest, that person will spend it on his own next race.

In addition, Cycle 6 reports are still partial. More may trickle in as the election season develops.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from Cycle 6 reports.

Incoming State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler celebrated the opening of her new district office at 2400 S. 9th Street in classic South Philly Style, with the aid of Fralinger String band. Photo by Wendell Douglas

In the mayoral race, incumbent Jim Kenney started out with $435,926 and ended up with $429,401. Of all the potential competitors whose names have surfaced, only State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.) has released Cycle 6 reports. Having recently won re-election, he went from $80,394 to $74,640 during this cycle.

Register of Wills Ron Donatucci started off the cycle with $12,059 and ended up with $21,100. It’s a prudent gain. But no challengers have been on the horizon for a long time, chiefly because he runs a tight shop, so he may not need that big a kitty heading into the primary.

There are two interesting Council at-large filings. One is by Democratic 40A Ward Leader Ed Thornton, an astute politico of long service. He started out with $47,960 and concluded with $44,293.

CITY COMMISSIONER candidate Luigi Borda had the big guy himself, Santa show up at the first of his “Brunch with Borda” series which was held at the Fireside Tavern, home of South Philly’s Democratic Ward 39-B.

Lou Lanni, a Center City activist who has taken a few shots at state representative races, is amassing a kitty for something. The numbers aren’t clear though at this time.

One clear message is being sent by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in the 2nd District. During Cycle 6, he moved from $521,906 to $583,068. Johnson is already facing an announced challenger, Lauren Vidas, who served as a finance director under Mayor Michael Nutter. Johnson’s fiscal riposte: bring it on!

State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-S. Phila.) faces re-election in 2020 but that’s a long way off. Still, he faces massive debts, perhaps related to his successful but costly effort to defeat a federal indictment in 2017. So his campaign funds, which hovered around $21,000, leave him relatively lean.

State Sen. Tina Tartaglione (D-Kensington) recently won re-election. She started out the cycle with $93,440 and wrapped up with $80,001.

Even fatter is her colleague Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.). He too coasted home in November with no opposition. Yet he went from $141, 070 at the beginning of the cycle to $185, 241 by Dec. 6. He will be an obvious source of patronage in the 2019 and 2020 races.

On Friday, Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, along with Santa and his helpers delivered toys and coats to the Kindergarten classes at the Blaine School, 3001 W. Berks Street. The smiles on those children’s faces keep us humbled. Giving back to our community matters.

Opioid Crisis Looms an Ever Larger Ongoing Disaster

That’s how Gov. Tom Wolf seems to be treating the opioid epidemic. By making another “90-day opioid disaster declaration,” the governor is applying a legal toolkit intended for short-term natural disasters such as floods, blizzards and the like to an ongoing social crisis that is clearly the work of man.

“This is the best current means we have to maintain a concerted effort focused on fighting this scourge on our state and our nation,” Wolf stated last week. And perhaps he’s right. Since the State legislature was concentrated on its own re-election races this year, it understandably did no meaningful work on the opioid epidemic. That would have entailed careful, apolitical, expert research that few lawmakers want anything to do with when they’re running for re-election. So Wolf used a dodge in State law to roll over a temporary executive program for the fifth time.

L-R AT Club LaPointé’s lavish holiday affair were Rev. Elisha B. Morris of UpLift Solutions, Sheriff Jewell Williams, nightclub impresario Sid Booker and Ward Leader Sharon Vaughn.

Wolf’s declaration is covered by Subchapter A of Chapter 73 of Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 35 (Health and Safety) relating to the governor and declarations of disaster emergencies. It prescribes a state-of-disaster emergency may be continued by the governor for no more than 90 days, unless renewed by the governor. Most disaster declarations in state history have been in response to natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods and snow storms. Local municipalities in Pennsylvania have declared states of emergency not only for weather-related events, but also public-safety situations, such as when the City of Chester in the summer of 2010 declared a month-long state of emergency due to a string of homicides and violence in a matter of only a few days.

With such a proclamation, Commonwealth agencies can be tapped for resources and personnel. Regular contract procedures can be waived.

Wolf’s renewal allows the 16 State agencies working together as part of the Opioid Command Center at PEMA to continue their collaborative approach at creating and implementing initiatives in this struggle.

A political question arises: Will State Republicans cede the field to their Democratic governor in taking initiatives to grapple with this problem, which increasingly overshadows the whole state? Or will they seek to develop their own effective responses – which will inherently require bipartisan negotiation?

Pennsylvania’s addicts await an answer.

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