POLS ON THE STREET: 2019 – The Year of the Challenger

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ARCHYE LEACOCK vows to run a tight campaign for the 9th Council District seat the second time around. He was joined at his campaign launch at Chuck’s Alibi in the Northeast by Ronald Prine, L, and Roxanna Gambino-Schroeder. Photo by Wendell Douglas

BY JOE SHAHEELI
Mind-boggling! That’s what all observers are saying about the 2019 municipal primary election. With more than 100 candidates in the race, there is plenty of choices for the engaged voter to assess.

Not all of this is news. Judicial races are always a scrum, as are at-large City Council races. Some thought the increase in the judicial retirement age would discourage newcomers from vying again in 2019; well, some were wrong. And the impending retirement of two at-large Council Members, Blondell Reynolds Brown and Bill Greenlee, whetted the appetite of the usual host of competitors.

MIKE STACK vowed to bring his political career back home at a funder at PFCU in Center City. Among backers were, L-R, State Sen. Larry Farnese, judicial aspirant Christian DiCicco, former State Sen. Vincent Fumo, Stack and former State Sen. Bob Rovner. Photo by Jim Jenkins

What’s new this year is an intense uptick in district Council challengers. Gone are the days when no incumbent skates through a primary.

There have always been challengers to district incumbents in the past. But they were mostly disorganized and under-resourced.

Not so this year. Some challengers are skilled in money-raising; some have skills in neighborhood networking. And they are increasingly in contact with fellow challengers in other districts.

Striking is the level of networking that the challengers demonstrate. It’s not about top-down organization – battle orders issuing from Reclaim, Philly 3.0 or Philly for Change; rather it is a grassroots enthusiasm that embraces local activists of different bases and different backgrounds.

It remains hard to go against a district Council incumbent. No civic group will endorse you publicly because they fear retribution should you lose, which you probably will. So much of a challenger’s race most be waged underground, as it were.

This week, we feature challengers in two dynamic councilmanic districts.

Gauthier Seeks ‘W. Philly Spring’

JAMIE GAUTHIER says it’s time for a generational change in West Philadelphia politics.

Fresh from a tour of duty as executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy, Jamie Gauthier is aiming to change the political landscape in West Philadelphia this spring as she runs against incumbent Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in the Democratic primary contest for the 3rd District.

Observers peg this race as a generational contest. Blackwell, at 74, has put in 27 years on City Council, following in the footsteps of her husband Lucien Blackwell, who advanced to US Congress in 1992, ceding the seat to her. The Blackwell name is embedded in the civil-rights era of West Philly politics.

But time builds pressure on old guards everywhere. At 40, Gauthier is about the same age as Blackwell was at the start of her career in public office. And that is key to Gauthier’s pitch. “We need new people, new ideas and competitive elections,” she asserted.

AN ACTION-FILLED forum of the many candidates for City Council and judicial posts took place on Germantown Avenue. Each was given time on a stage to express their views and programs. 13th Ward Leader Charles Carn, 2nd from R, talks with Omar Sabir, candidate for City Commissioner; Carmella Jacquinto, Esq., judicial candidate; and Councilman Derek Green, seeking re-election. Photo by Joe Stivala

Gauthier has Powel School roots. She is an eight-year resident of the Garden Court neighborhood and a veteran of its civic association. After graduating from Temple with a BA in accounting, she took an advanced degree in city planning from Penn.

Since then, she has worked with a host of agencies active in West Philadelphia. Among them are Local Initiatives Support Corp., the Crosstown Coalition, University City District’s West Philly Skills Initiative and Judy Wicks’ Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.

Gauthier first thought of running for City Council in 2015 but she wasn’t ready then. Now she is.

“I’m for equitable development,” Gauthier said. She wants “places where all people can live.” She advocates protection for renters and home-repair subsidies.

Job growth in her district is tied to its big “eds & meds” institutions. Gauthier wants a steady hand on the tiller here.

Funding for recreation centers, parks and libraries are core missions for Gauthier. Environmental sustainability would be her cause on City Council.

Vidas Wants to Rock the 2nd

DISCUSSING campaign in a Pt. Breeze coffeeshop were, L-R, James Minnis, Ron Slaughter, Lauren Vidas and Ralanda King,

The neighboring 2nd Councilmanic District shares many issues with the 3rd and it too faces a vigorous challenge to a well-connected incumbent.

Attorney Lauren Vidas, who has been around city politics for a while, launched her campaign last summer and has been grinding along ever since. She hopes a rising tide of grassroots activism will give her an edge in the May primary.

Vidas began in City Hall as an aide to Councilman Bill Green (at Large). When Mayor Michael Nutter, to cope with the Great Recession, proposed slashing library hours, Vidas sued him. He was impressed enough by her efforts to hire her as assistant finance director for the City. She left that post in 2012 to work on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She did time on Mayor Jim Kenney’s transition team.

33rd Ward Democrats held a Valentine Sweetheart Dance in the Juanita Golf Club which was well attended by candidates. Taking a break were State Sen. Christine Tartaglione and Ward Leaders Donna Aument, seated, hostess; State Rep. Angel Cruz, candidate for City Council; Bill Dolbow, candidate for Register of Wills; Sharon Vaughn; Janice Sulman, Esq.; and, introducing the new leader of the 20th Ward: Renee McNear. Photo by Joe Stivala

Public finance is in her wheelhouse.

Vidas has been active in her father’s lobbying firm, Hazzouri & Assoc. She has also been active in South of South Neighbors Association and the Christian Street YMCA board.

Listening to community voices is a cornerstone of her approach. “I would foster community meetings to foster a one-year plan and a four-year plan for how they want to grow,” she said.

On City Council, Vidas is fierce about the need to break its 9-5 hearing culture. “It should hold meetings when citizens can attend meetings,” she said.

Development is rampant in many parts of the 2nd District; in others, it languishes. Vidas wants to change the City’s approach. She would bar those who buy City land from making political donations.

Vidas would press for more affordable housing and more attention to the needs of renters. Not a big fan of the soda, she wants to oversee that more of its money actually goes to schools.

Moderate too is her approach to the real-estate tax abatement. She would modify it but not get rid of it.

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