POLS ON THE STREET: Street Sues Kenney to Pep up Philadelphia Mayor’s Race

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SELF HELP, the well-regarded substance-disorder treatment center in N.E. Philadelphia, held its annual awards banquet. Awardee John Cooper, Jr. addressed the large crowd, supported by, L-R, State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, DCC Chairman Bob Brady, John Cooper III and Shannon Cooper. Photos by Harry Leech

Former Mayor John Street is doing his wily best to stir up a storm over real-estate tax increases. At this late stage of the mayoral race, it may be his best chance to unseat Mayor Jim Kenney in next week’s Democratic primary.

Last week, Street filed a class-action lawsuit Friday to bar all assessment increases. Targeted in the suit are the mayor, Kenney, Finance Director Rob Dubow and Chief Assessment Officer Michael Piper. It charges that over 200,000 homeowners across the city have been overassessed.

A GRAND GALA of candidates attended a campaign run-up party in the South Philly Bocce Club hosted by the ward leaders of Wards 40A and 40B. Attendees enjoying the informal setting included, L-R, David Krain, law-school student; Sherman Toppin, Esq, judicial candidate; Councilman Allan Domb, candidate for re-election; Ward Leader Anne Brown, hostess; Cateria McCabe, Esq., judicial candidate; Ward Leader Edward Thornton, host; Ed Conroy, Esq., candidate for Municipal Court; and Maria Piccarreto, consultant. Photo by Joe Stivala

It’s not clear that the suit will have legs in court. A spokesperson for the administration asserted that class actions are unlikely to be approved in court because each individual taxpayer has a right to appeal their assessment.

But from now until May 21, it will give ample fodder for heated campaign rhetoric. State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.), whom Street has endorsed in the mayoral race, assailed Kenney for moving to “unilaterally raise taxes through the assessment process. These taxes are driving out Philadelphians from their homes and their neighborhoods.”

Real-estate values are going up in gentrifying neighborhoods, causing painful concern when assessments reflect that. The bite is felt hardest by lower- and middle-income homeowners whose incomes have not risen in tandem with their housing value. The issue is triggering lots of talk on the streets and no little outrage in grassroots discussions.

There is little sign the soda tax will sway the electorate one way or another in this primary. Will assessments then be a break-through issue for Williams or his fellow challenger, former Controller Alan Butkovitz? They’re going to need to find ways to attach their names to this issue on the minds of hundreds of thousands of voters. And with only five days left until the polls open, both time and money are tight.

Blackwell, Gauthier: Old School/New School Clashing Tactics

Observers are watching with keen interest the 3rd District Council race, as the only one where incumbent and challenger are evenly matched in money.

COUNCILMAN David Oh pursued his re-election campaign with a beef & beer at Cannstatter Volksfest Verein in Torresdale. L-R were Ken Wong, Animit Bhattacharya, Oh, Ward Leader Carnel Harley, Jordan Safara and Ashley Safara. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Jamie Gauthier, former head of Fairmount Park Conservancy and a veteran community nonprofit worker, is “going social” with a bang. She has dropped $25,000 on a concerted social-media campaign that harnesses every trick of the trade to reach voters through Google, Instagram and Twitter. Look up her opponent Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell on the internet and you’re likely to be greeted by a Gauthier ad floating alongside.

This may have an impact on younger voters. And generational change is a clear thrust of Gauthier’s pitch, who is 30-odd years younger than her foe.

Blackwell is unabashedly old school. She doesn’t do internet. She relies on her network of community contacts and ward committees, the latter of which (with the exception of the 27th Ward) back her.

CITY COMMISSIONER Candidate Luigi Borda, L, welcomes Community Activists Sherrie Cohen and Fred Druding, Jr. along with numerous former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel students Borda once taught in the Whitman school to the legendary Two Street Mick Daniel’s Saloon for one of his final Meet and Greets.

Blackwell’s campaign literature digs at her challenger by tying Gauthier to Philadelphia 3.0, a well-heeled political-action committee. Gauthier, she suggests, is a pawn of the Zuritsky parking magnates and the “billionaire Perelman family.” Blackwell describes Philadelphia as a “secret money group” (not unfairly) and a “hidden Republican/Donald Trump Plan” (which may be less sure). Regardless, the message is of ordinary folks pitted against wealth and privilege.

We’ll soon see how 3rd District voters respond to both these pitches.

Henon Goes ‘Independent’

Also on the internet, 6th District Councilman Bobby Henon – known for his talent as a team player, first with IBEW Local 98 and now also on City Council, where he serves as majority leader – is now billing himself as an “independent Democrat.”

ASHBURNER INN was the scene of the 65th Ward Democrats’ pre-election get-together. L-R were Ward Leader Pat Parkinson, appellate judicial candidate Dan McCaffery, Diane Martino, host Ward Leader Councilman Bobby Henon, City Commission Chair Lisa Deeley, Colleen Courtney, Madge Martin and John Donohue. Photo by Harry Leech

Henon is coping with a federal indictment. In itself, this should not imperil his chances of re-election; he is unopposed in the Democratic primary and the mills of the courts grind too slowly to make a spectacle of him before November. But….

Republicans do have a challenger in the fall: Pete Smith, former president of Tacony Civic Association. He is unlikely to be associated with scandal.
Henon appears to be taking no chances. He has already spent $160,000 on campaign efforts this year. “Independent” he may well be; but some people are surely depending on that spending.

Quiñones Sánchez, Cruz: Party vs. Moneyball

Another District Council test case is the 7th, where Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is warding off a challenge by State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington).

ENDORSING Angel Cruz for 7th District Councilman in Tuesday’s primary were State Sen. Christine Tartaglione and State Rep. Danilo Burgos.

Himself a ward leader, Cruz has the backing of most of the Democratic ward organizations in that heavily Latino district. But that’s all he has. In what may be the poorest district in Philadelphia, Cruz has few money trees to shake down.

Quiñones-Sánchez, by contrast, is well funded. Patches of her district are being developed and all Council members in such districts benefit from donations thanks to their sway over land use.

She is frankly dismissive of Democratic City Committee allegiances; thus she too is an “independent.” But it’s clear she doesn’t need DCC help to fund her campaign.

State Sen. Christine Tartaglione and State Rep. Danilo Burgos (both D-Kensington) endorsed challenger State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington) over incumbent for District Council. “The District will finally receive the constituent services it has been lacking,” said Tartaglione.Cruz has been a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2001. During his tenure, Cruz has enacted substantial legislation.

Evans Signs on with Joe Biden

Stepping aside from the local races for a moment, let’s take a look at the national scene.

CONGRESSMAN Dwight Evans honored seven citizens for serving TSA workers during the government shutdown: L-R, John McDaniel, MR Strategies; Lawrence & LaRaine Washington, Chef Larry’s Creations; Ken Detweiler, Philadelphia Charter for Arts & Sciences; Dr. Margery Cavello, American Paradigm Schools; Lauren Forjanic, the Block Church; Evans; and Brandon Vaughn, La Salle University Office of Government Relations. Photo by Leona Dixon

Although the Democratic National Convention is still 16 months away, some of you may have noticed some discussion of some possible candidates for president.

Whom the party eventually goes with is anybody’s guess. But it’s a safe bet that more Pennsylvania Dems will go with favorite son Joe Biden than with anyone else.

Latest to succumb to Biden’s charms is Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Phila.). Evans has been around the block a few times and his words will be heard in private, high-level councils.

Endorsing Biden, Evans said, “Biden has a track record of accomplishment on the most-important issues. On gun control, there was the Brady Bill; to combat domestic violence, he introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. Throughout his career, he’s championed the growth of the middle class as one of the strongest advocates we have ever had for the men and women of organized labor.

“Joe Biden can and will lead the charge on rebuilding America’s infrastructure with 21st-century transit, high-speed internet and modern school buildings.

“Joe Biden understands that Social Security is a contract between the people and the government that must not be broken and one of the best anti-poverty programs our country ever created.”

Endorsements Galore

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania announced its endorsement of Adrián Rivera-Reyes for Philadelphia City Council at Large in the Democratic primary on May 21.

COUNCILMEN Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, Jr. and Derek Green, along with representatives from the offices of their colleagues Blackwell, Clarke and Jones, raced in the City Council eight as part of the Dad Vail regatta last weekend. Meanwhile, they, along with the entire Council, were nearing the finish line of a tense, dramatic primary election race.

Josh McNeil, executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, said of Rivera-Reyes, “We are excited by his plan for a Municipal Green New Deal that would transition the city to 100% renewable energy by 2030 and halt investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

215 PA, a progressive group, has endorsed for City Council at Councilwoman Helen Gym, Erika Almirؚón, Isaiah Thomas, Justin DiBerardinis and Ethelind Baylor.

Sheriff candidate Rochelle Bilal-has added to her endorsements. She now claims Wards 1, 2, 5, 9 and 18, along with Guardian Civic League (which she runs), Liberty City Democrats, N. Philadelphia League of Voters, Philly Vote PAC and Citizens Networking for Progress PAC.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania has endorsed Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilperson Helen Gym, Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, Isaiah Thomas and Adrián Rivera-Reyes.

“These candidates are strong champions for labor and healthcare; and have advocated for working Pennsylvanians throughout their careers,” said Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

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