POLS ON THE STREET: Can Philly Woman Win Statewide Office?

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NORTHWEST Philadelphia’s Nina Ahmad announced her candidacy for Pennsylvania auditor general, showing solid backing by a disciplined team of S. and W. Philadelphia politicos: L-R, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, State Sen. Anthony Williams, Ahmad, and State Reps. Joanna McClinton and Jordan Harris. Photo by Wendell Douglas

BY JOE SHAHEELI
Philadelphia will have one favorite daughter on the statewide Democratic Party ticket in 2020.

Nina Ahmad, a former deputy mayor under Jim Kenney, has been ambitiously exploring elective office for several years. In 2018, she took a shot at the lieutenant governor nomination in a five-way primary race that included a fellow Philadelphian, incumbent Mike Stack. The predictable result was that both of our city’s candidates lost to a Southwestern Pennsylvanian, Mayor John Fetterman, who enjoyed unified party backing from his region.

In 2016, Ahmad briefly studied the opening left by Congressman Chaka Fattah when he left office but decided against it since State Rep. Dwight Evans’ (D-Northwest) Northwest Alliance was much more entrenched.

Ahmad is hoping third time will be the charm as she vies to replace term-limited Eugene DePasquale, who is shooting for a congressional seat in Central Pennsylvania.

INCOMING Sheriff Rochelle Bilal presented a reputable, broad-based transition team at a pre-Thanksgiving press conference. Photo by Dave Scholnick

She just picked up a key ally in the Southwest Coalition, which endorsed her at Dock Street Brewery South on Tuesday. The Southwest Coalition includes State Sen. Tony Williams, State Reps. Joanna McClinton and Jordan Harris, and City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Led by Williams, this group possesses statewide as well as citywide connections that can boost a candidate not just from her Northwest Philadelphia home across the city, but across the state as well.

Ahmad, a longtime women’s-rights activist, has vowed to use the office to increase transparency and accountability in Pennsylvania. If elected, she would be the first woman of color and first immigrant elected statewide in the state.

Ahmad has also been endorsed by State Sen. Art Haywood; Councilwoman Cindy Bass; State Reps. Steve Kinsey, Jared Solomon and Movita Johnson-Harrell; and Sheriff-Elect Rochelle Bilal. It is a predominantly younger-generation set on the city’s political scene. Ahmad has the potential to wring both Asian and Black backing as she cultivates both funders and volunteers.

STATE SEN. John Sabatina was flanked by Bob Roth of Radius Bank, L, and Bryan Bush of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 at the AFL-CIO holiday dinner.

What’s she up against? A three-way field so far.

Lancaster County’s Christina Hartman, who made a foray a congressional candidate in Dutch Country territory once ruby-red but now fading to pink, has also tossed her bonnet into the race; as has Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, who can actually claim a track record as auditor of a large Pennsylvania government.

How do the numbers look now? While 2020 may be another Year of the Woman in Democratic politics, two women will split that advantage against one man. Hartman may score well in Midstate counties with biases against big cities, but those counties are increasingly shedding Democrats. Lamb is certain to tap the regional loyalty of Steelers fans.

A STATE GRANT of $427,479 to provide programing for homeless veterans was presented to Impact Services, Inc. in Kensington on Nov. 27. Immediately afterward, Impact and State Sen. Christine Tartaglione treated veterans to a Thanksgiving feast. L-R standing behind Tartaglione were State Rep. Angel Cruz; veterans José Rivera, Michael Nelson and William Clack; and Casey O’Donnell of Impact. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Ahmad’s path may be to combine Southeastern loyalty with outreach to a diverse swath of minority voters in pockets across the state.

As city Democratic powerbrokers scratch their heads pondering their stance in the upcoming primary, observers are betting they will wind up endorsing the hometown candidate. Key question will be how enthusiastically. A progressive with an independent reputation, Ahmed has nevertheless maintained ties with City administration’s far-reaching connections.

Few will oppose her in public. But can either of her rivals penetrate a Philadelphia faction or two to dent her base here? Philly pols, unlike Pittsburgh pols, are notoriously open-minded when it comes to this sort of out-of-town deal-making – which is both a necessary strength and an inbuilt weakness.

Solomon Plugs Congressional Limits

STATE SEN. Sharif Street, C, organized an effort to raise air fare for the top-rated Blackhawks football team to participate in a national championship tourney. The community gathered for this effort at Holy Temple Church in Francisville. Photos by Wendell Douglas

A local State rep has thrust himself onto not merely the statewide but the national stage by taking a stand on the governance of the U.S. Congress.

“Another U.S. Term Limits,” a national, nonpartisan movement to limit terms for elected officials, is gathering support from State lawmakers across the nation. Its mission is to get 34 states to apply for an amendment-proposal convention specific to term limits on Congress.

State Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Northeast) has committed support for term limits on Congress by signing the Term Limits Convention pledge. The pledge reads, “I pledge that, as a member of the State legislature, I will cosponsor, vote for and defend the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the limited purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.”

Term limits on Congress have enjoyed wide bipartisan support in recent years – as much as 82% in a recent poll.

Solomon’s opinion, like all his colleagues’, matters because in 2021 they will vote to redistrict Pennsylvania’s congressional districts – likely cutting one seat, leaving 18 survivors in musical chairs out of 19. Therefore all incumbents will be auditioning before the General Assembly to keep their job position from being slashed.

SEPTA Gets New Top Philly Leader

PENNSYLVANIA Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards will become the general manager of SEPTA in the new year.

Leslie Richards, a Montgomery County resident who now serves as the PennDOT secretary, will succeed Jeffrey Knueppel as general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority on Jan. 1.

While no one disrespects the job duties of the State secretary of transportation, this is clearly a step up for a career administrator who has proved herself in a myriad previous duties. She will handle the sixth-largest public-transit authority in the United States, with 9,500 employees serving 1 million riders in five counties. She will earn $329,732 – more than the governor.

Richards has played a leading role in statewide PennDOT planning and investment. She launched the Transportation Investment Plan as well as PennDOT Connects, which hooked the State’s spending further into local needs.

There is talk that Richards may move from the suburbs into Philadelphia. If that happens, it would be the first in a long time that Philadelphia’s public transportation would be headed by a Philadelphian.

Gov. Tom Wolf has tapped PennDOT Executive Deputy Secretary Yassmin Gramian to replace Richards.

Gramian was responsible for many major projects, including the Roosevelt Boulevard Multi-modal Corridor Program, SEPTA Subway Concourse Improvement Project, Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor Infrastructure Rehabilitation & Reconstruction, PATCO Ben Franklin Bridge Track Rehabilitation and Philadelphia Airport Terminal F Modernization.

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