POLS ON THE STREET: ‘Reclaim’ Aims for New Philly Kills in 2020

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NIKIL SAVAL rolled out an impressive coalition of supporters in his campaign launch for the 1st Senatorial District in Hawthorne Park.

BY JOE SHAHEELI
There’s a new party in town. It’s definitely not the Republicans. But it’s not the Democrats either, although they vote and organize Democratic most of the time. Chiefly, though, they keep counsel with each other. They’re the progressives.

Progressive ideas have long been standard in Philadelphia’s Democratic politics. Rival teams compete over personal allegiances more than about polices. The current progressive movement follows that pattern in that its adherents tend to share a college education, an age group and a set of neighborhoods. So they hang together and are less respectful of traditional Philly political allegiances, which are often passed down from parent to child or mentor to aide.

LAST FRIDAY morning was a big occasion for political Philadelphia. As hundreds of movers and shakers prepared to take their leave for the Pennsylvania Society Weekend in Manhattan – many by Amtrak – Dan Muroff, David Dunphy and Tony Payton hosted an “All Aboard Brunch” at JG Domestic alongside 30th Street Station. Three dozen elected officials were among those who dropped by to meet and greet at the bustling party. For some, it was the end of their Pennsylvania Society experience while others headed north. See PP. 13-14. Photo by Jim Jenkins

Up until 2016, Philly progressives clustered in small clubs with little interest in working together. Trump changed all that in 2016. Reclaim Philadelphia formed then to oppose Trump on issues that mattered to the educated urban young: schools, child care, social justice.

Progressives pulled off a coup when they elected radical defense attorney Larry Krasner as district attorney in 2017 against four establishment DA candidates. They followed up in 2018 by electing Elizabeth Fiedler to replace State Rep. Bill Keller in South Philadelphia.

In 2019, they booted one Republican off City Council by electing Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks to a minority at-large seat, unprecedented in our history.

The progressive movement is hydra-headed. It has no central City Committee, even though some of its stalwarts sit on Democratic City Committee. Groups from old-school Americans for Democratic Action to Philly for Change, which grew out of the Howard Dean campaign of 2004, to Black Lives Matter swim in the same waters. But Reclaim Philadelphia has shown the greatest grasp of practical, victorious street politics.

THE WHITMAN BRANCH of the Free Library of Philadelphia hosted a signup session for the Affordable Care Act. Arranged by State Sen. Larry Farnese, the event helped people take advantage of the options afforded by Obamacare. Photo courtesy of Farnese social media

Reclaim’s leadoff hitter in 2020 will be 2nd Ward Democratic Leader Nikil Saval, who will challenge State Sen. Larry Farnese in the 1st Senatorial District that runs along the Delaware River from the airport up to Kensington.

Saval, of Bella Vista, is a co-founder of Reclaim. His political street skills were also sharpened organizing for UNITE HERE Locals 274 and 634, which represent hotel workers and School District food-service workers. He blew away the previous ward leadership in the latest election and has energized streetwork since: His ward tied for 5th place for Democratic voter turnout in the 2019 primary, posting a huge gain.

Another advantage is that he is Asian American (of South Indian origin), giving him an angle to tap into the Southeast Asians of South Philly, into Chinatown and into the citywide South Asian community.

GOJJO Restaurant in Spruce Hill hosted Rick Krajewski’s campaign launch for the 188th Legislative District. Photo by Krajewski’s Facebook page.

A third key tool is that he is new and young. Thus he can mobilize everyone in the district who owes no loyalty to the Italian Market heritage.

Another Reclaim veteran, Rick Krajewski, is targeting State Rep. Jim Roebuck (D-W. Phila.) in the 188th Legislative District. This becomes a three-way race in which Roebuck, the thoughtful heir of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s apparatus, will be raided both by Krajewski’s younger set and by Ward Leader Greg Benjamin’s base in Kingsessing and Cobbs Creek. This could be a free-for-all.

Other free-for-alls are on the horizon in Legislative Districts like the 175th and the 182nd. Both are areas where Reclaim has a strong field force and a motivated electorate that identifies with them while owing no loyalty to anyone in office, no matter how “progressive” their public service has been.

Put in simpler terms: These days, Philadelphia progressives turn out to vote. And people who turn out to vote, are apt to win the vote.

An earlier version of this article stated that State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler attended Saval’s campaign launch. She did not.

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