J.P. Miranda seeks state rep seat in 197th district, where he was born and raised
The 197th state House District is up for grabs in an upcoming special election — a state Representative seat that was left vacant when Jewell Williams resigned and was elected to become Sheriff of Philadelphia.
There are several candidates who would like to hold that position, among them Jewel Williams, daughter of Philadelphia’s new sheriff, and the venerable T. Milton Street. But J.P. Miranda, a young Democrat who was born, raised and resides in the district, thinks he has what it takes to represent this densely populated and poor section of the city.
“I started at a young age, at 19; City Council President Darrell Clarke brought me onto his staff and he showed me the ropes. He put me to work and allowed me to be creative on some things I wanted to do and get out in the community,” Miranda said. “From there I made the transition to state Senator Shirley Kitchen’s staff. She was another mentor and supporter and taught me very valuable lessons — among them she showed me tough love when I needed it. She guided me and without her influence I don’t think I’d be in this position right now. For the last four to five years I’ve just been doing different events. I think you have to show that you can be a valuable resource to the community before you even consider yourself worthy to run for any elected office. I started with free hair cut events and free book bags. We did holiday food giveaways.”
Miranda served in Clarke’s office as lead community liaison. Under state Senator Shirley Kitchen, he served as community liaison specializing in economic development and education.
At age 26, Miranda is already something of a role model. He’s never been arrested and has never been to prison, although his father was absent from his life. He was born and raised in the North Philadelphia area he wants to represent in Harrisburg. He was raised by a single mother who had six other children and yet didn’t turn down a path of self-destruction that so many other young Black men his age have chosen.
“I don’t think any other candidate who wants this seat has the governmental experience I’ve had, or the mentorship that I’ve been blessed with. I’ve been a resource for the community. Recently I did another Day of Respect. It’s an event of police and community interaction day when we shut down Erie Avenue — I don’t know of any other candidate who’s done something like that. We all know that in some of our communities there’s a lot of tension between the younger residents and the police. This was an opportunity for residents of the neighborhoods in the District to build relationships. We shut down Erie Avenue and put a stage out there with free food. And the police weren’t there to just stand guard, no — they had to interact with the people. It’s the 4th year the event has been going on, and even if we’re able to just get kids to be cordial to police officers, it helps because it gets rid of that tension. That’s what I try to be about, changing mentalities. You have to start at the basic level.”
Miranda credits after school programs with helping to keep him off the streets. He attended William Penn High School and furthered his education at West Chester University, where he majored in political science.
“We need after school programs, and right now because of state budget cuts, many of them will disappear. Mentoring does have an impact; I’m proof of that, and after school programs keep young people from getting involved in criminal activity — and I’m proof of that,” he said. “They continue to cut funding for needed programs, but increase funding for prisons — which makes no sense to me. I was able to see that there are options, and a lot of our young men and women don’t think they have options. Now yes, many of them aren’t going to listen, but a good many of them will. It can make a tremendous difference.”
The special elections will be held along with the state’s April 24 primary election. Democrat Jewell Williams gave up his seat in the 197th House District to become Philadelphia Sheriff, and Democrat Kenyatta Johnson and Republican Dennis O’Brien also stepped down from their 186th and 169th District seats to serve on City Council. Miranda said he hopes he’ll be given the chance to fill the void left by Williams.
“This is my community. I need to help make a change. Some of these young people need mentorship and leadership to make them understand that running to the streets isn’t the answer. Holding a gun in your hand makes someone feel powerful. We need to change that and help them redirect that energy. Going to school beats going to prison any day, and that’s what I preach to my peers,” he said.
For more information about Jose Miranda’s views and political platform, visit www.josemiranda2012.com.
Dry run of voter ID law, get out the vote efforts
Candidates, their campaign staffs, and city officials, were bracing for a particularly difficult Election Day today as Pennsylvania voters head to the polls to cast their vote in the spring primary.
“It’s an unusually complex environment,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. “I think there is going to be a lot of scrutiny of this election.”
In addition to the typical challenges voters face — which candidate to choose — voters in this primary also have to deal with the “soft roll out” of the state’s new voter ID law.
Though the law does not go into effect until the Nov. 6 election, poll workers will be asking voters for a photo ID this time in an effort to get a handle on how many lack the identification required for the fall.
“This is just a dry run,” Singer said. “You will do nothing differently.”
But, the change has everyone from candidates to volunteers paying a little more attention.
“You are going to make this happen,” Damon K. Roberts, a candidate for the state House, told volunteers at a training session for polling place volunteers Monday morning at his Dickinson Street office. “Victory needs to be on your face.”
It was crunch time and similar scenes were playing out all over the city and state. Every seat in the state House is up for grabs, as are half the seats in the state Senate.
In addition, Pennsylvania voters will choose their party’s candidates for president, U.S. senator and representative, state attorney general, treasurer and auditor general. In Philadelphia, which is overwhelmingly made up of Democratic voters, the primary often determines who ultimately wins in the general election.
Roberts is locked in a tough contest with former Youth Commissioner Jordan Harris for the 186th Legislative District, who is widely viewed as the favorite, and Timothy Hannah, a long-time community activist.
The race for the 186th is a prime example of the situation city voters face as they head to the polls. Though there is no incumbent in the race, Harris, who was endorsed by The Tribune Sunday, has the backing of the Democratic establishment — including city Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who held the 186th seat until January, and state Sen. Anthony Williams. Roberts has run for state representative and City Council before.
In addition, voters in the district will be asked to choose someone to fill the remainder of Johnson’s term in the state House. The Democrat there is Harold James, who held the seat for decades before retiring in 2008, paving the way for Johnson’s win.
The race in the 186th is just one of several hotly contested races across the city. In other races to watch include the 188th District, which pits incumbent state Rep. James Roebuck against newcomer Fatimah Muhammad. The campaign has taken on a negative tone with a political action committee attacking Roebuck, who has the support of the teachers’ union, for his stance on public education. Muhammad told The Tribune the attack had nothing to do with her campaign, adding that she supports vouchers in principle, but does not endorse the proposal now in the House.
In the 197th District, Jewel Williams, daughter of former state Rep., now Sheriff Jewell Williams is seeking her father’s seat in Harrisburg. She faces several contenders in the race: J. Miranda, Kenneth Walker and Jamil Ali. Opponents have accused to Williams of fostering confusion among voters in an effort to get them to vote for her thinking they are voting for her father. Voters here will also be asked to pick someone to fill the remainder of Jewell Williams’ seat. The choice there is between ward leader Gary Williams or perennial candidate T. Milton Street, brother of former Mayor John Street, who once served in the state House and has since served time for tax evasion.
Eighteen-year incumbent state Rep. Rosita Youngblood faces two challengers this primary season: Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley. The development at Chelten Plaza, which sparked a neighborhood controversy, had divided constituents. Youngblood opposed the project after the developer altered plans to build at Super Fresh there. Boyd backed the change, which brought a Sav-A-Lot to the plaza along with a dollar store, saying they were more in line with what the district needed.
Despite the hype, and the new voter ID law, voter turnout is expected to be low — perhaps lower than usual because of voter confusion about the state’s new voter ID law.
Voter turnout in primary elections in non-presidential years is typically low.
Singer said she’s not sure what this year’s turnout will look like.
“I have been surprised at how much anger there is over the voter ID law,” she said, adding that she hoped that anger would translate in votes. “The best way to beat this is for Philadelphians to come out and vote.”
Most expect the confusion that surrounds the new law and traditional voter apathy to reduce turn out.
“Voting here and around the country is embarrassingly low,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, an elections watchdog group.
Both declined to give estimates.
There were slightly more than 1 million registered voters in the 2011 primary — 797,762 Democrats and 127,165 Republicans with 90,000 others. But, only 17.6 percent of the registered voters turned out in the 2011 primary.
Roberts was well aware of the statistics and told his volunteers the contest is likely to be close — urging them to get their friends and neighbors to vote.
“This might come down to five or 10 votes,” he said.
Stirring voters’ passions can be difficult.
Roberts portrays himself as a community crusader battling the city’s political machine.
“Some people just go along with the agenda,” he said, getting his volunteers fired up.
But, he also made sure they knew he was a Democrat, telling the group that the Republicans who control Harrisburg have a “radical right agenda.”
He used education as an example — honing in on vouchers — a hot button issue in this election cycle, in part because the political action committee Students First has poured tens of thousands of dollars into several races in south, southwest and west Philadelphia.
“If they destroy our public schools, where are our kids going to go?” asked Roberts.
In one corner, Kevin Parks had been listening as he inserted flyers into packets that would go to every polling place volunteer in the district.
As Roberts talked, Parks had difficulty containing himself.
“The private schools can turn out the kids,” he said loudly, shaking his head.
With every seat in the state House up for grabs and voter turnout expected to be low, candidates rely on grassroots enthusiasm.
“You are going to make it happen,” Roberts told his people.
He hopes to have between 160 and 200 volunteers at polling places across the district. Some of those will be the volunteers that stand outside the polling places. Some will be poll watchers, who must be certified to stand inside the polling place.
City officials will be watching closely this year.
“We understand that there may be some confusion this year with the new voter ID law that is now in place,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “We want to make sure that no one is discouraged about going to the polls … because of that confusion.”
He promised that his office would “go after any criminal activity and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
The first of several internal changes within the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office took place recently when former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley, in consultation with newly sworn-in Sheriff Jewell Williams, fired several non-civil service employees who were holding patronage jobs.
Although the exact number of terminations hasn’t been made public yet, at least 17 people handling foreclosure sales were released. Williams, who is taking over after the retirement of former Sheriff John Green, steps into a city department that has come under increasingly intense scrutiny. Green resigned after 22 years in office amid allegations that he violated city ethics rules. According to an in-depth investigation by the City Controller’s office, Green allegedly allowed two companies owned by friends to squirrel away at least $6.2 million dollars in fees over a six-year period.
“The former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley let these people go, but I backed her decisions. Traditionally, this is what happens when a new administration takes over — out with the old and in with the new,” Williams said. Williams has promised a high degree of public transparency in the department and in an earlier interview also promised to axe those employees who had been holding patronage jobs.
“I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel,” Williams said. “Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated. If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes.”
Williams said that new policies will be instituted, including granting the media access to the sheriff sale process.
“We want to open up the entire process to the media,” Williams said. “I’ve been to the Criminal Justice Center and visited the different courtrooms, letting the deputies know there are going to be some changes that will make things easier for them. We’re also in the process of acquiring a new computer system. My goal is to restore public confidence and trust in this department. The different agencies that were in here, that wasn’t under my administration and what’s in the past is the past. But we’ve got some cleaning up to do; we’re looking at some monies in different accounts. Unfortunately, some partnerships have had to be dissolved — but that’s what has to happen when there’s a new administration.”
At the end of 2011, federal investigators filed criminal charges against a former employee of the Sheriff’s office, accusing him and three other people of writing more than $400,000 in fraudulent checks on the department’s accounts.
According to United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Richard Bell, Robert Rogers, and Jackiem Wright and Reginald Berry were each charged with one count of wire fraud. Bell, who is a former employee of the Sheriff’s Department, was also charged with willfully filing a false federal income tax return.
“Essentially, someone at some point would cash or deposit these checks and the goal was to take the money out and whoever was involved, they would divide the proceeds,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Grieb in a published report.
According to the indictments, Bell was employed in the Accounting Department of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. Allegedly, between 2007 and 2010, Bell wrote a series of fraudulent checks that were drawn on bank accounts of the Sheriff’s Office to unauthorized individuals and companies.
In the indictment against him, Bell allegedly then forwarded over $400,000 of those checks to Rogers. Rogers is accused of cashing those checks that were made payable to himself.
He allegedly forwarded the other checks to other individuals to either cash or deposit. In once instance, Rogers forwarded over $147,000 in checks made payable to one company to Wright and Berry. Wright and Berry then deposited the checks into the company bank account, and withdrew or attempted to withdraw the proceeds. Investigators say that the co-defendants allegedly shared the cash.
If convicted, Bell faces a sentence of 33 to 41 months in prison. Rogers faces a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison and Wright and Berry each face a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison.
Jewell Williams is no stranger to the Sheriff’s Office. He served as Chief of Criminal Operations in the Sheriff’s Office from 1994 to 2000. He’s pledged to bring much greater transparency to the department than was evidenced in the past.
“There really aren’t too many problems with the Criminal Operations aspect, but on the real estate side there are some issues,” he said.
In 2010, City Controller Alan Butkovitz raised questions over a failure by the Sheriff’s Office to cooperate with his auditors over requested financial documents. Butkovitz launched a full-scale forensic audit of 11 custodial accounts under the Sheriff's purview estimated at $53 million dollars.
Williams said his election as sheriff is about shaking up the status quo and bringing much needed reform to the department. Some of the established community programs are going to continue, he said.
“We’re bringing in a new financial person, Ben Hayllar, who was the former finance director for the city under the Rendell Administration. I intend to continue with the Office’s Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention programs and the related town hall meetings,” he said. “We should continue to work with home owners to keep their properties. I think that’s one of the ways to build stability in communities. I also intend to hold the banks accountable for what they aren’t doing in our communities. They spend millions on promotions; we need to start reinvesting that money into the communities where the depositors come from.”
State Rep. already has big plans for Sheriff’s Office
Barring the advent of Superman himself into the political arena, Democratic state Representative Jewell Williams has little doubt that he will become the next sheriff of the city of Philadelphia.
He’s confident, and seems resolute about his goals to bring a higher degree of transparency into a department that for a very long time has been under intense scrutiny. But Williams also has little doubt that some of his intentions will likely make enemies of longtime political insiders.
He indicated as much during an editorial board meeting at the Tribune offices yesterday.
“I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel. Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated,” Williams said. “If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes. I intend to see that the antiquated computer system is upgraded to the point where transactions are posted online by the very next day.”
In the May Democratic primaries, Williams received 77,000 votes, and a host of heavyweight supporters threw their influence behind him. Union leaders Pete Matthews of AFSCME D.C. 33 and Sam Staten Jr. of Laborers’ Local 332 have pledged their support. So have state Rep. Cherelle Parker and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
Also, Williams is no stranger to the Sheriff’s Office. He served as Chief of Criminal Operations in the Office from 1994 to 2000.
“There really aren’t too many problems with the Criminal Operations aspect, but on the real estate side there are some issues,” he said. “[City Controller] Alan Butkovitz is expected to release the findings of the forensic audit of the Sheriff’s Office in the first week of November. It’s going to be very interesting to see what they’ve found.”
In 2010, City Controller Alan Butkovitz raised questions over a failure by the Sheriff’s Office to cooperate with his auditors over requested financial documents. Butkovitz launched a full-scale forensic audit of 11 custodial accounts under the Sheriff’s purview, estimated at $53 million dollars.
Because the Sheriff’s Office did not comply with the auditors, concerns were raised over the potential for fraud.
“My auditors identified a number of ‘red flags’ that suggest a heightened risk for improprieties with respect to the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of its custodial accounts valued at approximately $53 million,” said Butkovitz, in the letter to former sheriff John Green.
In January of this year, Green resigned his position as sheriff after 22 years in office.
Recently, as a result of the financial audit, $50 million was found sitting in numerous bank accounts under the Office’s name. That money had been accumulating for years. After Green’s resignation, Barbara Deeley took over as Acting Sheriff. She fired several employees and reassigned the director who handles property sales.
Williams said his election as sheriff isn’t about shaking up the status quo — it’s about bringing much needed reform to the department. Some of the established community programs are going to continue, he said.
“I intend to continue with the Office’s Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention programs and the related town hall meetings,” he said. “We should continue to work with homeowners to keep their properties. I think that’s one of the ways to build stability in communities. I also intend to hold the banks accountable for what they aren’t doing in our communities. They spend millions on promotions; we need to start reinvesting that money into the communities where the depositors come from.”
In November 2000, Williams won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to serve the 197th Legislative District. In the House, Williams has introduced legislation for the protection and advocacy of senior citizens, and has co-sponsored many measures to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. During his tenure, he has gained the respect of his colleagues as a true ambassador and coalition builder. Currently, he serves as Deputy Whip of the House of Democratic Caucus. He also serves on the following committees: Aging and Older Adult Services; Appropriations, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Children and Youth; Committee on Ethics; Policy, where he serves as vice chair and Rules. He is the chairman of the Philadelphia Delegation of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. Rep. Williams is the Democratic Ward leader of the 16th Ward of the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia and 1st vice chairman of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Rules Committee.
It’s been more than two years since Democratic state Representative Jewell Williams had his run in with two Philadelphia police officers — an incident that injured the now sheriff-elect and became part of a civil rights lawsuit alleging police brutality. This week, Williams had his day in court — and won his case.
Now the city has to pay Williams $50,000. In the court’s decision, attorneys for the city agreed that Williams’ constitutional rights had been violated, but disagreed on the extent of his injuries. Williams said the injuries caused damage to a nerve that runs from his forearm to the base of the thumb. He said that he was unable to turn a door knob or open a jar without experiencing pain.
“Well, I never expected this settlement to be a huge amount of money, I never expected that. But I am pleased with the legal process and the court’s decision that these officers violated my civil rights,” Williams said, adding that the officers involved in his unlawful arrest placed the handcuffs on him too tightly — which has caused him permanent damage to his hands. He was originally offered $65,000 by the city but decided to move forward with legal proceedings. “I was awarded for the damages, but I’m not happy about the fact that these officers are still on the job — even though they’ve been declared a liability. They’re still costing the city money. And, yes, I believe that had I been of another color, none of this would have happened.”
On March 8, 2009, Williams questioned three Philadelphia police officers, Thomas Schaffling, Donna Stewart and Timothy Devlin regarding a traffic stop involving two African-American males, John Cornish and Carl Cutler.
According to the details of the original complaint, Cornish was driving along the 1600 block of York Street with Cutler in the passenger seat. Allegedly, without cause or justification, Schaffling, Devlin and Stewart stopped the vehicle and allegedly unlawfully detained Cornish and Carver. Around the same time, Williams was heading west on the 1600 block of York Street in Philadelphia and pulled to a stop because traffic was blocked by the officers questioning Cornish and Cutler.
The complaint states that Schaffling ordered Cornish from his car and, without cause, frisked him and detained him. Cornish’s money was placed on the outside of the vehicle. At the same time, Stewart ordered Cutler from the car and was also allegedly roughly frisked and then detained. As this was happening Cornish’s cash starting to blow off the car, attracting the attention of bystanders. Williams saw people going for Cornish’s money and tried to intervene. That’s when Schaffling allegedly began yelling profanities and threats of physical violence directed at Cornish who was subsequently handcuffed along with Cutler.
Devlin allegedly approached Williams and profanely ordered him to get back in his car. Williams identified himself as a State official, and showed Devlin his official State identification — at which time a now-heated Devlin ordered him back to his car — or else.
Williams said he asked to speak to Devlin’s supervisor, then he had the cuffs slapped on him in “an excessively tight manner.” Police Sgt. Kevin Bernard, who was on the scene as the ranking supervisory official, approached Williams and allegedly used rude, profane and insulting language before pushing Williams into the patrol car. He was detained for about 90 minutes.
“I’m glad there was a hearing because the city knew these officers were wrong,” Williams said.
He touched the lives of thousands, and it was in his honor that hundreds gathered to say farewell to “a scholar with an African mission.” The funeral of Dr. Edward W. Robinson, Jr. was held Friday morning at the church in which he was born and raised, the A.M.E. Union Church, in the heart of North Philadelphia.
Just outside the church, a dozen drummers of all ages played in the midst of an oppressive heat wave. All morning, city dignitaries streamed through the church to pay respects to the educator and his family.
While his body laid in repose, images of Robinson in various stages of his life played in the background, as ushers carried baskets of fans and circulated through the aisles with bottles of cold water. The several hundred gathered fanned themselves endlessly as they comforted their hearts in the words offered by friends, colleagues and family members during the two-and-a-half hour service.
Robinson's casket, draped in a United States flag, was flanked by floral displays in the colors of the Pan-African flag — red, black and green — with one especially stunning arrangement forming the shape of the continent of Africa.
Proclamations were read from Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, State Senator Leanna Washington, and Congressman Chaka Fattah, along with resolutions from the Institute for the Preservation of Youth, the Paul Robeson House, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, Chaney University Alumni Association and the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP. Also noted in the audience were music producer and educator Kenny Gamble, producer Bob Lott, activist Pam Africa, Judge Thomasina Tynes, Rep. Dwight Evans and Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Remarks were offered from every branch of Robinson's life - from political to civic to personal. Speakers included Christine Thomas Wiggins, Founder of IMHOTEP Charter School; Ali and Helen Salahuddin, founders of the D'ZERT Club; Activist Michael Coard, Esq.; African-American scholar Dr. Molefi Kete Asante; Cody Anderson, former WDAS General manager and Dr. Mildred Johnson of Virginia State University, and Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, former mayor of Philadelphia. “Dr. Robinson served his generation in an outstanding manner,” noted Goode. “The question is, who is going to serve this generation?”
“A great soul has passed this way,” said Asante. “A great man has lived among us.”
The amazing life that Robinson had lived and shared with those closest to him was obvious in the various titles accorded him: father, grandfather, great-grand-father, great-great grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, and most importantly, husband.
Robinson's widow Harriet eschewed the podium, instead choosing to stand next to the casket as she recited a poem while holding the arm of her beloved husband of 41 years. “I wanted you for life, you and me in the wind. I never thought there would come a time that our story would end. ... Maybe all I need to know and if I listen to my heart, I'll hear your laughter once more. And so I’ve got to say I'm just glad you came my way. It's not easy to say goodbye.”
If, as the old saying goes, politics is a contact sport; then Philadelphia politics is a no-holds-barred, steel cage death match.
Every campaign season, we are inundated with candidates whose shameless win-at-all-costs philosophy embarrasses us into not voting for them, or not voting at all. Every Election Day, whether primary, general or special, we are treated to stories of dirty tricks, underhanded tactics, and outright sabotage in the name of winning a public office.
Then the winners somehow expect the public to forget everything they’ve seen and heard for the past six months and trust them as honorable, fair-minded servants of the people.
This explains pretty much everything wrong with local politics: the feeling of voter apathy, the general distrust of elected officials, and the pathetic 15 to 18 percent voter turnout numbers we’re used to seeing.
We, the long-suffering public, are expected to wade through a knee-deep quagmire of lies, corruption, and stupidity to arrive upon a candidate who can move this city, and this country forward without succumbing to the temptation of greed and corruption themselves.
It’s not easy, and it’s not pretty, but once in a while, the good guys actually win.
There are several examples, but I’ll just cite a couple for now.
State Rep. Jim Roebuck, who has quietly led West Philly’s 188th District for more than 25 years, suddenly found himself in a dogfight for his seat with Fatimah Muhammad, a 27-year old neophyte with lots of youthful enthusiasm, and an equal amount of youthful naiveté.
Ms. Muhammad received about $25,000 for her campaign coffers from Students First PA, the pro-voucher group who spent a fortune bankrolling the campaigns of local politicians willing to sign on to the school voucher philosophy.
Strongly worded campaign literature floated around the district painting the incumbent Roebuck as an anti-child, anti-education dinosaur because of his opposition to school vouchers. While Muhammad denied any connection to the literature, and in fact stated in a Tribune editorial board meeting that she wouldn’t vote for the voucher bill as it is presently written, the association stuck.
Roebuck won his seat, and Muhammad has presumably been left to ponder the consequence of taking large sums of cash from single-issue contributors. That money isn’t free, folks, and you’re nuts if you think they don’t want something for it. Deviate from the script, and bad things happen.
Up in North Philly’s 197th District, Jewel Williams, the 27-year old daughter of newly elected Sheriff Jewell Williams, ran for the state rep seat he held for years. She didn’t campaign much, didn’t work to get her name out there much, and didn’t do much to quiet the increasing number of voices complaining that she was looking for a free ride by cashing in on her father’s familiar name.
It’s a cynical idea, and one both her and her father should have worked hard to quash. Philadelphians have voted for the offspring of famous politicians before: Goode, Rizzo, Williams, and Green come to mind, but it’s usually a fact that the offspring makes a special effort to be their own person, to prove that they are much more than just ‘whats-his-name’s kid.’
If I were to leave my job tomorrow, I would not attempt to install my 22-year old daughter as city editor of the Tribune. While I love her more than anyone on earth, I also recognize that she is completely unqualified to run a newsroom. To ignore that fact would be an insult to my colleagues, and to our readers.
To their credit, the voters of the 197th didn’t fall for the old okey doke. They elected J.P. Miranda, who is also very young, but brings with him a wealth of experience as a legislative aide and community organizer.
In my South Philly neighborhood, state House candidate Damon Roberts faced a much more dangerous opponent than Jordan Harris, who beat him out for the 186th seat vacated by Kenyatta Johnson – his own campaign staff.
Apparently, Roberts was attempting to pay his workers their promised $100 each by check - already a bad idea - when he then ran out of checks. As you can imagine, it got ugly. So ugly, in fact, that Roberts had to call the police to protect him from his own workers.
Let this week’s election serve as a cautionary tale for future office seekers: be careful whose money you take, have an actual platform to run on, and most importantly – make sure you have the cash on hand to pay up on Election Day.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
There were few surprises on Tuesday, April 24 as voters chose their party’s candidates for the November election. Typically, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, local Democratic primary winners typically go on to win office in November.
Though the primary included a number of high offices, ranging from president and U.S. senator to state representative and attorney general, the vast majority of registered voters stayed home.
Turnout was recorded at 17.3 percent — almost exactly where it was in last spring’s primary.
“People weren’t too much concerned about the races going on,” said political consultant Maurice Floyd, noting that the national seats got all the attention, but with Rick Santorum’s withdrawal, the contest took on less urgency. “It just didn’t measure up in terms of generating a turnout.”
In low turnout elections, the support of a core bloc of dedicated voters is what delivers.
“The winners organized and they had a solid base going for them,” said Floyd.
As an example, he pointed to a much watched race – the 197th District – where J.P. Miranda won over Jewel Williams, the daughter of Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Miranda won 40 percent of the vote with 2,977 votes. That compared to 38 percent for Jewel, which translated to 2,519 votes.
“The ward leaders and the street organizers, they were able to outmaneuver and out-organize her,” he said.
Jewel’s campaign in the North Philadelphia district raised eyebrows because she seemed to rely largely on possible voter confusion between her and her father, who held the seat until January when he resigned to assume the post of sheriff. Jewel campaigned little. Her campaign office was reportedly empty most days.
Miranda had a history of political involvement. He worked for Council President Darrell Clarke and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen. In addition, in 2004 he worked for the John Kerry campaign. He also worked with the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter as it worked to help federal officials with the U.S. Census.
“I’m ecstatic,” Miranda said Wednesday. “North Philadelphia united against a lot of disgraceful acts by my opposition. People were very disgusted with some of things they were seeing.”
Miranda will now run against Steve Crum, the Republican, in the Nov. 6 election. Miranda is confident he’ll win.
“I’ve stayed on the pulse of the community,” he said, noting that his real focus will be on getting out the vote in November for himself, and for President Barack Obama.
In addition to choosing in the primary, voters in the 197th District had to select someone to serve for the remainder of Jewell’s term and decided on Gary Williams over former state senator and perennial candidate for mayor T. Milton Street.
From a party stand-point, perhaps the biggest was an upset was in race for state House in the 182nd Legislative District, which covers much of Center City. State Rep. Babette Josephs, who has held the seat since 1985 lost to newcomer Brian Sims, who will be the first openly gay member of the general assembly.
The vote was close, with Sims netting about 52 percent of the ballots to Josephs’ 48 percent.
Josephs was co-vice president of the city’s delegation in Harrisburg. She faced frequent challenges in recent years but managed to hang onto her seat.
That changed Tuesday evening.
According to preliminary results, Sims won with 3,661 votes. Josephs had 3,428.
“We set out from the very beginning to run the largest, cleanest, most involved campaign that we could,” Sims said in published reports. “We reached out to all four corners of this district for volunteers, for support, for help, and we were blessed to get it.”
Barring a write-in challenge from a Republican, which is extremely unlikely, Sims should take the seat in the fall.
That too was largely due to the loyalty of a bloc, Floyd said, noting that gay voters flocked to Sims rather than Josephs.
“They were the group that would normally put her over the top,” he said. “But, they basically went with the gay candidate.”
Another widely watched race was the 186th District, which was wide open, with three contenders seeking to fill the seat vacated by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Former Youth Commission won in a landslide victory – the widest margin seen in the city – with 76 percent of the district’s voters behind him.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” Harris said early Wednesday morning. “We put in a lot of hard work to get our message out to the community. The community has spoken loud and clear on the direction they want to go in. I’m just humbled and honored my community has that faith in me.”
With no Republican in the 186th race, Harris should sail through on Nov. 6.
Like Miranda, he said he plans on making sure voters hit the polls in November pushing the button for himself and for Obama.
Attorney Damon K. Roberts came in second with roughly 20 percent of the vote. He sought the seat before, and lost to Johnson. A third candidate, community activist Timothy Hannah came in third with about 5 percent of the vote.
Roberts’ biggest surprise of the evening was not his loss, but an incident that happened at around 10 p.m. at his Dickinson and South Broad streets headquarters. Roberts was forced to call police after he tried to pay staffers with checks rather than cash. When he ran out of checks, the crowd got ugly, and a melee started, forcing him to call police for his own protection.
He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A police spokesperson said police arrived for a disturbance at 9:57 and remained on the scene until about 11 p.m. Poll volunteers were apparently promised $100 each, which Roberts was paying with the checks.
Voters in the 186th also participated in special election, choosing someone to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term. They chose former state Rep. Harold James, who will return temporarily to his statehouse seat.
In most other races across the city, incumbents prevailed – including a contested three-person race in the Northwest section of the city where state Rep. Rosita Youngblood held on against Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley.
“People always underestimate Rosita,” Floyd said. “With her, there is not a lot of fanfare but she serves that district in a way that she’s entrenched.”
Youngblood got 47 percent of the vote compared to Presley’s 28 percent and Boyd’s 24 percent.
“Every time she’s run, she’s had a challenger or more - but ultimately she had been blessed again and again and again to come back and represent the people of the district,” said campaign spokeswoman Thera Martin-Milling.
In West Philadelphia, in a race that drew a lot of media attention and large political donations, challenger Fatimah Muhammad was still unable to beat incumbent Jim Roebuck.
“It didn’t matter,” Floyd said. “Roebuck has a solid core of supporters, and that’s what puts him over the top.”
Election results remain unofficial until the Pennsylvania State Department verifies them.
Losing a house to foreclosure is perhaps one of the worse calamities a family could face, but thanks to an effort by the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and state Sen. Anthony Williams, underwater homeowners and others facing a bank seizure of their home can now arm themselves with the proper information and resources needed to keep their home.
To that end, Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams and Sen. Williams will host a free foreclosure and tax sale prevention workshop on Oct. 20 at Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, 5502 Cedar Ave. The workshop is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and will run through noon.
Registration is requested to attend this event, and interested parties can do so by calling 267-385-7624 or by visiting www.SaveYourPhillyHome.com.
“When a parent loses their home because of a tax or mortgage foreclosure, it is the children who also become homeless,” Jewell Williams said in a statement released by his office. “Rarely is one thing responsible for the start of the slow slide from home ownership to serious debt, to loss of a home, which is harmful to the most vulnerable, usually the children.”
Of the topics and anti-foreclosure tactics to be discussed are loan modifications, short sales, secondary financing and financial management; the workshop will also provide individual sessions with housing counselors.
The latest data provided by the People’s Emergency Center lends credence to the necessity of workshops such as this one. According to a policy paper released in June, the PEC found that it costs the state $363 million annually when considering the 13 cost categories, which included indicators such as the cost associated with emergency housing, foster care and early intervention. According the PEC’s data, that equals roughly $41,000 per each of the more than 9,000 Pennsylvanian children who spent at least one day in a shelter in 2011, the last year in which a complete data set is available.
PEC data also shows that Philadelphia, by far, shoulders the most costs in relation to the state’s 16 other “continuum of care” regions, spending $173,050,816. The Philadelphia region is in the state’s top-third in terms of the total estimated marginal cost of child homelessness.
Pennsylvania Housing Alliance Executive Director Liz Hersh — a longtime proponent of housing equality and assisting homeowners who are underwater with their mortgage – believes community forums such as the one this weekend is necessary, and will continue the recent gains made by fair housing advocates.
“Although the worst of the foreclosure crisis is behind us, many families still face the fear and uncertainty of not being able to make their mortgage. The good news is that help is available,” Hersh said, referencing the recent refunding of the Housing Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program and the timely announcement that Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund will receive $9.2 million this year to help local communities address their housing needs. “Lenders are working with owners more proactively to keep them in their homes and housing counselors are available to do the hard work of coming up with a plan.
“This forum offers homeowners a much needed help and information so they don’t have to go it alone.”
Sen. Williams echoed much of Hersh’s sentiment, and said that the debilitating effects of foreclosures will have a negative ripple effect through the community.
“We cannot expect to have safe, stable communities when the real threat of homelessness and desperation looms over families struggling to do the right thing. Houses left empty by foreclosure represent more than an individual family misfortune; they easily devolve into breeding grounds for crime. And like a cancer, this one-two punch devours neighborhoods, especially economically fragile ones already on edge,” Williams said. “That’s why this workshop and others like it are so critical. Too often, the difference between losing a home and saving it is a matter of outreach and information. So it’s essential to offer both, in a collective fashion, particularly as people continue to battle to survive in this economy.”
The special election to fill the vacant seat in the state’s 186th Legislative District, formerly held by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, seems to be shaping up into a contest between two front-runners — former Youth Commissioner Jordan Harris and former state Rep. Harold James, who held the seat for nearly 20 years.
Six candidates — Fawwaz Beyha, Tim Hannah, Harris, James, Ed Nesmith and Damon Roberts — will appear on the April 24 ballot. But, James and Harris appear to have important backers within the Democratic Party that make them the candidates to watch.
Two well established lawmakers are backing Harris — Johnson and his political patron Sen. Anthony Williams. Harris has a long history with Williams. The two met when Harris was still in high school, he said. Harris also worked with Johnson for several years, most notably on Johnson’s Peace Not Guns initiative.
In addition, Harris has secured endorsements from several labor organizations that will be able to mobilize voters.
Over the weekend, Harris announced that he had secured endorsements from the AFL-CIO, Transportation Workers Union Local 234, the Laborers Local 332 and the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5.
Harris characterized his campaign as a community based “movement.”
“We are in the process of building a movement to engage a community that is often left out. We are building a movement of citizens who won’t sit quietly on the sidelines as they watch opportunity pass them by,” he said, noting the endorsements. “This is much bigger than an election and the community is an important part of this movement building.”
Backing from labor, Williams and Johnson would appear to give Harris, a political newcomer, a powerful boost in the contest for the seat.
But, according to one party official from South Philadelphia, who asked not to be named, the majority of ward leaders were expected to support James. It’s too early to tell if that will happen, or just how it might affect the race, but in Philadelphia ward leaders are political forces to be reckoned with. Many elected officials start out as ward leaders and retain the post after winning higher office.
James represented voters from the 186th District from 1989 to 2008.
According to the Tribune’s source, most ward leaders in the 186th would rather stick with a candidate they are familiar with and worked with for nearly two decades.
“They know Harold,” said the source.
James has been running a very low-key campaign. He has a campaign office at 20th and Federal streets, directly across the street from Harris’, but does not appear to have a website or Facebook page, two touchstones of modern campaigning.
He did not return the Tribune’s phone calls Monday afternoon.
In other special election news, Milton Street, brother for former Mayor John F. Street and perennial candidate for office, has reportedly withdrawn from the Democratic race in the 197th District to replace former state representative, now Sheriff, Jewell Williams.
Street reportedly plans to form his own party — the Milton Street Party — and run
Philly Clout reported that Street had withdrawn from the race where he faced a legal challenge to his nominating petitions but declined to say why.
“Now you’re looking for trade secrets,” Street told reporter Chris Brennan.