For a lifelong politician who swears he isn’t thinking of higher office, state Representative Dwight Evans sure sounded like a man with his eyes firmly set on the governor’s mansion in the next election.
But before that decision is made, Evans must first focus on his state representative primary. With elections looming on May 24, Evans spoke during a recent Philadelphia Tribune board meeting about his lengthy track record and public perception of him as a master deal maker.
Evans touted three main accomplishments: the creation of the “Northwest Gateway for Jobs and Economic Development,” which saw the creation of numerous shopping plazas; his support of the “Fresh Food Finance Initiative,” which takes an aggressive, grassroots approach to increasing the availability of whole foods; and his work to repeal the potentially damaging and discriminatory Pennsylvania Voter ID law, which Governor Tom Corbett recently signed.
To that end, Evans and fellow representative John Myers held a press conference Tuesday, April 10 at a local PennDOT service center, imploring people to become active and knowledgeable about the bill, known as HB 2313.
“We realize that sometime down the road, the courts may very well strike down the Pennsylvania Voter ID law,” Evans said at the press conference. “But I believe in taking a proactive step in removing this unnecessary and potentially costly statute.”
Evans elaborated on that stance during the board meeting.
“I’m sincerely horrified for the people” that will be affected by this bill, Evans said. “There is a lot of cynicism about politics, but I am trying to teach people what is possible.”
Evans arrived in Harrisburg in 1981, and almost from the beginning, he supported many economic reinvestment projects and proposals — but perhaps none as important as the five centers in Evans’ “Northeast Gateway” plan.
Those retail developments — Ogontz Plaza; the 2300 corridor of West Cheltenham Avenue; the 5300 block of Chew Avenue; 301 West Chelten Avenue and the gleaming development at 1501 N. Broad Street — are all shining examples of Evans’ ability to “take concepts and ideas and make them work throughout the city.”
Each of those five locations has at least one bank and one market serving as anchors. One of the newest developments is on Chelten Avenue, which houses an improved Save-a-Lot, a Citibank branch and an Anna’s Linens outlet store .
“The congregation of financial organizations is something you don’t see in the Black neighborhoods,” Evans said. “So what has happened as a spin-off from these supermarkets are banks, which in turn is good for the consumer, because it gives them choice, mortgages and business loans.
“This is the progression of a concept I started with building a neighborhood.”
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative is another of Evans’ signature involvements. The FFI, created by the Reinvestment Fund, is designed to “increase the number of supermarkets, or other grocery stores, in underserved communities across Pennsylvania,” according to a statement on the Food Trusts’ website.
“This statewide program meets the financing needs of supermarket operators that plan to operate in underserved communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financial institutions,” the statement continued. “Under this program, TRF provides predevelopment grants and loans, land acquisition financing, equipment financing, capital grants for project funding gaps and construction and permanent finance. TRF also provides technical assistance and workforce services to its borrowers and grantees through this initiative.”
Three authors have independently hailed Evans’ support of the FFFI — Dr. Oran Hesterman in “Fair Food,” Stephen Goldsmith in “The Power of Social Innovation” and co-authors Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi in “Food Justice” — with Gottlieb and Joshi calling Evans a “champion” of the program.
Evans has made good on many of the goals and promises outlined in his 2010–2012 legislative agenda, including hosting the second regional job summit and supporting HB 2181 — also referred to as the “Made in Pennsylvania” package or the Manufacturing Tax Incentives plan — that would reward statewide manufacturers for keeping jobs here.
Locally, Evans touted his support of the West Oak Lane Charter School expansion, the renovation of Brown’s ShopRite and the renovation of the ice rink at Simons Recreation Center as just a few of the highlights of his many years in office. Along the way, Evans has supported numerous educational and economics-based workshops, and his three decades in public service has generated a sort of synergy between his office and the community.
As one example, Evans’ took Corbett to task over the governor’s budget, which slashed the funding for public schools and colleges while creating little in the way of jobs, opportunity and economic growth.
“This makes no sense,” Evans said. “The governor talks about jobs and creating the climate for jobs, but he damages the very institutions from where those workers will come. If there is a job to fill in a new or existing industry, we are determined to put that career opportunity into the hands of a Pennsylvanian.”
Although Evans repeatedly stated that he isn’t going to drop out of politics — nor would he run for mayor again — he is planning on writing his memoirs about his many years in office, and said he would contemplate another run at the governorship. His book will serve as sort of a blueprint for future politicians.
“I’m just going to tell my story,” Evans repeated, again swatting away questions about his future political role outside of the upcoming primary. “We just started in the last couple of months. I talk about my beginnings here at the Tribune, and how I won ‘Citizen of the Month’ and ‘Citizen of the Year,’” Evans said.
“That was the beginning, leading me into public life,” Evans continued. “And it will talk about how I was able to take concepts and ideas and make them a reality, all across the city.”
If you live in Northwest Philadelphia, expect to see busy volunteers with clipboards and voter registration forms asking, “Do you need to update your voter registration?”
The reason this question is pivotal in neighborhoods such as Mount Airy, West Oak Lane and Germantown is simple: Some of the city’s most ardent voters live in Northwest Philadelphia, but many neglect to re-register to vote when they move or change their name.
Now with the new Voter ID law, some just need to update their voter registration so their name, address and other personal information on the IDs match the voting record.
Among the groups who will be trekking through Northwest Philadelphia commercial corridors and knocking on doors will be the nonpartisan Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.
“The new Voter ID Law passed by the legislature this spring raises onerous new barriers to the ballot box,” said B.J. Phillips of Northwest Philadelphia.
Phillips serves as the Voter ID coordinator for the Philadelphia League of Women Voters. The group is basing their grassroots Voter ID headquarters at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown.
“We are pulling together an ambitious plan to educate our fellow citizens about the new law,” Phillips said. “The Voter ID rules have changed almost weekly as the Secretary of State’s office tries to implement a sweeping and inherently confusing new law. So, we plan to carry our educational message to the large majority of voters who already have valid IDs as well as helping those who need to acquire the ID the need for Nov. 6.”
Already on the group’s agenda is finding out where the summer block parties and neighborhood festivals will be located. They will be making guest appearances at community organization meetings and before church groups. They are also visiting long-term and personal care homes to provide photo IDs for residents.
The Voter ID Coalition’s Germantown office will be active this summer. At the West Chelten Avenue location they are offering training sessions on the new Voter ID legal requirements that help prepare people to speak to the groups or congregations they belong to.
“This is an excellent primer for those who volunteer to handle phone calls for help, advice, media support and other demands at the new coalition headquarters,” Phillips said. “Our goals are high, but they are within the reach of an organization that was born of the struggle for the right to vote. Above all others, this newest battle for universal suffrage is ours to fight.”
Just before the spring primary race the Northwest Philadelphia Coalition held their Voter ID session in partnership with KeepingMyVote.org. The event was held at the New Bethel AME Church, 6153 Germantown Ave. It was sponsored by state Sen. LeAnna M. Washington, state Reps. John Myers, Mark Cohen, Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, as well as Councilwoman Marian Tasco.