Race: 1st District in the State Senate; runs from South Philly through Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Kensington.
Candidate: Larry Farnese, Democrat
Background: Farnese, 44, an attorney who lives in Center City, was elected in 2008.
Priority if Re-elected: Job creation. Farnese was involved in the Southport Marine Terminal Project at the Navy Yard. “That will bring thousands of jobs to Philadelphia,” he said. The terminal is under construction, and in combination with the Delaware dredging project starting next year, is expected to stimulate the Navy Yard economy. Farnese will introduce a bill to leverage nearby ports in the Philadelphia district as well to further stimulate waterfront business. Farnese cited his record for evidence of his ongoing priorities: writing the bill that ended the DROP program (the Deferred Retirement Option Plan — some elected officials who collected six-figure DROP payments would then return to office), erecting I-95 sound barriers in Fishtown, serving on the Northern Liberties Liquor Nuisance Task Force and helping pass the Straw Buyer gun control bill last week.
Pet Issue: “I would take away the gamesmanship that is present in all politics. Not just Democrats and Republican, but the process itself,” Farnese said. “If you allow all the bills and laws to come to Senate instead of being held up by committees, you’re going to allow people to vote on what their constituents want … The idea of holding up legislation and not moving it is a byproduct of the system that needs to be fixed.” ••
Candidate: Alfonso Gambone, Republican
Background: Gambone, 34, is an attorney and South Philly resident who served in the Iraq war, according to his online biography (he could not be reached for an interview).
Priority if Elected: Gambone supports lowering taxes and reducing regulations to encourage economic growth as well as shrinking the government and cutting state spending. He supports fracking — which practices hydraulic fracturing of underground shale deposits for natural gas — in the Marcellus Shale as an economic driver, targeting low-performing public schools for closure to consolidate funds, and punishing state agencies that fail to meet multiyear goals.
Pet Issue: Gambone supports education reform because, according to his blog, “As a criminal defense attorney, I have witnessed, firsthand, the correlation between a person who drops out of high school and the likelihood that this same person will commit a crime later in life. Every child deserves the right to attend a good school, staffed with motivated teachers who will inspire children to achieve their full potential; anything less is unacceptable.” ••
Race: State Rep. of the 177th District; covers Northeast Philly including Kensington, Port Richmond and Bridesburg.
Candidate: John Taylor, Republican
Background: State Rep. John Taylor, 57, has represented the 177th District for 28 years, meaning this will be his 15th election.
Priority if Re-elected: “Raise funding for mass transit, roads, bridges, our transportation infrastructure because we’re woefully behind on that. We could not set up tolls on I-80, and that’s reaching emergency proportions,” Taylor said. Fresh from a legislative session in Harrisburg, Taylor said he wants to renew his efforts on prescription drugs and drug abuse as well as blight from the estimated 40,000 vacant and abandoned properties in Philadelphia. He’s optimistic that the Philadelphia Land Bank Bill, passed last week, will lead to faster action on cleaning up these decaying land parcels.
Pet Issue: Schools and safety are the two most important issues to his constituents, Taylor said. He said he favors expanding everyone’s opportunity to be educated at a charter school, using the Educational Improvement Tax Credit voucher to help low-income students pay for parochial schools, and getting more funding for public schools so they can compete with the first two options. ••
Candidate: William Dunbar, Democrat
Background: Dunbar, 28, lives in Port Richmond. Experiences include working for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and state Rep. Tony Payton and as registrar at Lincoln University.
Priority if Elected: Education. “We need to spend more money educating our youths so that they will ultimately become a more educated work force, then they will buy homes, get jobs and take part in the community,” he said. Dunbar wants more funding for schools so parents can choose between a public, charter or “cyber” school or religious institution for their children’s education. Dunbar also supports Obamacare and said state support for the plan will lower health-care costs locally.
Pet Issue: Dunbar said running against a 14-term incumbent (Rep. John Taylor) is daunting. As Dunbar put it, “Some of the people in my party might not like this, but we need some sort of term limits. … We need change in our communities because our world is drastically changing. How do we have a system where our governor and mayor have term limits, but out state legislators and City Council members can stay there as long as they want?”••
Race: 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House; runs from Chester to Holmesburg in the Northeast.
Candidate: John Featherman, Republican
Background: Featherman, 40, is a licensed real estate agent and real estate instructor at Temple University. He lives in Chinatown and has run for local office several times before, usually as a Libertarian.
Priority if Elected: Ending the war on drugs. Featherman said drug abuse is one of the main reasons the 1st Congressional District is the fourth poorest in the nation. “I would suggest decriminalization — not legalization, big difference — of drugs. Decriminalization is a slow process.” Featherman wants drug addicts to get medical help, not be thrown in jail.
Pet Issue: The Philadelphia Democratic machine is hurting the city and its residents, Featherman said. He wants reform, like saving taxpayer dollars by bidding out public services like trash pick-up, municipal computer service and energy delivery.
He wants to cut taxes and budgets by 10 percent across the board, end the gross receipts tax (calling it “the biggest job-killer in Philadelphia”), and enact a “Right to Work” statute that makes required union membership illegal.
“If [incumbent Congressman] Bob Brady wins, we’re going to see more of the same thing, which is nothing,” he said. “I have lots of ideas. If I lose, those ideas may go away.” ••
Candidate: Bob Brady, Democrat
Background: Brady, 67, is running for his ninth term. He has held the office since 1998, and has served as Philadelphia Democratic Party chairman since 1986.
Priority if Re-elected: Job creation. “We’re trying to increase the middle class and help those that want to be in the middle class,” Brady said. Recent efforts include organizing a $200,000 donation by Sunoco to the Red Cross to support medical job training and helping to allocate $30 million in federal funding toward the Delaware River dredging project, which will make it available to larger vessels.
“It’s not just jobs for the river, the residual goes to all the other vendors, the truck drivers and the mom-and-pop stores around the river,” Brady said.
Brady estimated that he had funneled $3 billion in government support to organizations in Philadelphia that will create jobs. In Washington, Brady supports passing stricter national gun-control laws, which he said his opponent doesn’t support.
Pet Issue: Poverty and hunger. “It’s a poor district I’ve been fighting for all these years,” Brady said, acknowledging Philadelphia’s issues with poverty, but he disputed his opponent’s claim that the 1st Congressional District is the fourth poorest district in the nation (out of 435). “That’s wrong. We’re not the fourth; we’re probably halfway up there now,” he said. “We’re moving up.” ••
Race: 5th District in the State Senate; includes Bridesburg, Port Richmond and Kensington.
Candidate: Michael Stack, Democrat
Background: Stack, 49, an attorney, is running for his fourth term.
Priority if Re-elected: “Fighting to create jobs,” Stack said. He mentioned the $3 million development grant he helped allocate for an expansion at Aria Health’s Torresdale campus in July. He estimated the hospital’s growth will create over 200 jobs. “What I do is I continue to look for opportunities to help job-ready organizations,” he said. Stack also said he hopes to increase funding to public schools and continue “fighting backdoor tax increases such as the AVI [Actual Value Initiative].”
Several legislators recently have come out against Mayor Michael Nutter’s AVI proposal, saying it will unfairly increase property taxes on their constituents. Stack’s alternative is that the city should prioritize collecting an estimated $500 million owed by property-tax delinquents.
Pet Issue: Stack is active in health care, trying to streamline services and drive down costs. He addressed resurrecting the adultBasic insurance program for adults living under the poverty line, which ended in 2011 under Gov. Tom Corbett. “I think we still need to find ways to do it. I haven’t given up on affordable health insurance,” he said. ••
Candidate: Mike Tomlinson, Republican
Background: Tomlinson, 55, of East Mayfair, is an accountant who has worked as a business consultant and teacher. He currently is on Social Security Disability while in rehabilitation for a degenerative eye disease that made him legally blind, but hopes to return to the work force soon.
Priority if Elected: Government reform. Tomlinson said Pennsylvania is one of the worst states to start a business, one of the top places for lawsuit-shopping, and spends $85 million on lobbyists and special interest groups, which is why only 29 percent of residents have faith in their government, he said.
Pet Issue: Education. As a former teacher who has worked at public and charter schools, Tomlinson said public schools shouldn’t be closed down, but cannot continue to be run the way they are now. “I would not send my kid to a Philadelphia School District school. I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Tomlinson said education reform should include empowering public schools to discipline, expel or suspend students the way Catholic or charter schools can, disbanding the School Reform Commission, and ending teacher tenure after three years. ••
Race: State Rep. of the 175th District; includes Fishtown and Kensington (candidate unopposed)
Candidate: Michael H. O’Brien
Background: State Rep. Michael H. O’Brien was first elected in 2006, and he is running unopposed this election. O’Brien, 58, is Fishtown resident. He had served as chief of staff to his predecessor, Marie Lederer.
Although he’s running opposed, O’Brien still needs a minimum of 10 votes to be elected. “Don’t think I’m taking this election for granted just because I’m unopposed,” he said.
Priority if Re-elected: Keeping local air and water clean. O’Brien is trying to slow down the natural gas “fracking” industry, which practices hydraulic fracturing of underground shale deposits for natural gas. He said that despite the economic benefits, trace amounts of chemicals associated with the controversial process are leaking into the Delaware River.
Pet Issue: O’Brien is also a member of the state House Education Committee, he is deeply involved in what he described as the painful but necessary ongoing consolidation of local schools, and is also actively working against Gov. Tom Corbett’s cuts of funding for women’s health programs. ••
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215–354–3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.