It’s spring cleaning, which means it’s time to air out mothball-packed closets and run a dust cloth over a winter’s worth of assorted crud. Individual households have it easy, but in City Hall’s case, the debris has been accumulating for decades. This year, the biggest news coming out of City Council is that a bunch of members are actually retiring instead of doddering around City Hall until they die or recede into the depths of senility. Council will have a minimum of five new members when it starts up in 2012. That should shake things up and clean shit out.
Not all 71 candidates—battling for just 17 seats—are likely to make the primary; some will surely bow out over petition challenges and poor ballot positions. Still, the prospect of having new blood in City Hall is refreshing. Here are a few candidates to watch.
Bernard Scally, Independent, At-Large
“It’s the first time in my memory that so many members of Council are retiring,” Scally says. “I thought, why not?”
Scally is hard to forget. The 29-year-old Independent favors a gentlemanly look, seen in public with a tweed suit covering his ample frame, with bow-tie and bowler hat to complement. “I’ve always liked being dressed up,” Scally says. “Being well-dressed gives you an overall boost in confidence.”
His most distinct feature is his trademark blond mustache, curled and waxed. “I met a guy at the Mummer’s parade who said everyone wants to touch my mustache,” he recalls. “Little kids stop and stare.” It’s that kind of attention he hopes to ride all the way to the fourth floor of City Hall.
Scally credits his five years as a reporter and editor at the Roxborough Review newspaper for providing him the people skills he needs to keep attuned to the pulse of the city. “One of the greatest things about being a journalist is meeting all kinds of people and being able to connect anywhere,” he says.
But, “as a reporter, you can only do so much,” he continues. “In Council, I’d be more in a position to help people with their needs.”
If elected, he wants to focus on small-business growth in Philadelphia, and bemoans the lack of a skilled work force. “Let’s face it, we need a better system of education,” he says, suggesting more vocational schools and unions partnering with students to prepare them for careers. Scally keeps a level view about his candidacy. “Even if I don’t win, if I come out as a Philadelphia style icon, it’s not a bad thing.”
Barbara Capozzi, Democrat, 2nd District
“I fought with everyone,” says Capozzi, laughing about her long history of raucous neighborhood involvement. “Comcast, the Eagles, the Phillies. Governors. Mayors. The managing director.” She recounts a tale of going head-to-head with longtime South Philly power broker and former State Sen. Vince Fumo in the late ’90s about where to build the city’s new sports stadiums. “He’d say, ‘You’re breaking my balls, Barbara,’” she chortles.
Now, more than a decade after taking on Fumo and helping found the Sports Complex Special Services District to use donations from the teams for neighborhood improvements, Capozzi is one of seven candidates running for 2nd District Council seat—held currently by the retiring Anna Verna.
Dressed almost provocatively, in an attention-grabbing red jacket over a zebra-striped shirt, the South Philly lifer explains why she thinks she deserves the job. “It’s an extension of everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,” she says. “I’d be happy to go one on one with anyone on credentials.”
Capozzi, 58, has been president of the Packer Park civic association since 1984, and the stadium district is just one entry on a long list of boards and volunteer organizations she’s been a part of. She does all this, she says, while fighting the powers that be for neighborhood rights. “There’s definitely a fear of a strong, independent woman,” she says.
If elected, Capozzi wants to work on a simplified business tax structure, crime prevention and volunteerism, and says the fresh crop of members coming in has a chance to shake up a Council sometimes bogged down in its own inertia. “How come nothing gets better? PHA, the School District?” she fumes. “How much bullshit can you put up with?”
Mom on the Run
Cindy Bass, Democrat, 8th District
For Bass, a run for City Council is a “progression of years of service” after working for Reps. Chaka Fattah and Allyson Schwartz for more than a decade. Bass ran and came in second to incumbent Donna Reed Miller in 2007 for the 8th Council District in the Northwest. With Miller retiring this year, the time looks ripe. But after 15 years with her, the unexpected vacancy means Bass has a lot of company: Nine others filed petitions to run. She’s not worried, since she’s spent the last four years getting her name out. “I never stopped running,” she said. “Having a baby was my only break,” she says of her 2 year old.
With a warm smile betraying an open, friendly demeanor, Bass credits her youth in North Philly for inspiring her public service. “I was like, why is my community like this?” she says. The 43-year-old now lives in Mt. Airy but gets out all over the district, her campaign bringing her to seldom visited areas of the city. “Knocking on doors makes a difference,” she says. “People told me I’m the first person who’s been here since Rizzo.”
Searching for solutions to the city’s public school debacle, Bass proposes forging stronger partnerships between parents, teachers and administrators, and searching for grants to bring cash to a district the state has turned its back on. She also suggests working with 10th-grade students to create a life road map to keep them goal-focused. “What’s your plan for the future?” she says. “We will have to do things in a nontraditional way.”
Sherrie Cohen, Democrat, At-Large
“I believe in the power of people organizing for control of communities and for the city,” Cohen says. “I’m an activist. I’m a fighter for the rights of all Philadelphians.” Cohen, 55, should be a familiar face from the battles to keep city schools and libraries open over the past few years.
She also hopes to be the first openly gay member of Council, saying she can serve as a role model to LGBT youth. “They’re still at greater risk for suicide, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse,” she says. Among the issues she would fight for are to reinstate the celebration of LGBT history month in public schools, increase anti-bullying training and blocking the sale of the Boy Scout headquarters to the group because of their anti-gay policies.
Her dad, longtime Councilman David Cohen (not to be confused with the Comcast executive/Rendell henchman of the same name), served on Council for 29 years until his death in 2005, earning a reputation for standing up for the little guy. Now, his daughter wants a chance to continue the legacy. “Since he’s been gone, there’s been no go-to person for human rights and human dignity,” she says.
Sherrie Cohen worked in the trenches to gain her own cred, fighting since the ‘70s for the city’s gay-rights protection bill, which eventually passed in 1982. “We were literally kicked out of Council chambers and brutally kicked down four flights of stairs,” she remembers. “To get elected in City Council would show how far the civil-rights movement has come.”
“I’m ready and able to bring my fighting spirit to City Hall.”
Malcolm Lazin, Republican, At-Large
Malcolm Lazin thinks attentive voters should already recognize his name. The former federal prosecutor, 67, is executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Forum. Recently, he has been one of Mayor Nutter’s loudest critics on school bullying. “We need a policy in place that protects all children,” Lazin says. “We’re not doing such a great job protecting ... straight kids, either.”
Happy to give a history lesson on his civic engagement, Lazin hasn’t run for office since a losing effort for District Attorney against Ed Rendell in the ’70s, but ticks off a list of accomplishments in the meantime: The effort to get Washington Square included as part of Independence National Park? Lazin! Pier development on the Delaware in the ’80s? Lazin! Lighting up the Ben Franklin Bridge? Lazin again!
Getting city finances under control marks the cornerstone of his campaign, which explains why the activist is willing to run as a Republican. “In terms of equality, it’s not a liberal or conservative issue,” Lazin explains. “I’m perilously concerned about the dangers facing the city. We’re underwater by $4.9 billion … headed dead on for a collision.”
Jordan Dillard, Democrat, 8th District
“I’m tired of seeing Philadelphia challenged to the same problems over and over again,” Dillard says in his booming voice. “Part of the problem is we elect the same people.” The Mt. Airy resident, a 35-year-old contractor, is a prime challenger for Miller’s seat. Dressed up in a black suit with a pink tie and slicked-back dark hair, Dillard is counting on a confident campaign slogan: “We Got This.”
“I want to be more exciting,” he explains. “Get people out on the block. Campaign like a traveling block party.”
Dillard got into politics after a friend was killed in Iraq in 2004. “If I didn’t get involved, more people could actually die,” he says, and volunteered for the Howard Dean, John Kerry and Obama presidential campaigns. He’s been a Democratic committee person for two terms but sees a Council seat as an opportunity to be more effective. His most innovative idea is to restart the old 23 trolley on Germantown Avenue from Wayne Junction to the top of Chestnut Hill, better connecting residents and visitors to historical sites and shopping destinations. Also, his career as a contractor tells him the city needs a tax abatement for renovating shells and abandoned buildings, as well as a lien-forgiveness program and micro-loan opportunities through Council to encourage development of long-neglected properties and neighborhoods. “When you’re a builder, it affects the way you see the world,” he says. “I walk up and down blocks and look at buildings, seeing how things go together and how they come apart.”
Tony Dphax King, Democrat, 3rd District
His name is Tony Dphax King. He’s a former pro-cyclist, Temple grad and author of the book Survival Guide for Single Men. Now, the man who gives his age only as “young and ambitious” wants to remove the powerful and entrenched Jannie Blackwell from her seat representing West and Southwest Philly.
No easy task, since there’s been a Blackwell sitting in the 3rd District since 1974: Jannie since 1991 and her late husband, Lucien, before that. King also faces a second opponent with name recognition, Alicia Burbage, a former staffer for state Sen. Anthony Williams.
No sweat, says King. He’s got a fool-proof way to get his name out there—if he wins the May 19 primary, he pledges to run up the Art Museum steps. One hundred times. “If [3rd District residents] vote for me, they will be rewarded with that feat,” he promises. “I’m a candidate that keeps his word.”
“The Rocky thing is a Philly icon,” King says. “This is how I see my race. The nobody verses the somebody.” To further stand out, his campaign literature features a flier of him posing with a donkey, taken in Colombia due to Philadelphia’s donkey shortage.
King’s issues: Kill the tax on business profits, immediately. “I don’t see why it’s necessary to wait,” he says. “Businesses are getting run out of the city.” Also: Shake up some police districts to curb aggravated assaults in West Philly. “I used Kensington as the standard for what’s bad,” he explains. “West Philly shouldn’t be comparable to Kensington.”
Before he gets to work, he’s got the steps to tackle, a task he assumes the rest of City Council could never emulate. “It’s not easy,” he says. “Half of them will catch a heart attack trying to do this.”
The Comeback Kid
Christopher Hayes, Democrat, At-Large
Chris Hayes worked for two years to run for City Council. The only problem was, some of the supporters he counted on to round up the 1,000 signatures he needed to get on the ballot bailed, claiming they were too busy or sick to help. “After that, I was like like, well . . . a little late to tell me,” Hayes says. He ended up about 100 signatures short, but isn’t letting himself get down. “Don’t count me out yet!” he says. “I have come too far not to try for at least a write in candidacy.”
The native of Lancaster, Pa., was the first African-American to serve on the local school board, gaining election at age 21. A five-year resident of Philadelphia, the 42-year-old has worked with volunteer organizations and in state government since he moved to the city to be with his now-deceased father.
Now he thinks he can be an effective voice for city residents, saying, “I think I represent the full spectrum of Philadelphia, being openly gay and African American.” Among his platforms are encouraging more volunteerism in the city and promoting stronger ties between local universities and public high schools, as well as expanding opportunities for students to attend community college.
Hayes sees the five open seats as a great chance to improve Council’s image and effectiveness. “Whenever you talk about Council it seems like everyone has such a negative attitude about it,” he says. “We need to change that attitude.”
To be a successful write-in candidate, he would need to convince tens of thousands of voters to legibly enter his name on the ballots, no small task. “I know it’s very expensive,” he says. “But I think it would be a good opportunity just to get my name out more.”
David Oh, Republican, At-Large
“I wish I could give you an easy answer,” David Oh says. “I don’t really do much to distinguish myself, to be honest.”
Oh is 51 and this is his third time running for Council. He nearly won in 2007, losing to Jack Kelly by a handful of absentee votes. Now with Kelly retiring, he thinks this is his year. The lawyer sits in his
firm’s 13th floor Market Street office, confident that his record speaks for itself. “Voters look at history, education, life’s experience,” he says. “It’s the same thing as deciding who to date. Every guy says the
same thing. Who do you think is sincere?”
The lifelong Southwest Philly resident’s phone rings off the hook while he talks about his bid. “Are you running because you want to put a feather in your cap?,” Oh says of his motivations. “Or are you running because you really want to help people?”
He is allied with the Republican splinter group Loyal Opposition, and gained the endorsement of ward leaders over the objection of party leadership. Some of his ideas to stimulate job growth in Philadelphia
are to develop the port to make the city a more international transport hub, and designate parts of the city open 24 hours to encourage nightlife and tourists.
The army veteran and international trade expert speaks softly but can go on for 20 minutes at a time, exploring the details of his ideas. Improving access to the zoo. Better marketing Philly’s tourist attractions. “We should be a city of two million people,” he says. Persistence is key after two close calls, and Oh thinks the third time is the charm. “Run till you faint,” he says. “If you aren’t knocked out you aren’t really trying.”
More on Philly Politics
PW's Matt Petrillo goes behind the scenes with voters and city candidates—and grills City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione).
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace