Reform candidate Anne Dicker, who wants to represent the river wards in Harrisburg, may not win Tuesday's primary, but the progressive movement she represents is clearly gaining momentum.
O'Brien, 51, is known for providing adept constituent services. He's backed by nearly every ward leader in the district, and by the Democratic City Committee. But potential conflicts exist. His $150,000 campaign budget relies heavily on Dougherty, raising concern he'll be indebted. O'Brien also owns undeveloped land in Fishtown and Kensington, where speculation is rampant.
"There are so few true races in this city, but the 175th District seat is actually contested," says Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. "Slots casinos, development in general-this election is about preserving the fabric of Philadelphia neighborhoods."
Marc Stier, co-founder of the progressive political group Neighborhood Networks, characterizes the race as incredibly important for the whole city.
"The waterfront belongs to us all, and we need a substantive urban planning process," says Stier, who lost a bid for a state House seat in 2004. "We already have I-95 cutting off neighborhoods from the river, and now giant condos are further limiting public access."
For both voters and the candidates, this district seat may hinge on casinos-along with the crime, traffic and litter that could accompany these 24-hour operations. Four of the five proposed sites for slots are in the river wards. The state gaming board is expected to choose two operators by year's end, and at least one casino is certain to end up in the 175th.
"This race has become a pissing contest because of gambling," says a high-level Democratic Party official and former state rep. "All sorts of labor leaders who shouldn't be involved suddenly have a stake."
Developers are flocking to the long-neglected banks of the Delaware River like gambling junkies flocking to a blackjack table. A slew of high-rise luxury condos, as well as entertainment and retail complexes, are already changing the waterfront skyline. The rapid construction recently compelled Gov. Ed Rendell to call for a moratorium. (Graboyes and Dicker support the temporary ban; O'Brien opposes it.)
|A river runs through it: The 175th District extends from the Delaware to around 15th Street, and from around Tasker to Tioga.|
A couple 175th District neighborhoods, like historic Queen Village and Society Hill, boast some of the highest property values in the city. Others, like Port Richmond and Kensington, are still plagued by a longstanding culture of drugs and prostitution.
Homeowners throughout the 175th worry real estate taxes will skyrocket when the city reassesses property values next year. Public schools, parking, the minimum wage, abortion rights and the soaring cost of healthcare are also hot-button issues.
While all three candidates generally agree on everything but the details, their styles and backgrounds are as varied as the neighborhoods they're vying to represent. Dicker and her volunteers have spent the past six weeks campaigning door-to-door. Graboyes and O'Brien, meanwhile, are hoping money spent on the airwaves and billboards has been well invested.
Of the two strategies, Ceisler says, grassroots tactics may yield bigger dividends.
"The state House is the last vestige of retail politics," he asserts. "You can still win a race knocking on doors. TV commercials alone aren't going to get you there."
Marc Stier of Neighborhood Networks agrees. "I don't see any reason that Terry and Mike are running television ads, except to intimidate Anne," he says.
Ironically, Dicker doesn't own a TV and claims she hasn't seen the commercials.
Just weeks before Election Day, constituents seem undecided.
A light breeze wafts through the second-floor tasting room at Yards Brewing Co. in Kensington on April 19. Peering down onto the street through a big open window, kids can be seen chasing one another across the cracked pavement.
|Dicker: For changing the culture of Harrisburg.|