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.
The crowd is all white, but generationally diverse. Old-timers who've lived in the neighborhood their entire lives occupy half the chairs. The remaining seats are filled with tattooed artists and young professionals who recently migrated to Kensington.
Dicker's schpiel doesn't seem to resonate with the older crowd. When she mentions her move to Queen Village from out of state in the late '90s, some audience members sigh audibly.
"She can't possibly know our neighborhood problems," Fishtown resident and O'Brien supporter Peter Zaccagnino says.
Ted Kazantzis, who moved to Fishtown about five years ago, attended a candidates' forum at the Fishtown Recreation Center the next day. There he agreed with Dicker's contention that Harrisburg has historically given river wards short shrift. But, he asked, "How's she gonna sway other legislators entrenched in the system?"
Ceisler actually thinks Dicker's youth and independence will work to her advantage. "I believe no one over 40 should go to Harrisburg as a freshman because it's a seniority-based system. Age matters," he says.
Ed Verrall, who's lived in Fishtown for 16 years, came to the neighborhood meeting concerned about the future of the waterfront. "There's no master plan for development," he asserts. "Five new towers are going up, and we're already losing access. How are they going to get a river walk around those buildings?"
After listening to the candidates, Verrall, a retired Teamster, says, "I liked them all."
Some of the city's influential political organizations are also having a tough time figuring out whom to support. Last month the Liberty City Democratic Club hotly debated whether to endorse Graboyes or Dicker. With members split down the middle-the bylaws require a 55 percent majority-the club is officially endorsing neither.
The week before the April 5 Liberty City vote Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal invited club co-chair Renee Gilinger to lunch at Famous Deli, a favorite Queen Village hangout for Democratic insiders.
Between mouthfuls of a chocolate chip cookie, he asked Gilinger to ensure no candidate in the 175th District would win the group's stamp of approval.
"Renee told him she's supporting Anne Dicker, and that she has no control over a secret ballot process," says Liberty City endorsement committee member and Dicker supporter Ray Murphy.
Segal acknowledges he and Gilinger met, but says the two only "discussed" the upcoming endorsement meeting. "I explained I'd be supporting Graboyes," he says.
Segal is close to both candidate Graboyes and her supporter Fumo. Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods-a nonprofit started by Fumo, and the subject of an ongoing FBI probe-forgave $500,000 of a loan made to Segal after fundraising for his Elton John concert flopped last Fourth of July.
"Segal tried convincing us Terry has more political experience," Murphy says, recalling the meeting. "But she's spent the past 22 years amassing a fortune, while Anne quit her job to ensure progressives win elected office."
Segal scoffs at this assessment, characterizing Dicker as a "hack tool" who lacks knowledge and character. "She organized against Iraq? Terry's been fighting since the Vietnam War."
In March Dicker met with Liberty City members, and revealed she's bisexual and had led a gay student association in college. (Dicker has been married to a University of Pennsylvania physics professor since 2000.)
Segal contends Dicker was merely pandering to the group for an endorsement. "She's a member of our community? Where's she been for the last 10 years? It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
But Liberty City's Gilinger disagrees.
"Anne is brave enough to run as an out candidate, and she deserves the support of the LGBT community," she asserts. "I'm terribly disappointed in the endorsement vote."