A spotlight on Northeast politics
By Tom Waring, Northeast Times
Over the years, the Northeast’s political and government fortunes have changed.
There have been times when some local public officials carried a lot of clout.
And there have been times when area lawmakers wielded little power.
Today, things appear to be on the upswing.
Last week, Somerton’s Mike Stack, who served 14 years as a state senator, was sworn in as lieutenant governor.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff is Katie McGinty, a Rhawnhurst native and St. Hubert High School graduate who served as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection and ran for governor last year.
Also in Harrisburg, Republicans are in firm control of the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives, giving Reps. John Taylor and Tom Murt, the only two GOP lawmakers representing Philadelphia, a big say on city issues in the legislature.
Taylor and Murt are hoping to add a third member on March 24, when a special election will be held to fill the vacant 170th Legislative District seat. Republican Martina White has a shot to win a three-way race that also features a Democrat and an independent.
Democrats have little hope of capturing majorities in the state Senate and House until the next redistricting. Democratic Sen. Tina Tartaglione is the only senator representing the Northeast, since Stack resigned on Jan. 20 to become lieutenant governor.
In the House, Democratic Reps. Mark Cohen and Dwight Evans have been in office a combined 75 years and once served in leadership, but no more.
The other local Democratic state representatives — Kevin Boyle, Mike Driscoll, John Sabatina Jr. and Jason Dawkins — have much less seniority. Sabatina has been in office since 2006, but he’s running for Stack’s former Senate seat. Boyle was elected in 2010, and Driscoll and Dawkins took office earlier this month.
Still, Democrats now have one of their own, Tom Wolf, in the governor’s mansion. And Evans was an early supporter of Wolf, endorsing him a year ago when few gave the wealthy businessman and former secretary of the state Department of Revenue much of a shot to win the party nomination, not to mention oust an incumbent Republican governor.
House Republicans could look to work with Driscoll, a moderate Democrat, on some issues.
Driscoll’s top issue seems to be finding a funding formula for public education in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
“I want to be at the table as we create this formula,” he said.
Driscoll also plans to work with City Councilman Bobby Henon on his manufacturing initiative. And he wants to see long-delayed development along the Delaware River.
The new legislator expects to work with federal representatives to find resources to help his district and the Northeast. He believes U.S. Rep. Bob Brady will be helpful because of his seniority and sees newly elected Rep. Brendan Boyle as someone who can be effective right away.
Then there’s Driscoll’s longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Driscoll once worked in the administration of the late Gov. Bob Casey Sr.
Those federal officials, Driscoll said, can be very helpful in securing money for mass transit, bridge repairs and train station improvements in a massive transportation bill.
In general, Driscoll wants to see neighborhood preservation and rebirth, like what’s happening in Northern Liberties and Fishtown. Riverfront development can be a catalyst.
“Keep your eye on the Tacony and Holmesburg area,” he said.
At the city level, some saw City Controller Alan Butkovitz, of Castor Gardens, as having a chance to become the first mayor from the Northeast since Edwin H. Fitler, who served from 1887-91. Butkovitz, though, declined to run in this year’s election.
In City Council, Northeast residents Brian O’Neill, Bobby Henon and Denny O’Brien seem entrenched. Ed Neilson, who won a special election last year, will be seeking a full four-year term this year.
In the U.S. House, which is dominated by Republicans, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle represents about 70 percent of the Northeast, with fellow Democrat Bob Brady representing the rest.
“I’m a Philadelphian and a Northeast guy,” said Boyle, of Somerton. “I will unapologetically fight for Philadelphia, the Northeast and Pennsylvania.”
Specifically, Boyle will look to fund SEPTA and improvements to roads and bridges.
“That’s absolutely an area I will be focusing on,” he said.
Boyle, who served six years as a state representative, believes Tom Wolf will be a good governor, describing him as an intellectual who is savvy in business and public policy. He applauds Wolf’s hiring of Katie McGinty as chief of staff.
Boyle will work with Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr. and other Philadelphia-area House members on regional issues, especially now that the economy finally seems to be improving and tax revenue is increasing.
The congressman hopes the federal government can find a way to help fund the hiring of police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
In addition, he sees the value of reinvesting in commercial corridors like the ones on Frankford, Bustleton and Rising Sun avenues.
“That can help kick-start other exciting projects,” he said.