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A spotlight on Northeast politics

January 28, 2015
In The News

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.