District 172: One year later, how neighborhoods are affected by new leadership

This is a follow-up story to our  coverage in “District 172: The Politics of Change after State Rep. John Perzel,” a collaborative effort with Philadelphia Neighborhoods funded by J-Lab.

If any assumption was ever made about the Northeast, by any Philadelphian, it would be its position as a younger brother to Center City Philadelphia, not unlike Philadelphia in comparison with New York. However, Mayfair Civic Association President Joe DeFelice said that was an image his neighborhood aimed to defy.

One year ago, after and extreme fundraising effort, DeFelice met with NEast Philly to discuss the renovation and reopening of the Mayfair Memorial Playground. At the time, Mayfair was struggling with the recent political changes caused by the indictment of Pennsylvania House 172nd District’s Rep. John Perzel. The indictment, coupled with a downturned economy, forced the district into a difficult era.

State grants, which were freely given in previous years, dried up. Pennsylvania voted in a Republican governor and a Republican majority who created serious budgetary constraints. In the 172nd District freshman Rep. Kevin Boyle was elected in 2010.

“I think Kevin is trying, but he is a freshman Democrat in a significant minority,” DeFelice said. “Kevin just can’t wield the clout that John [Perzel] once did, so the community has had to get more creative in the way that we do things.”

That was where DeFelice and company defied odds. Mayfair saw community activism unparalleled in many other Northeast neighborhoods. A combined effort from Mayfair community organizations brought about positive changes and strengthened the local voice.

“Rather than relying on the elected officials, the neighbors have decided to rely on themselves,” DeFelice said. “At the time when the article was written last year, we did not have a playground. It took lobbying international corporations, the school district to allow us to build…these are things we would have relied on elected officials for.”

But the 172nd District was always bigger than Mayfair, though the neighborhood was arguably impacted most by Perzel’s financial influence and subsequent loss. Neighbors from Fox Chase and Holmesburg, among others, were impacted, as well.

Those neighbors turned to each other and their new representative. Boyle, a Northeast native, described his passion for the district and said he was committed to his constituents. However, many residents across the district see Boyle’s leadership differently.

Gina O’Rourke, owner of Fox Chase’s In The Loop Café, said Boyle’s office spoke with her several times over the past year.

“I talked to Jeff [Dempsey] of Boyle’s office about putting in a child’s crossing sign on the corner,” O’Rourke said. “And if the men that work for him are any indication, then they seem very helpful.”

Fred Moore, president of the Holmesburg Civic Association also said Boyle was a positive influence in the district.

“I can only say that Kevin Boyle has done a better job,” Moore said. “Perzel did nothing for Holmesburg. Kevin has risen to the occasion.”

In the video below, Boyle and Taubenberger discuss leadership in the 172nd Legislative District.

While some residents were receptive to another Boyle win in November, others were uncertain that any change had occurred in the past year, claiming Boyle was inactive.

Sally Danciu of Fox Chase’s Sally’s Flowers explained that she saw no change in the past year, believing that Boyle was still getting his feet wet – a reaction others had, as well.

“I think it would be unfair to compare Kevin Boyle to Former State Rep. John Perzel because of Perzel’s many years of working in state government,” said Ken Warner of the Fox-Rok Athletic Association.

The Fox Chase Home Owner’s Association, as well as its Town Watch, was unavailable for comment.

Al Taubenberger, Boyle’s Republican opponent in the upcoming November election, disagreed with any notion Boyle had done positively in the past year. His plans, upon election, are to further include the community in decisions, beginning with monthly meetings.

“The representation that was there for 30 years is no longer there,” Taubenberger said. “Not as far as the interaction with community groups and that sort of thing.”

DeFelice’s experience has proven different than what Taubenberger noted.

“When [Boyle] can, he has been receptive,” DeFelice said. “At every one of our civic meetings there’s a representative from his office there.”

Whatever happens in November, the 172nd District will still be in the hands of a relatively unseasoned representative. But the ripple of the corruption scandal helped spread a positive mindset and new ideas within the district, giving the neighborhoods new momentum.

“We have a Thanksgiving parade that they took off the avenue because of budget crunch,” DeFelice said, “but a bunch of our neighbors got together – like Donny Smith, Lisa Greco, and Kevin Leonard of our board- and said, ‘No, we’re putting this back on the avenue.’ And we had the best turn out in recent memory.”

DeFelice said Mayfair’s community groups are changing the neighborhood, and the district, for the better.

“We’re not the Mayfair of the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s,” he said. “We need to be more progressive when looking toward the future.”

Erin Dungee is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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