J.P. Miranda: 197th District voters ‘just felt my campaign was right’

In the hours after he won the 197th District state-representative primary this week, J.P. Miranda was fired up. About the harassing phone calls he said he received during the day. About the fact that his direct opposition – Jewel Williams – was perceived to be reliant on voters confusing her name with her father Jewell’s, who held the seat until he was sworn in as sheriff this year.

“This was truly a David vs. Goliath situation,” he said around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. “The most ridiculous, egregious thing you could see, calling my phone repeatedly, saying disrespectful things to me. It gives politicians a bad name.”

By Thursday afternoon, however, the 26-year-old likely state-representative-to-be said he had put it all behind him.

Miranda said he was sure he would win once the nominating petitions were filed, but carrying 40 percent of the vote in a five-candidate race tends to bolster a candidate’s confidence, especially when the favorite didn’t break 34 percent.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As he sat inside the Progress Plaza Fresh Grocer at Broad and Oxford streets, Miranda talked about several topics.

His upbringing.

How he got into politics in the first place.

The challenges of trying to complete studies at West Chester University while campaigning.

And, what he hopes to accomplish in a district which covers North and North Central Philadelphia including Allegheny West, West Kensington, Fairhill, Hunting Park, Tioga, Feltonville and portions of East Falls, with specific thoughts about the latter neighborhood’s needs.

In his blood

Miranda, who hopes to complete his political-science studies at West Chester this summer, recalled his single mother Patricia raising six children, himself included. She was a committee person. When Miranda was 12, he remembers going door-to-door at election time “everywhere from projects to nicer places,” and meeting a slew of elected officials.

They ranged from then-Mayor John Street to state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, City Council President Darrell Clarke and current Mayor Michael Nutter, the latter three with which he ended up working with later in life.

“Politics fathered me,” he said.

Attending William Penn High School, he participated in an afterschool program called City Wide in which attorneys would help students conduct mock trials and mentors would instill life lessons.

Through a $150 monthly stipend, they were taught the financial responsibility that urges them not to fritter it all away on new sneakers and the like.

“Whatever I had, I managed it, I knew what percentage of income was being spent,” he said. “Thousands of dollars, I saved. Ended up spending a lot of it on rims, low Perelli tires for my car, which I ended up selling. That program really taught me a lot.”

Those lessons extended to public speaking and how to conduct oneself professionally. The program and political experience “was a savior, a guiding light.”

Juggling school and campaign

Miranda broke down what a normal Wednesday looked like while he was campaigning in the race:

8 a.m.: Drive from Philadelphia to West Chester University.

9-10 a.m.: Class

10-11 a.m.: Making calls for volunteers to canvass the district on Saturday.

11 a.m.- 12 p.m.: Back in class.

12 – 1 p.m.: Drive from West Chester to Philadelphia.

1-3 p.m.: Door-to-door canvassing.

3-4 p.m.: Drive back to West Chester

4-7 p.m.: Back to class

7-8 p.m.: Drive back to Philadelphia.

8-10 p.m.: Finding potential voters with which to share his message.

He looked back at the constituent-services role he played in Clarke’s office as providing formative lessons, namely with his involvement in the Avenue North project.

His confidence that he’d win the race stemmed from a door-to-door approach with which he connected with voters and a performance at the East Falls Community Council meeting at which he realized he was the only candidate who knew about any of the issues important to that neighborhood.

The fact that Williams would not debate him, only engaging in appearances where candidates offered stand-alone speeches, further boosted his confidence.

Miranda said he made a point not to take donations from politicians “because I wanted to show I could stand on my own two” feet.

Continued progress on MCP site

When Miranda was asked about what he hoped to do for East Falls, his thoughts went to the Youth Study Center, which is slated to close on Henry Avenue when its West Philadelphia location is complete.

Located at 3232 Henry Ave., the youth-incarceration facility sits near the Falls Center, which features a café, a Philadelphia University dormitory, a gym and a soon-to-open bowling alley. In other words, land once occupied by the now-shuttered Medical College of Pennsylvania is being revitalized, and that needs to continue.

Miranda noted that the site is state land, and continuing growth there would spur economic development which, in turn, creates jobs. He would fight for state funding.

“If that [Youth Study Center] is left to dilapidate,” he said, “it’s going to hurt everyone.”

As for his other issues, Miranda noted that the Florida gun-permit loophole is of major interest since “criminals are very informed. They know all they need is a money order and they got it. We can make an impact, make sure that people who have no business having a gun don’t.”

What now?

Just hours after Miranda won the 197th District race, he was back in his car. After all, he had class at 9 a.m.

“I got standing ovations in each classroom,” he said proudly.

Moving forward to the primary election and beyond, Miranda said he will work to “make sure the 197th comes out for President Obama and get people registered to vote in the face of a flagrant [Voter ID law] attack. We’ll get vans to take seniors and others to PennDOT.”

He looked back with pride at what he and his supporters accomplished this week.

“This campaign really united North Philadelphia, really united East Falls,” he said. “They just felt my campaign was right in the face of tremendous opposition.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal