J.P. Miranda descended an escalator in the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Tuesday morning, wearing a red boutonniere on the left lapel of his grey suit that obscured a small silver pin.
The lapel pin, a gift from Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., was a temporary placeholder: Despite his formal swearing-in as state representative being moments away, Miranda had yet to secure the metal identifier issued to state officials from the chief clerk’s office.
It was the least of his worries.
In the days leading up to the inauguration, Miranda had both come down with the flu and contracted an infection in his mouth, a result of recent oral surgery that ultimately necessitated a trip to Hahnemann University Hospital.
But despite lingering nausea and the need to take antibiotics six times a day, the spirits of the 27-year-old freshman Democrat from the 197th Legislative District weren’t diminished.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I knew I would get here – I didn’t know it would be this soon.”
A focus on service
Along with 28 other newly-elected state representatives, Miranda was sworn into office on Tuesday morning in Harrisburg. The end result of a difficult primary race early in 2012 and an unopposed contest in November’s general election, Miranda is among the youngest elected officials in the state legislature.
While untested in elective office, Miranda boasts a background in both city and state politics, having served as a legislative aide under Fifth District Councilman Darrell Clarke and as a community liaison for State Senator Shirley Kitchen.
“I came in as a significant underdog, but I never viewed myself as one,” he said of his initial bid. To support this belief, the North Philadelphia resident pointed to his first-hand experience with the people of his district and his knowledge of the issues that faced them.
Out on the stump, the candidate recalled his exchanges with the public at rallies and meetings blossoming in an “organic and genuine” fashion, which he felt helped bring him to victory, despite a disadvantageous financial position during the primary campaign.
Contrasting his successes at the polls, Miranda was insistent that his victory is more about service than self.
“This is an opportunity,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about what I do over the next couple of years, and I feel up to the task.”
Education as a top priority
At the outset of his inaugural term, education is the number one priority for Miranda. And, as the William Penn High School alumnus observed, “Who better than someone who graduated nine years ago and has an informed and realistic vantage point?”
Relating that his district alone faces six school closures, Miranda predicted that education will probably be his defining issue in his first term, and that he plans to tackle it head on.
Buttressing this stance is the belief that education is not only a tool of empowerment for both individuals and communities, but that it can have a mitigating impact on the violence that affects neighborhoods within his district.
There are also practical concerns with regard to school closures: Referencing truancy and dropout rates, Miranda asked, “You want to make it more difficult for young people to get to school?”
While he plans to address the matter through the allocation of state resources through the budgetary process, he plans to work with community residents to harness their feelings into action.
“If the community comes out to speak and fight for their school, it gives me the ability to work on their behalf,” he said.
Securing district boundaries
While community partnerships are an important ingredient in Miranda’s message, the communities he serves could be dramatically altered.
At present, Miranda’s district includes most of East Falls and much of North Philadelphia west of Broad St. However, under the plan adopted by the state’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission in 2012, the 197th would essentially flip to the east side of Broad St., with the 194th District picking up the majority of Northwest Philadelphia.
Asked for the status of redistricting and his response, Miranda said that he has joined over a dozen other legislators opposing the plan, and that the case is currently in the hands of the state’s supreme court.
Calling the process “unjust,” Miranda observed that the plan, when implemented, would remove the ability of the public to hold their elected representative accountable.
“I want to ensure that the 197th is in East Falls, as it should be,” he said.
And, while he tries to secure the boundaries of his district, Miranda plans to retain high visibility in the hillside neighborhood, with a district office planned to open in coming weeks at the intersection of Ridge and Midvale avenues, complementing his primary office at the intersection of 15th St. and Cecil B. Moore Ave.
“I want to start off on the right foot by being accessible and available,” he said.
Learning by doing
Within his own party, Miranda’s footprint is already visible: He is on the executive board of the 22-member Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, serving alongside newly minted Rep. Stephen Kinsey from Northwest Philadelphia’s 201st District.
“I’m grateful that my colleagues endorsed me,” said Miranda, “and put that trust in my ability to hit the ground running, and not be overwhelmed.”
And while new legislators receive a few days of orientation to become familiar with their new surroundings, Miranda’s more experienced colleagues agreed that the best way to learn is by doing.
With 11 swearing-in ceremonies under her belt, Rosita Youngblood (D-198) recalled that because she was ushered into office as a result of a special mid-year election, no orientation was available to her.
She was, however, the recipient of practical – and terse – advice from a wizened colleague: “Sit down and vote,” Youngblood deadpanned.
Pam DeLissio, the 194th District Democrat entering her second term in office, concurred with the immediacy of this methodology.
“You have to jump in with both feet immediately,” she said, suggesting that pro-activity was the path to legislative success.
With his state-issued lapel pin now in hand – it was retrieved just moments before the chief clerk’s office closed for business – it remains to be seen whether the ornament will adorn Miranda’s jacket two years hence.
As one legislative staffer remarked in Harrisburg on Tuesday, “Re-election starts right now.”