Less than a week after his Pennsylvania primary win, Stephen Kinsey was back on the House floor. It was a somewhat strange experience for state Rep. John Myers’ former chief-of-staff.
“After four years of being chief-of-staff and calling everybody else ‘Rep.’ and then to have these folks turn around and say, ‘Nah man, you the Rep., Steve. You won it,’ that’s a funny feeling,” said Kinsey during a recent interview in the 201st Legislative District, which covers parts of Germantown, Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane and Ogontz.
The presumptive representative-in-waiting made the familiar 100-plus mile trip as a member of a Northwest Philadelphia-based coalition that is fighting to overturn the state’s controversial Voter ID law.
Myers and state Rep. Dwight Evans were introducing a bill that calls for a complete repeal of the measure, which will require voters to present valid photo identification at the polls starting with November’s general election.
While in Harrisburg, Kinsey also had preliminary conversations about, among other things, which office he might occupy come January. It hasn’t quite hit him that he took home a victory on April 24.
“It still hasn’t sunk in just yet,” said Kinsey, who currently has no challenger for the fall.
A long-term goal
Sitting inside the Fresh Grocer on Chew Avenue in Olney, Kinsey, 53, said winning the Democratic primary has been more than two decades in the making.
Though his 2012 campaign was his first for elected office, the longtime Germantown resident said he has thought about becoming a state representative since he was in his early 20s and fresh out of school with a degree in elementary education from West Chester University.
Watching beloved state Rep. Dave Richardson in action sparked much of Kinsey’s interest in pursuing the post one day.
“Just because of the respect and the things that he was doing, that’s when I thought, ‘Wow, it’s cool to be a state rep. because you can do so much in the community,'” said Kinsey.
He became a committeeperson in the 59th Ward and president of the Duval Improvement Association shortly thereafter. He later entered the social-service arena before joining Myers’ staff, with the idea of running for office always somewhere in the back of his mind.
“It took a while,” said Kinsey with a self-deprecating smirk, “but we now have this opportunity to really make it happen.”
Boots on the ground
Kinsey’s win is, in many ways, a product of the time he spent working in the district. The hours he logged in the community while working for Myers, who is retiring after 17 years in office, were particularly valuable, he said.
Voters didn’t just know his name, but his face, his presence.
“When they see you and continue to see you, they’re like, ‘I can depend on this guy,'” he said. “You’re not going to get 100 percent [recognition] all of the time, but I think that at least 80 percent of the folks can simply say, ‘Oh yeah, I know him. I saw him or I called him, he called me back.'”
While he’s still getting used to the idea that he may spend at least the next two years as a state representative, Kinsey wasn’t surprised that he won the primary. He described his pre-primary attitude as “confident, but not cocky.”
He garnered 50 percent of the vote in a three-man race. His closest competitor, making his second stab at the seat, grabbed 42 percent.
What is his vision?
Kinsey’s overarching goal for the district is creating an office of which his constituents feel they have ownership.
As part of that effort, Kinsey said he wants to bring more folks into the fold, to make his office more inclusive. He’d like to have at least two part-time senior citizens working for him and at least one young adult, as well.
“This is not about Steve Kinsey’s office. I just want them to feel like this is ours,” said Kinsey. “It’s going to be important for us to stand together and think about what the problems are and figure out ways to address them.”
He’s doesn’t plan on wasting any time to that end.
Between now and November, Kinsey, who is currently unemployed since he had to leave the chief-of-staff job to run for office, will be out in the district listening to constituent concerns.
Though he’s got a good grasp of the district’s ongoing issues — jobs are chief among them — Kinsey said it is important to stay as current as possible. The community can’t afford to fall any farther behind, he noted.
“If jobs are an issue, you can’t wait until November or January to say, ‘Oh, we got to focus on jobs again.’ We have to do that all along. If economic development is a concern, we can’t wait until January. Public safety can’t wait until January,” said Kinsey. “You just can’t keep missing the beat with those types of things.”
Closer to the end of the month, Kinsey will have a “community appreciation party” to thank supporters, an event which will also serve as a stepping-off point for putting his message of unity into action. Everyone is invited whether you voted for him or not, he said.
Part of that message to the community will be letting residents know that they shouldn’t think of him any differently now that he’s likely to be the next state representative.
“I’m still Stephen. You can call me mister, Rep., you don’t have to call me at all,” said Kinsey. “Titles don’t mean anything to me.”