Left-wing challenger Nikil Saval announces bid to unseat Pa. Sen. Larry Farnese

The ward leader plans to campaign as a progressive Democratic alternative in the district encompassing Center City and South and Southwest Philly.  (Courtesy of Nikil Saval and Sen. Larry Farnese)

The ward leader plans to campaign as a progressive Democratic alternative in the district encompassing Center City and South and Southwest Philly. (Courtesy of Nikil Saval and Sen. Larry Farnese)

Second District ward leader Nikil Saval will kick off a challenge this weekend for control of Pennsylvania’s First State Senate District, the seat currently held by Sen. Larry Farnese.

A published author who has been deeply involved with the left-wing political group Reclaim Philadelphia, Saval plans to campaign as a more progressive alternative to establishment Democrats in a district that sprawls from Center City to South and Southwest Philadelphia.

“More and more people are engaged. More and more people recognize the crises that we face on climate, housing, criminal justice, education, care,” Saval said. “These are things no one is willing to wait on because, frankly … we don’t have time.”

Saval said he would launch his campaign at South Philly’s Hawthorne Park on Sunday.

The Queen Village resident had previously volunteered with the progressive group/labor union UNITE Here and Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. He said his candidacy could boost turnout among voters who had tuned out from status quo politics by placing a higher priority on issues such as housing assistance and criminal justice reform. As city Democrats’ first Asian American ward leader, Saval believes he could better represent an increasingly diverse district.

He would not be the first insurgent Democrat in recent years –– and others have already triumphed over party favorites.

Saval himself is a product of attempts to replace ward leaders with more progressive candidates. In 2018, former WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler captured South Philly’s 184th State House District. And progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner won over a crowded field of contenders in 2017 with support from groups like Reclaim Philadelphia.

This year, longtime City Councilmember Jannie Blackwell lost to Jamie Gauthier, who ran a campaign focused on housing and environmental issues. Later, council candidate Kendra Brooks ran as a member of the left-wing Working Families Party and picked up a seat reserved for non-majority political parties, despite threats from city Democratic Party chair Bob Brady to “expel” officials who supported her candidacy.

In a statement Friday night, Dave Mellet, a campaign adviser for Farnese, said, “Senator Farnese is the original progressive leader in South Philly. No one has fought as hard for as long as he has to reform our criminal justice system, clean up local government, protect a woman’s right to choose, invest in our communities, and secure equal rights for our LGBTQ community. He has always been a progressive — well before it was politically convenient. What’s more, he’s actually delivering progressive results for us right now in Harrisburg and that’s exactly what he’s going to keep doing.”

The Democratic Primary is set for April 28, 2020.

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