East Falls voters will help decide two state-rep races in a single district

If you run into a 197th legislative district voter, cut them some slack if they seem a bit confused in advance of next Tuesday’s voting prospects.

In the Democratic primary, the names they will see from which to choose include Jamil Ali, Jose P. Miranda, Kenneth Walker and Jewel Williams.

As to the latter, they might think that Williams is the incumbent. However, there is no incumbent since Williams’ similarly named father Jewell vacated the seat to become the county sheriff.

Beyond that one-letter confusion, which has prompted some of the opposition toward claims of election shenanigans, voters will be faced with a second ballot in the 197th race.

A special election and a primary

In the 197th District special election, three candidates are vying to fill Jewell Williams’ seat until November, when the winner of the primary will face Republican Steve Crum for a full term in the state House of Representatives.

One of them is Democratic Party-endorsed ward leader Gary Williams, who started in the primary race but was relegated to the special election because of nominating-petition issues. The other? “Independent Democrat” T. Milton Street Sr., who also pulled out of the primary last month.

The 197th District covers North and North Central Philadelphia including Allegheny West, West Kensington, Fairhill, Hunting Park, Tioga, Feltonville and portions of East Falls.

Neither Williams nor Street bothered pretending that they knew much about the issues important to East Falls voters when interviewed about the race this week.

Williams said he attended a meeting regarding the St. Bridget’s school closing to hear voters out; Street noted that he had someone researching for hot-button issues there and that he had plans to campaign in the neighborhood before the primary. (Attempts to reach Crum for an interview were unsuccessful Monday).

Milton’s pitch

On Friday, Street – former state legislator, mayoral candidate and former-mayoral brother – was campaigning at the corner of 22nd and Cambria streets.

His two-person campaign team, half of which was his namesake son, distributed “labor donated” flyers which read, in part, “Stop Gov. Corbett’s Budget Cuts. We Need A Fighter!”

On his mind was some illegal “toxic dumping” he’d heard was going on a few blocks away. Also, he mentioned disparities in education funding that saw the city “lose $1,300 per student while Radnor only lost $35.”

But Street’s primary message, in a part of North Philadelphia he considered his “stronghold,” was how he wanted to go to Harrisburg to raise holy heck about the controversial Voter ID law.

“We have to take a stand. There is a line in the sand that you can’t cross, and that Voter ID is it,” he told a potential voter. “You’ve been voting in the same place for 20 years and now someone’s going to tell you that you can’t vote? Remember Rosa Parks?”

Responded the voter, “Oh yeah, I remember Rosa Parks.”

“So many senior citizens I’ve talked to don’t have a birth certificate,” Street said. “We need someone who can go up to Harrisburg and take a stand on some of these issues.”

Voter ID, he continued, “is about Barack Obama, getting him out of office. If it wasn’t, why not just wait until 2013 to do it? They’re trying to keep the vote down, because [Mitt] Romney can will win Pennsylvania if they do, that’s why. We don’t care what they say. Republicans in rural parts of the state will vote with or without ID. I’m not crazy. This is about inner-city black folks, period.”

Williams’ platform

Williams is a ward leader who lives near Temple University, on North Sydenham Street. He said he doesn’t have a campaign website or landline, but takes his mobile phone when he’s out campaigning. He took a break Monday to call NewsWorks and talk about his campaign.

It boils down to job development; namely, partnering with places like his secondary-education neighbor “to get students, kids good jobs around here.” Also, Williams said he wants to go to Harrisburg to help make “decent, affordable housing” available in the district.

Williams has worked in the City Council offices of Darrell Clarke and Street’s brother John as well as performing constituent services duties for former state Rep. Frank Oliver and successor Michelle Brownlee, a position he resigned to seek office.

He agreed with Milton Street’s Voter ID concerns.

“Oh yes, oh yes, that’s a big issue,” Williams said. “They’re trying to take us back to the fifties, c’mon.”

About East Falls

Regarding East Falls, Williams deemed himself “a blank slate, I will just listen to the issues and be where it is they need me to be.”

Street noted that it’s a diverse district. There are parts of the 197th District that, when compared with East Falls, “have a more intense need from a community activist point of view. Part of this job is legislative, and part is community activist.”

He said, however, that he would field concerns from residents from all parts of the district.

What makes Street run?

Regarding his special-election competition, Williams was “just curious as to why he’s running. They [Republicans] would hit him with the same stuff. He has too much baggage, so he wouldn’t be able to get anything done in Harrisburg.”

When asked to respond, Street said that “some comments are so bizarre that they’re not worth responding to.” He thought about it for a few seconds. Then, he responded anyway.

“I had the same baggage when I got 41 percent of the vote in the district when I ran for mayor on $15,000,” he said. “You can send a dog up to Harrisburg and they’d let him on the floor to bark. It’s up to the voters to decide who they send.”

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