State Rep. candidates face off at East Falls civic-group meeting

The incumbent and her challenger squared off on a variety of issues at a candidates’ forum held on Monday night in East Falls.

State Rep. Pam DeLissio and David Henderson, her foe in the upcoming Democratic primary, accounted for their pasts and addressed future policies at an event sponsored by the East Falls Community Council.

Redistricting alters borders

The contested territory is the 194th state legislative district, which currently includes sections of Northwest Philadelphia and Lower Merion.

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In January, the 194th is poised to absorb a larger segment of East Falls due to a state reapportionment initiative passed several years ago.

Forum moderator George Matysik observed that only one-eighth of residents in a legislative district typically participate in primary elections.

“[The primary] really matters,” Matysik said. “An entire community like East Falls can really turn an election like this one way or the other.”

Their stories

Vying for a majority of those votes on May 20 are two candidates with disparate backgrounds.

Currently in her second term, DeLissio was first elected in 2010 after working in health-care management for several decades. She serves on the aging, rural affairs, health and human services committees in the State House.

Henderson, a graduate of Roxborough High School, attended West Point and served in the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has garnered the endorsements of the 21st and 38th Wards.

In their opening remarks, both stressed the importance of education in their respective campaigns.

Noting the disparity between the Lower Merion and the Philadelphia school districts, DeLissio cited the need “to deliver consistent educational products” to residents, regardless of income level.

Henderson said that his campaign was based on four “E’s,” which consisted of local education and economic concerns, along with statewide issues of equality and energy policy.

Queries for the candidates

Given the opportunity to ask questions of the two candidates, residents focused on practical aspects of politics.

Asked about her willingness to work with members of opposing political parties, DeLissio replied that “her favorite place is the middle.”

She explained that she has developed relationship with colleagues regardless of party affiliation and goes out of her way to understand opposing viewpoints.

Henderson pointed to his work with the campaign of City Commissioner Al Schmidt and his endorsement from Councilman-at-large David Oh, both of whom are Republicans.

“Neither party has a perfect solution,” he said. “The perfect solution, the happy medium, lies somewhere in between.”

Regarding efforts currently underway to reduce the size of the state house, both DeLissio and Henderson indicated a willingness to, in the words of one EFCC member, “vote themselves out of a job.”

One point of contention

While in agreement on these two issues, the subject of endorsements resulted in an unscripted moment.

Asked how he received the twin endorsements of the 21st and 38th Wards, Henderson said that they came about by working closely with members at various events. He did not detail specifics.

DeLissio hinted at something darker in her experience with local ward leadership.

Prior to her election in 2010, DeLissio recalled being invited to speak with the executive committee of the 21st Ward, and was asked to engage in tasks that she described as being “immoral, unethical and illegal.”

She did not elaborate further.

In addition to various primary elections, local voters will be asked on May 20 to consider three ballot questions and participate in a special election for the councilperson-at-large vacancy caused by Bill Green’s appointment to the School Reform Commission.

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