Residents in parts of west and southwest Philadelphia as well as nearby Darby will head to the polls Tuesday to pick a new state representative.
The race to replace the disgraced Rep. Ron Waters in the 191st Legislative District in one of three special elections set for this week, and it pits an aide to a local political veteran against two outsiders seeking to shake up the system.
The Democratic party’s endorsed candidate is Joanna McClinton, an attorney and former public defender who later served as head counsel to state Sen. Anthony Williams. She says she agrees with her former boss about many things, but not everything.
“Vouchers is something I would not be able to support,” McClinton said. “He has 250,000 constituents he’s represents. I’m seeking votes from 60,000. Much smaller community, where folks go to schools right around here…and they’re not getting these scholarships. So it’s not fair for me to support something that doesn’t have a major impact on the everyday child.”
McClinton faces opposition from both the Republican Party and an independent challenger. The GOP’s candidate is Charles Wilkins Jr., an Iraq veteran, small business owner and newcomer to electoral politics. He believes that coming from the party that controls the legislature would put him in the best position to find money improve schools, expand job programs, and spruce up what he thinks could be the jewel of the community, Cobbs Creek Park.
“If you looked at how 30th Street Station looks, with the LED lights and the pavements…that’s what I want to bring back,” he said. “I want people to feel safe to run [in] Cobbs Creek…bring back the beauty.”
The final candidate is Tracey Gordon, a veteran block captain and community activist who’s officially listed as part of the “Tracey Gordon Party,” but who told voters at a recent community forum that if elected she’d support the Democratic party. She said she learned how to deal with Harrisburg when she was fighting the “stop-and-go” beer shops many consider neighborhood nuisances.
“We invited the state legislators down and they could not believe how they were conducting business,” she said. “That’s how we got the seating and the bathrooms…People are not going to feel our pain unless they experience it for themselves.”
Gordon has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women (NOW). Her career in public service hit a speed bump in 2012 when she was fined for taking part in political activity while serving deputy city commissioner for taking part in political activity on the job — specifically, for using her Facebook page to advocate against proposed Voter ID laws. She was ultimately fined $675 for the violation.
She told a community forum in West Philadelphia that hers was an inadvertent mistake, and that a lesson from that experience was to “know the rules.”
Gordon and Wilkins both know they face an uphill fight in a district where the Democratic party has an overwhelming registration advantage over Republicans and independents. But they’re hoping that by knocking on doors and meeting voters at community events, they’ll win enough support to prevail in an election that could turn on just a few hundred ballots.
Last week a similar 3-way special election in Delaware County was decided by about 500 votes. In that race, a Republican ran as an independent allowing a Democrat to take a seat that had been held by the GOP. The race in the 191st was made necessary when Rep. Waters pleaded guilty in 2014 to taking $8,750 in bribes. Waters was sentenced to 23 months of probation and required to resign his seat. There is a second special election Tuesday also spurred by a resignation from the same sting operation.