District 172: Does the Perzel Center need a name change?

This is part of ongoing coverage in “District 172: The Politics of Change after State Rep. John Perzel,” a collaborative effort with Philadelphia Neighborhoods funded by J-Lab.

Bob Dillon may look rusty, but the 68-year-old pitcher says he still has a lot of fight left.

He and his teammates workout at the John M. Perzel Community Center every winter Friday to warm up for the Philadelphia Senior Softball League season.

“We’ve been coming here for a couple of years now,” Dillon said. But other residents say they shouldn’t have a community center named after a politician indicted under corruption charges.

The community center on the corner of St. Vincent and Battersby streets was named after former Rep. John Perzel when it was built in 2006. But Perzel is now out on bail facing corruption charges. The former House speaker was indicted in November 2009 of misusing taxpayer funds.

Michael Dool, a resident of Mayfair, said no public building should be named after a politician. He said the practice exists in all areas throughout the country and it needs to stop.

“It kind of promotes an environment where politicians are fostering pork-barrel spending just for self-promotion,” Dool said. “A title like Northeast Community Center would be fine.”

Rachel Conrad, a local mother of two children, also said the facility’s name was  an issue even if the building benefits people in the area.

“I think [the organizers] should change it,” Conrad said.

Recreational district manager of lower Northeast Philadelphia Art Comas would not comment on the building’s name.

Cathy Balsley said organizers should not change anything about the John M. Perzel Community Center, including the name, as it still serves as an effective focal point for public gatherings since it was built.

“It’s something for the kids to do,” Balsley said. “They have a place for their sporting events and after school programs.”

She said the building was also convenient for senior citizens because it’s a short drive for them to meet each other. “It’s their safe haven to talk to other people,” Balsley said.

None of the members of the A’s softball team commented on the John M. Perzel Community Center’s name. Dillon said his workouts at the center are great for his back. The pitcher had a spinal disk replaced last August.

“Part of my therapy is getting ready for the season,” Dillon said.

Dillon said he is confident his arm will be ready for his team’s first season game this April as he routinely walks and stretches around the center’s basketball gym.

The A’s will play at the baseball fields by Linden and Torresdale avenues.

Perzel will likely go to court this fall, as his jury selection was pushed back to August. Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis approved a motion to give Perzel’s legal team more time to review evidence against him. Perzel lost a re-election bid last November against Kevin Boyle, who now represents the 172nd District.

Perzel held the 172nd district House seat for more than 30 years.

Ian Romano is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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