Monica Yant Kinney: Philadelphia's Brothers Boyle: Outsiders who made it in

Philadelphia's Kevin and Brendan Boyle (right) will make history asthe first siblings to serve simultaneously in the Pennsylvania House.
Philadelphia's Kevin and Brendan Boyle (right) will make history asthe first siblings to serve simultaneously in the Pennsylvania House.
Posted: November 14, 2010

As a rowhouse kid in Olney, Kevin Boyle begged for bunk beds in the room he shared with his older brother, Brendan. But their mother rejected the request, terrified her boys would fall and get hurt.

Imagine, then, the fear consuming Eileen Boyle now that both of her sons are swimming the treacherous waters of Pennsylvania politics.

Democratic State Rep. Brendan Boyle, 33, got smacked around the polls twice before convincing voters in 2008 that he was a reformer the legislature needed. Fellow Democrat Kevin Boyle, 30, just ousted former House Speaker John Perzel, a victory made sweeter since Kevin had been shunned by the political machine.

Come January, the Brothers Boyle will make history as the first siblings to serve simultaneously in the Pennsylvania House. (A state archivist confirmed the feat, noting that the Costa family has one brother in the House and one in the Senate.)

The Boyles are as excited as their foes are unmoved. Political insiders hate nothing more than ambitious upstarts who bust down the door and invite other unsanctioned idealists to follow.

"Unfortunately, in Philadelphia's political culture, if you're young, educated, and want to work hard, you're seen as a threat," Brendan says. "That discourages people. We, as a city, pay a price for that."

All in the family

They grew up at Third and Champlost Streets, the sons of Irish immigrants who gained union cards but never lost their brogue. Francis Boyle works in maintenance for SEPTA; Eileen is a crossing guard.

The brothers cite their education at Cardinal Dougherty High with pushing them to imagine the unimaginable.

"If I had gone to Olney High," says Kevin, a charter school proponent, "I wouldn't be here today."

Brendan turned down a full ride to La Salle for Notre Dame, his only regret being that "I'm still paying off my loans." Kevin pleased his folks by going to La Salle, "just 1.8 miles from home."

In 2002, the brothers became roommates again, in grad school at Harvard - Brendan studying public policy, Kevin education policy. There, in a sweltering third-floor apartment, they talked about how cool it would be to replicate Georgia's vaunted HOPE scholarship program as a way to help smart Pennsylvanians attend college in Pennsylvania.

"Good ideas are meaningless," Kevin thought, "if you don't have anybody to go to bat for them."

A club of their own

In 2004, Brendan took on Republican incumbent George Kenney in the 170th Legislative District, which stretches from Bustleton to Abington in Montgomery County.

"I didn't know who the ward leaders were, so I got a pamphlet from the Committee of Seventy and started calling," Brendan recalls. "One of them asked, 'Whose candidate are you?' I said, 'I guess my mom's.' "

"No one knew who we were. No one thought we could win. That was actually a benefit. We built our own campaign, made our own name."

In February, Kevin quit his job for City Council to make his own run in the 172d District. His motivation? Disgust that Perzel presumed he'd be reelected after being indicted.

But Democrats long ago ceded Northeast Philly to the GOP. As Kevin gained traction, his own party withdrew its endorsement, wiping his name from sample ballots.

"They tried to punish us for not being beholden," Kevin laments. "But my best ward was a ward where I wasn't on the ballot."

"Voters," Brendan chimes in, "are much smarter than [the political machine] gives them credit for."

As we talk in the food court at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue - a far cry from the see-and-be-seen Palm - neither Boyle seems focused on popularity or power. They may even share offices to save taxpayers money and plot shared crusades like the scholarship program they hope to leave as their legacy.

Since the neighboring legislators are practically each other's constituents, the brothers vow to keep an eye on each other. Thanks to gerrymandering, Kevin says with a laugh, "my neighbor's backyard is in Brendan's district."


Reach me at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670. Visit my Web page and connect on Facebook and Twitter at philly.com/kinney.

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