The House Can Be A Home

Damon Roberts
Damon Roberts
Posted: April 20, 2012

VOTERS IN state House districts in South Philly and Northeast Philly may find Tuesday's primary election ballots a bit confusing.

In the 186th District in South Philadelphia, former state Rep. Harold James is running in a Democratic special election to complete the term of former state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, who resigned in January to become a City Council member.

James, who lost his seat to Johnson in 2008 after 10 two-year terms, is not running in the primary election to serve in the position in the next term. If he defeats Republican Barbara Hankinson in the special election, James will serve just six months in the General Assembly.

It's Jordan Harris, a former teacher who most recently ran the city's Youth Commission, who is a clear front-runner in the primary for the full two-year term because he has the backing of both Johnson and James. Harris also came up in the political camp of state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who is backing his run.

"Having these two folks who have come before and held the seat is definitely a great thing," Harris said Thursday.

James, expected to win the special election, said that he decided to drop off the primary ballot so that he could spend the rest of Johnson's term serving as a political mentor to Harris.

That comes as a disappointment to a former office volunteer for James, public high school teacher Timothy Hannah, who lost a bid for the seat in 2010 and a run for the U.S. House in 2000.

"I think it was a very unfair deal," Hannah said of the James endorsement for Harris.

Attorney Damon Roberts is also seeking the seat. Roberts lost a 2007 bid for City Council's 2nd District and ran again for that seat in 2011 but dropped his campaign before the primary.

169th District

In the 169th District, in Northeast Philly, the shadow of legislative reapportionment plays a heavy role in the Republican primary election. A state plan to redraw the lines of legislative districts moved the seat late last year to York County. But the Supreme Court rejected that plan, forcing a do-over on the lines.

That placed the 169th in Philadelphia for two more years. A new plan is expected to send the seat to York County in 2014.

The seat opened up when former state Rep. Denny O'Brien left in January for City Council.

David Kralle, a former O'Brien aide, has the Republican Party endorsement over schoolteacher John McCann in the primary.

Kralle, who also is running in the special election for the end of O'Brien's term against Democrat Ed Neilson, is hoping a win in that race will give him time to convince Republicans in Harrisburg to keep the seat in Philadelphia.

Neilson, a former political director for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians and staffer to then-Gov. Ed Rendell, is unopposed in the Democratic primary election for the seat.

201st District

State Rep. John Myers is retiring after a 17-year career in the 201st, leaving an open seat that's being pursued by three local pols. The district includes East Mount Airy, East Germantown and parts of West Mount Airy, Logan, Belfield and West Oak Lane.

Stephen Kinsey, Myers' former chief of staff, is looking to help the district "rise out of the ashes." He said that he's dedicated to improving the overall quality of life in the area by reducing crime, enhancing education and creating jobs.

Kinsey's biggest competition comes from Michael Ellis, who ran against Myers in 2010. He believes that tourism is the key to improving the 201st, and wants to make Germantown a national destination.

Karl Gamble, a barber by trade who is running in his first election, said that he wants to cut the fat from the state budget and provide more community programs for the city's youth and elderly.

Meanwhile, in the other contested races on Tuesday's ballot:

* District 190: West Philadelphia district, includes parts of Overbrook, Strawberry Mansion and Haddington.

Incumbent Vanessa Lowery Brown (D) has represented the district since 2008 after serving as a neighborhood activist.

Challenger Audrey Blackwell-Watson (D), who lost to Brown in 2010, is the stepdaughter of Democratic Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and younger sister of Thomas Blackwell, whom Brown defeated in the 2008 primary.

Lemuel Thornton (D) has served on several area committees including the Lancaster Avenue Business Association, the Belmont Improvement Association and the West Philadelphia Stakeholders Association.

This is the first campaign for Wanda Logan (D), who has started several job-placement and career-consulting firms.

* District 192: West Philadelphia district, includes parts of Overbrook and Wynnefield.

Incumbent Louise Williams Bishop (D) is the most senior African-American woman serving in the General Assembly, and is currently in her 12th term. The former WDAS on-air talent pushed this year for legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for reporting suspected child abuse.

Challenger Will Mega (D), who appeared on the CBS reality show "Big Brother," has been active in national and local politics. In 2004, he organized the "Hip Hop Agenda," a campaign that partnered with P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" initiative to motivate young Philadelphians to vote.

* District 195: Includes parts of Francisville, Fairmount, Brewerytown, Mantua and Spring Garden.

Incumbent Michelle Brownlee (D) is finishing her first term and served on predecessor Frank Oliver's staff for more than three decades. She was his chief of staff at the end of his time in office.

Challenger Andrew Kleeman (D) is the co-founder of Mercury Solar Systems, a leading East Coast solar-panel manufacturer.

Takeem Morgan (D), a young entrepreneur and Penn State grad who serves on the board of the Penn State Cooperative Extension Program, has made unemployment his main concern.

* District 198: Northwest Philadelphia district includes parts of Germantown, East Mount Airy, Wissahickon, East Falls, Logan and Tioga.

Incumbent Rosita C. Youngblood (D), 65, has represented the district since 1994, and now is the minority chair of the House Gaming Oversight Committee.

Challenger Malik Boyd (D), 34, president of Philadelphia Young Democrats, first opposed Youngblood in the 2010 primary.

Charisma Presley (D), 32, assistant director of Villanova University's Center for Multicultural Affairs, coordinates the Villanova and Germantown High School PhillyGoes2College program.

* District 202: Heavily gerrymandered district assembled from sections of the Northwest, Lower Northeast and Northeast, including parts of Ogontz, Olney and Lawndale/Crescentville up to Rhawnhurst.

Mark Cohen (D), 62, the 38-year incumbent, is now the senior lawmaker in the Legislature. He is minority chairman of the Human Services Committee.

Challenger Numa St. Louis (D), 31, former teacher and counselor, most recently worked with homeless families at Travelers Aid Family Services.

* District 203: Northwest Philadelphia, includes parts of Lawndale/Crescentville, Olney, East Oak Lane, West Oak Lane and Ogontz.

Dwight Evans, (D), 57, the 32-year incumbent, lost his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee in 2010 and, along with it, his undisputed title as the city's most potent state lawmaker. Still a force to be reckoned with.

Challenger Lamont Thomas (D), 40, a social worker, has been taking on the old Northwest Coalition titans who still control the politics in the Northwest. He made unsuccessful runs at City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

- Inquirer staff contributed to this report.


Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or brennac@ phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN. Read his blog, phillyclout.com.

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