Friend-turned-foe seeks new allies

Brian Sims
Brian Sims
Posted: April 26, 2012

BRIAN SIMS, a lawyer who on Tuesday defeated state Rep. Babette Josephs in her bid for a 15th two-year term, has a plan to make political friends before he joins the state House in January.

Sims, who will be the state’s first openly gay legislator in January, will spend the next six months raising money for other Democrats who face Republicans in the Nov. 6 general election.

Sims, who has no November opponent, is focused first on the campaign of Chris Dietz, another openly gay candidate, who is seeking to unseat a Republican incumbent in Dauphin County’s 104th District.

The ultimate goal, Sims said Wednesday, is to help the Democrats regain control of the state House.

“We can only be so effective as the minority party,” Sims said.

Sims’ victory in Center City’s 182nd District will not be certified until the official vote count, which starts Friday morning.

He held a 218-vote lead on Wednesday as the City Commission’s staff searched for two cartridges from voting machines in the district. One of the cartridges is from the polling place where Sims votes.

A Josephs campaign spokesman said she has not conceded but noted the vote tally “doesn’t look good” for her.

There were three key reasons for her defeat:

First, Josephs and her supporters reacted with outrage to Sims’ challenge because he was her campaign treasurer two years ago. That opened her up to accusations of entitlement, especially after she voiced confidence last week that she would hold the seat for as long as she wanted it.

Then, Josephs let Sims gain the upper hand in campaign fundraising, even though she has represented one of the state’s wealthiest districts since 1985.

Finally, Josephs tried to link Sims to controversial conservative efforts in Harrisburg, like mandatory ultrasounds before abortions and cuts to education funding, in a mailer that was viewed as well over the top.

Sims said he found no surprise in the close margin of the race.

“I’m a first-time challenger running against an incumbent who has been in office for three decades,” he said. “Especially in a one-party town, you can never underestimate the power of incumbency.”

There is a curious symmetry to how Josephs and Sims won their posts in the state House.

Josephs was a lawyer and activist for women’s rights when she unseated former state Rep. Sam Rappaport in 1984 with the help of the Pennsylvania Women’s Campaign Fund. Rappaport, who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was surprised to be targeted by women’s groups. He cited his support for equal-rights measures and fights against anti-abortion legislation.

The women’s groups said Rappaport had performed well on those issues but wanted a legislator more involved in other matters that they saw as important.

Sims, a lawyer active in gay-rights issues, built support in the city’s “Gayborhood” section of the 182nd District that has historically sided with Josephs.

He promised to be an effective advocate, not just a reliable voice to counter conservatives in Harrisburg on key issues for liberals.

And Sims went national in his fundraising, in part by using his time on the board of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington. That group gave him $14,550 in in-kind contributions for campaign research.

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said its research shows that of more than 7,000 state legislators in the country, 90 are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. There are no transgender legislators, he said.

There are 17 state legislatures, including Pennsylvania for now, with no openly gay members. n

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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