Quiñones Sánchez backs House, Senate seat challengers

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez (left) and Danilo Burgos at a gathering with media representatives in North Philadelphia. Burgos is running for the seat held by State Rep. J.P. Miranda.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez (left) and Danilo Burgos at a gathering with media representatives in North Philadelphia. Burgos is running for the seat held by State Rep. J.P. Miranda. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / Staff)
Posted: February 18, 2014

Maria Quiñones Sánchez has never been beloved by Philadelphia's political power structure - she has twice won her seat on City Council despite opposition from the Democratic Party and with some of the biggest donors supporting her opponent.

She's unlikely to gain much popularity with her latest move - backing a slate of four upstart candidates in races for the state House and Senate seats that overlap her Council district.

She has strong ties to the candidates. One is her husband, Tomas, and the others have been aides in her Council office.

All four are running for the first time in the May primary, against Democratic Party-endorsed opponents. All but one of the endorsements went to the incumbent.

In interviews, the candidates clearly embraced their underdog roles, saying party politics had done little for their districts, which include some of the poorest areas of the city.

"I believe our community deserves better government," said Danilo Burgos, who is running for the seat held by State Rep. J.P. Miranda. "Our community has been the most grossly underserved in Philadelphia."

Running against the establishment has always been risky and difficult, especially if turnout is low and the party has a disproportionate sway in getting voters to the polls.

Asked last week about the Sánchez slate, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Democratic Party chairman, said flatly, "It's their right to run, and we'll see what happens."

Then there's the issue of raising money to fund outsider campaigns. In 2009, Maria and Tomas Sánchez helped form a political action committee designed to help strengthen the Latino political base.

That PAC, however, had only $646 at the end of January. Quiñones Sánchez didn't seem worried about raising money from "a nontraditional donor base."

"I think we're going to get a lot of support from people who understand the amount of courage it takes to come forward," she said. "And for us to battle the status quo."

If the slate is successful, Quiñones Sánchez and her team would become the de facto voice of a Hispanic community that has never had much political cohesion.

Though Latinos constitute 13 percent of the city's population - about 201,000 people, according to census figures - their political influence has not kept pace with the community's growth.

"Two years after I started working in politics, we added a state rep and a City Council person," said Tomas Sánchez, who served as chief of staff to former Councilman Juan Ramos. "Today, 30 years later, it's still the same."

Aside from Quiñones Sánchez, the city has only two other elected officials of Latino descent - State Rep. Angel Cruz, one of the incumbents the slate is trying to unseat; and Miranda, who was charged last month in a political corruption case.

(In the Miranda race, the party is backing Leslie Acosta, daughter of former State Rep. Ralph Acosta.)

Brady scoffed at the notion that Hispanics didn't have enough representation now - "How are they underrepresented? Angel Cruz is Hispanic, and Ralph Acosta's daughter is Hispanic," he said.

In addition to Tomas Sánchez and Burgos, known for his work founding and running the Dominican Grocers Association of Philadelphia, the slate includes two longtime aides in the councilwoman's office: Quetcy Lozada, who served as chief of staff and who is taking on Cruz; and Jason Dawkins, who is going against first-term incumbent State Rep. James Clay.

Tomas Sánchez, a Harvard graduate, faces a formidable challenge in trying to oust State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, who has been in office since 1994 and who comes from a powerful political family.

Joe Aronson, executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said Tartaglione was confident she would prevail.

"Anybody can put a slate together," he said. "The fact is, everyone from her constituents to allied organizations to Democratic ward leaders have lined up behind her."

Brady said he thought the incumbents - aside from Miranda - had been effective legislators.

"Tina Tartaglione is a workaholic, although I guess it's hard for her to get around," he said, referring to the spinal cord injury she suffered in a 2003 boating accident. "God bless her for what she does."

The districts involved in these races stretch from the Lower Northeast to Hunting Park, and down through North Philadelphia and Kensington - a vastly diverse area that captures the core of the city's Latino community.

The area includes neighborhoods encumbered by some of the worst crime and poverty in the city, problems the Sánchez slate says have not been adequately addressed by elected leaders.

"I was raised in a home where my dad always said, 'I don't want to hear about the complaints,' " Lozada said. " 'I want to hear what you're going to do to fix it.' "

All the challengers blasted their legislators for working "in silos," and said their cohesive team would be better for the neighborhoods.

"Maria has tried to work with Rep. Cruz and Sen. Tartaglione . . . but they don't feel it's in their interest to do so," Tomas Sánchez said. "It's definitely in the community's interest to do so."

Cruz could not be reached for comment Friday.

Quiñones Sánchez, who has been touted as a potential mayoral candidate, would be an even bigger force to be reckoned with if her slate performs well at the polls.

"You have talented, independent-thinking people who believe . . . they can provide strong leadership," she said. "I don't think we can wait for permission."


215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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