In state Senate race, a 'Game of Thrones' plot

Tomas Sanchez, left, husband of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez; State Sen. Christine M. "Tina" Tartaglione; Daniel Savage, former City Council member.
Tomas Sanchez, left, husband of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez; State Sen. Christine M. "Tina" Tartaglione; Daniel Savage, former City Council member.
Posted: May 20, 2014

A scion of a famous political family faces two challengers, one representing a rising clan making a play for power, the other with a mighty, behind-the-scenes ally.

No, this isn't a plot from the HBO drama Game of Thrones.

This is Pennsylvania's Second Senatorial District, where the most diverse legislative district in Philadelphia is hosting the most intriguing battle in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

The three-way race has story lines as interwoven and complicated as any cable-television series, and, unsurprisingly, things have gotten nasty.

Attacks and counterattacks have been flying across the district in a series of creative mailers sent mainly by camps representing State Sen. Christine M. "Tina" Tartaglione and challenger Daniel Savage, a former City Council member.

In one, Savage's side even plays on the medieval theme of Game of Thrones, referring to a greedy, corrupt "House of Tartaglione" that includes the senator's mother, Margaret "Marge" Tartaglione, and brother-in-law, Carlos Matos.

Marge Tartaglione sat atop the city's election machinery as a tough-as-nails city commissioner for 36 years. She was ousted in 2011, in part, because of her participation in the voter-reviled DROP pension program.

Matos, a ward leader in the Senate district, was convicted in 2007 of bribing three Atlantic City Council members and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

"I know [Savage] doesn't have a record to stand on and he has to bash me," the senator said. "But I wish he'd find something else to bash me on."

The third party in the senatorial set-piece - and hoping to be the spoiler - is Tomas Sánchez, husband of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez.

"There are more sensible voters in the district who have been turned off by the level of discourse," he said. "They're going to say, 'A pox on both their houses' - to my benefit, hopefully."

Sánchez, vying to be the first Latino in the state Senate, is no fan of the Tartagliones, saying they have had a strategy to "divide and conquer" in the city's Hispanic neighborhoods for years.

"They no longer bring anything useful to the table for our community or the district," he said.

Sánchez's wife was the one who unseated Savage from Council, then defeated him again in 2011 - with, at the time, the support of Matos.

The Sánchezes are now in the midst of a major play for influence. In addition to Tomas Sánchez for Senate, they are backing three of the councilwoman's former staffers in races for the state House.

If successful, the heart of the city's growing Hispanic vote would be united under the Sánchez banner.

Not so fast, Tartaglione said, calling Sánchez "not a factor" in the race.

"I'll bet you I get more Latino votes than Tomas," she said. "He's never been in the street working with the community."

Savage, meanwhile, has been dogging Tartaglione relentlessly, calling her an absentee legislator who has missed 1,100 votes in Harrisburg.

"People are ready for a change," Savage said. "There's just been a lack of leadership."

Tartaglione, who was grievously injured in a 2003 boating accident and uses a wheelchair, said Savage is counting times when she was on legislative leave recovering from the accident.

"Danny Savage should be ashamed of himself for distributing such trash to my constituents," she said. "He's falsely attacked me, and he's using my chair to do it."

Savage said he was presenting facts "that people should be aware of," and he contested that Tartaglione was missing in action only after her accident.

"I don't wish that on anyone," he said. "But the fact is she missed a lot of votes before and after her accident."

While Tartaglione has the endorsement of the city's Democratic Party and a slew of labor unions, Savage has the backing of Local 98 of the powerful electricians union, which has donated $100,000 to his campaign.

In 2011, Local 98 leader John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty opposed Marge Tartaglione after she backed the opponent of Councilman Bobby Henon, a former Local 98 political director.

Dougherty said at the time, "Anybody who is not with Bobby Henon, we are not with forever."

Savage scoffed at the notion that this was a proxy fight between Local 98 and the Tartagliones, saying he had long wanted to run against the 20-year incumbent.

"My neighborhood needs better service," he said. "I don't even see my senator in my neighborhood."

The seat of all this drama is a complex district that stretches from some of the city's poorest areas in Fairhill and Kensington to some of its wealthiest in Fox Chase and Pine Valley.

The district is a racial hodgepodge - 38 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 24 percent African American, according to an Inquirer analysis of census data.

"We need someone who understands all the different communities," said Sánchez, 51. "I'm the only candidate speaking to the issues."

The Ivy League-educated Sánchez, who served as chief of staff to former Councilman Juan Ramos, has picked up the endorsements of former Mayor John F. Street, a Democrat, and Sam Katz, Street's GOP opponent in 1999 and 2003.

Savage, 43, said he proved himself during his brief tenure in Council, when he brought millions in funding for rec centers and the Fifth Street business corridor.

"I served the people. That was the best feeling of my life," he said. "I have the energy, the enthusiasm, and the skill set."

Tartaglione, 53, who was the first woman elected to the Senate Democratic leadership, touts her signature accomplishments of sponsoring an increase in the state's minimum wage and helping to fight off an effort to privatize the state lottery.

"I'm the only candidate running who has a record," she said, "and I stand on it."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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