Somerton Civic's young prez believes in door-to-door magic

Seth Kaplan, new president of the Somerton Civic Association, discusses neighborhood issues with longtime resident Bridget Russell during Kaplan's door to door effort to recruit new members this summer. (DAN GERINGER PHOTO/Daily News Staff)
Seth Kaplan, new president of the Somerton Civic Association, discusses neighborhood issues with longtime resident Bridget Russell during Kaplan's door to door effort to recruit new members this summer. (DAN GERINGER PHOTO/Daily News Staff)
Posted: July 22, 2014

SETH KAPLAN, new president of the Somerton Civic Association, walked the green, peaceful, residential streets of the neighborhood he proudly calls "the best-kept secret in Philadelphia," continuing his door-to-door quest to recruit new members.

The Bustleton native, who has called Somerton home since 2009, has a personal stake in keeping his community vibrant.

"This is where I want my 3-year-old daughter [Michaela] to be raised," Kaplan said. "I like Somerton's close-knit, small-town feel. I truly believe in this neighborhood."

Kaplan said Somerton has 32,000 people, a median household income of $51,000, and houses that are 94 percent occupied and 62 percent owner-occupied.

As he went door-to-door on Selma Street, only a block off busy Bustleton Avenue, the quiet was broken only by the sound of a neighbor starting up a push mower in a nearby front yard.

Kaplan rang a doorbell, and Bridget Russell, a 25-year resident, came to her side yard gate with her golden retriever, Kelly, who jumped up and tried to lick the membership applications out of Kaplan's hand.

"I love Somerton," Russell told Kaplan. "My kids went to school here - St. Christopher's. Lots of cops and firemen live here. You're in the city but you feel like you're in the suburbs."

She took an application as Kelly the dog eyed it hopefully.

At 29, Kaplan said he may be the youngest civic president in Philadelphia.

He started a Somerton Civic Facebook page that has nearly 600 members, and is developing a website that will debut soon.

Kaplan learned the magic of going door-to-door while working for Northeast Philadelphia's Boyle brothers, first as deputy chief of staff for state Rep. Brendan Boyle and now as chief of staff for state Rep. Kevin Boyle.

At another house on his walk, the owner, who asked that her name not be published, confided to Kaplan that a resident on the next block was "selling cars on his front lawn."

Kaplan promised to notify the city's Licenses and Inspections department.

Because Somerton is blessed with a very low crime rate, Kaplan said, he is focused on enhancing the quality of life.

He's arranging to bring in a farmers' market by next spring.

He's talking with John Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, about installing lighting at Somerton's World War I and II veterans memorial, which was restored to pristine condition by local teenager Billy Gibson and his fellow Boy Scouts.

After residents complained about an amateurish mural that a Bucks County group was painting at the Bustleton-Somerton Shopping Center, Kaplan got the project stopped.

"The artist in charge called Northeast Philadelphia aesthetically boring and said it could use some decoration," Kaplan said. "I have great pride in my community. I don't take that type of rhetoric lightly."


On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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