New Councilman Ed Neilson gets ready to start

New City Councilman-at-Large Ed Neilson sits at his desk in Council chambers.
New City Councilman-at-Large Ed Neilson sits at his desk in Council chambers. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 03, 2014

The furniture has been rearranged, and new decorations adorn the walls and bookshelves of Room 312 in City Hall.

Former State Rep. Ed Neilson is officially moved into his new Philadelphia City Council office and is preparing for the start of the Council session next month. He is making use of the quiet time this week to prepare his new office, get up to speed on issues, and tour various city neighborhoods.

Neilson, a Democrat and former political director of Electricians Local 98, was sworn in this month to finish Bill Green's at-large City Council term. Green was appointed chairman of the School Reform Commission and left his Council office in February.

Neilson didn't move in until this month. He wanted to stay in Harrisburg during the important votes on school funding.

As an at-large Council member, Neilson, 51, represents the entire city and not just the Northeast district where he lives with his wife and three children. He has two other grown children and a grandchild.

Neilson followed his father and grandfather into Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1981.

He became the union's treasurer in 1993 and soon after began shaping the union's political machine, eventually becoming Local 98's political director. In 2003, he went to work in the administration of Gov. Ed Rendell, in the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of General Services.

Neilson made the jump to elected office in 2012 when Republican Dennis O'Brien was elected to Council and left the 169th District seat he had held for several decades. Neilson entered the race to succeed O'Brien, in an effort to preserve the district seat as Republicans were trying to redistrict the area.

During his short time in Harrisburg, Neilson said, he realized that seven out of 10 calls or visits he received from constituents were for city services. So, he said he thought, "I can better help them. . . . I can make an impact," by serving on City Council.

As he prepares to take on this new role, Neilson discussed some of the issues he and his fellow Council members will face when they return Sept. 11.

Neilson has a lengthy list of things he wants to address in City Hall.

The first is technology.

"So far, I find it lacking resources compared to what I had in the state," Neilson said about City Hall's digital capabilities. "Right now, we're living in paper."

Neilson said he had been speaking with the IT department in the statehouse to see what software it uses to track constituent services and is exploring whether it could be used in City Hall. He was also appointed to serve as vice chair of Council's Technology and Information Services Committee.

Public safety is another concern. He wants to see more police officers in the Northeast.

The Far Northeast, which had a reputation as a bit of suburban oasis in the city, has recently fallen victim to ills that plague other areas of the city: burglaries, homicides, and drugs. Previously, those had hardly been a problem above Cottman Avenue, Neilson said.

Neilson said the problem is a lack of jobs.

"People are desperate. They don't have employment. I think drug abuse is another issue," Neilson said. "It's those two combined that really hurt."

Neilson said he felt strongly about the issue and would support more resources for public safety.

Another issue that will likely consume much of his time when Council returns is the proposed sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works.

Mayor Nutter has proposed selling the utility and using the profits from the sale, projected to be at least $422 million, to help the city's underfunded pension system. The sale must be approved by City Council, which has not yet held hearings on the issue as it awaits the results of two studies on the sale.

Neilson noted that the nearly half-billion is a "drop in the bucket" for the $5.2 billion unfunded liability in the pension fund and questioned whether the proposed sale made sense.

He said he would decide after he reads the Council-commissioned reports.

In the meantime, Neilson is touring neighborhoods with other legislators and Council members.

"As a state rep, I vote my district. As city councilman at-large, my vote now changes," Neilson, who lives in the Millbrook section of the Far Northeast, said. "I have to look at the larger issues."



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