In a hotly contested race for City Council’s 1st Councilmanic District, South Philly resident Mark Squilla came through with a victory over fellow Democrats Vern Anastasio, Jeff Hornstein and Joe Grace in the May 17 primary.
With no challenge coming from the Republicans, Squilla is set to take over for the retiring Frank DiCicco next year.
While independent candidates have until Aug. 1 to circulate and file nomination papers, none has stepped forward so far.
Squilla, who won with a total of 7,084 votes — his nearest competitor, Grace, tallied up about 4,000 votes — said he’s excited for the position.
Squilla said he is eager to take on the job, and that he was glad to get voter support from all areas of the district.
The district stretches from South Philly’s Oregon Avenue to the lower Northeast, and includes parts of Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington.
Grace was able to win in several wards, including the 5th, which includes Northern Liberties, the 18th in Fishtown and Kensington South; and his home turf of the 25th and 45th in Port Richmond.
With 49 percent of the vote, Hornstein took the 31st Ward, which includes northern Fishtown and parts of Kensington as well as the 2nd Ward in Queen Village.
But Squilla, a Whitman resident, dominated in South Philadelphia, taking the 1st Ward and the massive, politically active 39th Ward, where his 3,721 votes accounted for 52 percent of his total vote count.
“It was a surprising margin that we won by,” said Squilla, who returned to his day job as a systems analyst in the Pennsylvania Office of the Auditor General.
Squilla said he thought all of his opponents ran a good race, though he was frustrated that some media coverage focused on his high-profile supporters rather than his campaign platform.
Squilla was backed by DiCicco and John Dougherty, head of the politically powerful International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 98, among others.
Those associations lead some to cast Squilla, a South Philly native, as the “machine” candidate.
When DiCicco announced in March that he would not seek a fourth term in City Hall, he immediately named Squilla as his favored successor.
DiCicco’s endorsement was soon followed by Democratic Party leaders including U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-1st dist.), Mayor Michael Nutter, state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st dist.), and a number of ward leaders.
“Some people judged you before they met you. That was a little disappointing … It was very upsetting to me,” he said, noting that voters listened to his message even if political commentators knocked the early support he received.
“People listen,” he continued. “There are good people throughout the district who will listen to you.”
For the 48-year-old Squilla — who, besides being elected as executive committee representative for Democratic Ward 39B, has led South Philadelphia’s Whitman Council since 2008 — the race was something of a whirlwind.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the four candidates spent plenty of time in debates and addressing civic groups, something he said helped develop friendly competition that led to a race relatively free of mudslinging.
“The candidates ended up liking each other,” said Squilla. “We ended up spending more time with each other than we did with our families.”
He said the race provided an education that he believes will help him better serve constituents if he takes office in 2012.
“The city of Philadelphia is made up of neighborhoods. That’s what is so great about this,” he said. “They (other candidates) came from different neighborhoods and had great ideas.”
While DiCicco’s successor won’t take office until early 2012, Squilla said he plans to continue work that will allow him to “hit the ground running” at City Hall.
He said he wants to reach out to community groups throughout the district this summer to introduce himself and become familiar with issues specific to each neighborhood.
ldquo;A lot of communities felt like they weren’t heard (in City Hall) and I want to change that,” said Squilla.
Squilla said his most immediate concern is the planned redistricting of the city’s political districts following the 2010 Census.
City Council districts are based on population, and the latest figures show that the 1st District grew in the last 10 years. That means the district will have to shrink, giving constituents to neighboring districts that have not seen the same growth.
Squilla said that is a real concern because his office following redistricting might not serve those who voted for him last week.
He may, however, be powerless to influence the redistricting, as it will occur before the general election.
“I know that’s something I can’t control too much, but I’d like to have some say,” Squilla said.
Overall, Squilla said he’s excited to take office and he looks forward to serving residents.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I’m up for the challenge,” he said.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1st District vote totals by ward
ANASTASIO, VERN 13.79 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 13.08 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 59.73 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 13.41 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 25.87 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 26.54 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 18.14 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 29.45 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 14.10 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 41.65 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 12.34 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 31.91 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 27.27 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 37.66 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 23.38 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 11.69 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 9.09 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 25.25 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 60.61 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 5.05 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 18.67 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 40.75 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 35.17 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 5.41 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 11.29 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 20.52 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 18.28 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 49.91 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 10.33 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 7.94 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 76.30 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 5.43 %
ANASTASIO, VERN 20.62 %
GRACE, JOSEPH M 37.76 %
SQUILLA, MARK F 20.23 %
HORNSTEIN, JEFF 21.39 %