Cheri wants a showdown

Long­time act­iv­ist Cheri Honkala would use Philly’s sher­iff’s of­fice to take on big banks in the fore­clos­ure crisis.

Cheri Honkala rides a horse along East Al­legheny on Monday, Aug 29 to raise aware­ness for her cam­paign for sher­iff as a Green Party can­did­ate.

By Hay­den Mit­man

Star Staff Writer 

Cheri Honkala isn’t hors­ing around.

You might think oth­er­wise, giv­en that she ap­peared atop a mag­ni­fi­cent brown horse on Monday, Aug. 29, trot­ting down Al­legheny Av­en­ue in Kens­ing­ton.

In an at­ten­tion-get­ting move that surely worked — and provided the gathered press with plenty of op­por­tun­it­ies for horse puns — Green Party can­did­ate for sher­iff Honkala brought traffic to a stand­still as chil­dren raced down the side­walks to see the com­mo­tion.

The na­tion­al dir­ect­or of the Poor People’s Eco­nom­ic Hu­man Rights Cam­paign, dir­ect­or of the Kens­ing­ton Wel­fare Rights Uni­on and a formerly home­less single moth­er, Honkala rode the streets while her cam­paign or­gan­izers fol­lowed be­hind, trum­pet­ing her cam­paign slo­gan: “Keep­ing Fam­il­ies in Homes.”

If elec­ted sher­iff, Honkala would sup­port a strict zero-evic­tions pro­gram.

 ldquo;I think enough is enough,” said a cow­boy hat-wear­ing Honkala in an in­ter­view with the Star. “We need to stop kick­ing fam­il­ies out of their homes.”

As part of the du­ties of the of­fice — along with trans­port­ing pris­on­ers, provid­ing court­house se­cur­ity and oth­er ser­vices to the city’s court sys­tem — Phil­adelphia’s sher­iff con­ducts evic­tions and auc­tions off fore­closed homes.

Honkala said she would simply not con­duct auc­tions of fore­closed homes where fam­il­ies are present.

“I’m go­ing to re­fuse that as­pect,” she said. “I’m try­ing to get across a new idea. Why can’t we have a people’s sher­iff?”

With Pennsylvania’s Emer­gency Homeown­ers Loan Pro­gram set to end Sept. 16, Honkala said the state could soon be look­ing at “a mil­lion new fore­clos­ures,” and she fears that if her Demo­crat­ic Party op­pon­ent, state Rep. Jew­ell Wil­li­ams, wins the elec­tion, more loc­al fam­il­ies could soon find them­selves out on the street.

“I think they are go­ing to have a run for their money,” she said of Wil­li­ams’ cam­paign. “I’m tired of the sher­iff’s of­fice be­ing a slush fund for the Demo­crats.”

Late last year, former sher­iff John Green resigned from the post after audits re­vealed that im­port­ant rev­en­ue doc­u­ments were miss­ing. He held the post since 1987. 

Former Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate for sher­iff, John Kromer ran a well-pub­li­cized cam­paign be­fore the spring primary, and planned to com­pletely ab­ol­ish the of­fice if elec­ted be­cause of in­ef­fi­cien­cies and re­dund­an­cies he saw in the po­s­i­tion.

Honkala said she wouldn’t want to see the of­fice ab­ol­ished be­cause fore­closed homes could then be turned over to the courts, clog­ging up that sys­tem.

“I wouldn’t ab­ol­ish it. That would turn everything over to the courts,” she said.

In fact, she said, as an ad­voc­ate for the poor, she has seen the court sys­tem fail needy res­id­ents.

She re­lated a story of a North­ern Liber­ties con­domin­i­um ten­ant — whom she didn’t name — dia­gnosed with AIDS.

His con­domin­i­um was fore­closed on, due to the land­lord’s prob­lems she said, and Honkala stepped in to help save his home when he had to go to court.

“He had full-blown AIDS. He paid his rent on time for eight years,” Honkala re­called. “But, they were go­ing to kick him out.”

“I was cry­ing,” she con­tin­ued. “The sher­iff moved him out. The bank [rep­res­ent­at­ives] just sat there.”

In the end, they couldn’t keep him in the condo.

If elec­ted, she said, Honkala would work to keep things like that from hap­pen­ing again.

Honkala’s elec­tion ef­fort is a long shot in a city in which re­gistered Demo­crats greatly out­num­ber Re­pub­lic­ans, let alone in­de­pend­ent voters. Still, voters re­gistered in any party can vote for any can­did­ate rep­res­en­ted on the bal­lot in the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion. 

Back in May, Wil­li­ams eas­ily beat Kromer, a well-known pro­gress­ive who served as dir­ect­or of the city’s Of­fice of Hous­ing and Com­munity De­vel­op­ment.

Be­sides tak­ing on the party-backed Wil­li­ams, Honkala will also be vy­ing for votes with a third can­did­ate, Re­pub­lic­an Joshua West. 

She is the lone sur­viv­ing Green Party can­did­ate in Phil­adelphia head­ing in­to the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tions. Green Party can­did­ate for City Com­mis­sion­er, Rich­ie An­ti­puna, dropped out a few weeks ago after learn­ing that he had failed to switch parties back in May.

Tak­ing aim at the bank­ing sys­tem, Honkala said the big banks have com­plex sys­tems set up to “sup­press people’s civil liber­ties.” If elec­ted, she’d hope to work as a voice in sup­port of those who can’t fight the sys­tem.

“Everything is set up to sup­port people with money. I’m here to shift that bal­ance,” she said. “You have to chal­lenge these spec­u­lat­ors and de­velopers to have a sher­iff who will sup­port the people.”

After she took time to talk, Honkala smiled as she sat atop a horse named Col­on­el and waved to pass­ers-by.

On a sunny Au­gust af­ter­noon, for a mo­ment, she turned the streets of Kens­ing­ton in­to something out of the Wild West — per­haps fit­ting for the show­down she has ahead if she hopes to win against the heav­ily favored Wil­li­ams.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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