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 firstname.lastname@example.org