Down to the wire in the 169th district

— Three men are vy­ing for a job that could last sev­en months…or two years.

State Rep­res­ent­at­ive hope­ful John Mc­Cann, left, along with 2-year-old son Quentin Mc­Cann, show their love of an­im­als while can­vassing around Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity on Tues­day, April 3, 2012. John Mc­Cann is run­ning for State Rep­res­ent­at­ive in the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict dur­ing April 24th’s spe­cial elec­tions. (Greg Bez­anis)


Res­id­ents of the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict haven’t had much of a say in choos­ing their state rep­res­ent­at­ive in re­cent years.

Demo­crats hadn’t even bothered to chal­lenge former Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Denny O’Bri­en since 1998.

O’Bri­en was elec­ted to an at-large City Coun­cil seat last Novem­ber and resigned his House seat be­fore mov­ing to City Hall in Janu­ary.

As part of ne­go­ti­ations with­in the Pennsylvania Le­gis­lat­ive Re­ap­por­tion­ment Com­mis­sion, House Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats agreed to each move two of their seats, based on pop­u­la­tion trends.

One of the GOP seats chosen to be moved was the 169th. It was headed to a fast-grow­ing area of York County.

The res­id­ents of the ex­ist­ing 169th were to be split among the dis­tricts of Reps. Brendan Boyle, Kev­in Boyle, Mike McGee­han, John Sabat­ina Jr. and John Taylor.

However, the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court ruled the maps un­con­sti­tu­tion­al be­cause they un­fairly split cit­ies, town­ships and bor­oughs.

Thus, the dec­ade-old lines will be used in the April 24 primary.

The com­mis­sion is ex­pec­ted to ap­prove a new map on Thursday that, if OK’d by the Su­preme Court, would take ef­fect for the 2014 elec­tions.

All in­dic­a­tions are that the 169th Dis­trict will still be re­lo­cated to York County.

For now, three can­did­ates are vy­ing for what would be one two-year term, with two of them seek­ing to also fill the fi­nal sev­en months of O’Bri­en’s term.

For years, Demo­crats craved the seat, hop­ing that O’Bri­en would re­tire. Now that he’s fi­nally gone, only one Demo­crat bothered to put his name on the bal­lot.

Ed Neilson is a former polit­ic­al dir­ect­or for In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tric­al Work­ers Loc­al 98. He went on to serve as deputy sec­ret­ary of the De­part­ment of Labor and In­dustry un­der Gov. Ed Rendell. Today, he is dir­ect­or of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at Chartwell Law Of­fices. He works six-hour morn­ings be­fore hit­ting the cam­paign trail.

Neilson, 48, is guar­an­teed a spot on the bal­lot in the gen­er­al elec­tion on Nov. 6. He’s also fa­cing Re­pub­lic­an Dave Kralle in a spe­cial elec­tion on primary day.

Kralle, 25, worked for O’Bri­en when he served in the House. He also had a brief stint in his Coun­cil of­fice be­fore leav­ing to run for the House seat.

In the Re­pub­lic­an primary, Kralle will face John Mc­Cann.

Mc­Cann, 34, planned to chal­lenge McGee­han, but the re­jec­ted maps kept him in the 169th. He’s a law school gradu­ate who teaches eighth-grade civics at a middle school in Prin­ceton, N.J.

The Times fol­lowed all three can­did­ates last week as they cam­paigned door-to-door.


Mc­Cann has less time to cam­paign than Neilson or Kralle be­cause he teaches a full day in Cent­ral Jer­sey. He had more time last week, as John With­er­spoon Middle School was on East­er break.

O’Bri­en and the party are sup­port­ing Kralle in the primary. Mc­Cann held a fund-raiser last month at Joey O’s and has an­oth­er event Sunday af­ter­noon at Paddy Whacks. The money will pay for lit­er­at­ure and cam­paign-day work­ers at the 37 polling places.

On a vis­it last week to voters in Tor­res­dale’s 65th Ward, 10th Di­vi­sion, Mc­Cann was joined by his 2½-year-old son Quentin and his young­er broth­er Bri­an.

Quentin, wear­ing a large Mc­Cann but­ton, likes watch­ing Cail­lou, but en­joys cam­paign­ing more. He knocks on doors, pets dogs, hands lit­er­at­ure to cit­izens most likely to vote in the up­com­ing Re­pub­lic­an primary and tells them, “Vote John Mc­Cann.”

The can­did­ate tells voters of his back­ground, that he’s a Fath­er Judge High School and Temple Uni­versity School of Law gradu­ate. He tells them of his 11 years in the classroom and his de­cision to re­main liv­ing in Phil­adelphia.

Voters re­ceive a piece of lit­er­at­ure that fea­tures pic­tures of the can­did­ate, his Web site ad­dress, his back­ground and ideas to re­form pub­lic edu­ca­tion, cut taxes, re­fuse the $163 per diem, toughen laws on an­im­al cruelty and main­tain re­sources for po­lice of­ficers and fire­fight­ers.

Some voters tell Mc­Cann that they will vote straight Re­pub­lic­an, but he re­minds them that they can do that only in a gen­er­al elec­tion and that the primary in­cludes two can­did­ates.

As the un­en­dorsed can­did­ate, Mc­Cann col­lec­ted nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions on his own.

“This is the second time I’m meet­ing a lot of voters. That’s a good part of the pro­cess,” he said. “It’s an am­bi­tious goal, but I’m try­ing to hit all the doors. It’s an im­port­ant part of demo­cracy. You’re meet­ing people and mak­ing a con­nec­tion, and they’re put­ting a face to the name.”

People are mostly friendly, though one man kid­dingly (we think) said, “I hate Ir­ish people.” Mc­Cann is not only Ir­ish, he was born on St. Patrick’s Day.

Mc­Cann said talk­ing to voters in­di­vidu­ally can have an im­pact.

“If you’re will­ing to work in a state rep race,” he said, “you have a shot.”


Neilson cam­paigned on the 11800 block of Basile Road, part of the 66th Ward, 8th Di­vi­sion. He had a ba­sic mes­sage for all voters.

“The big dif­fer­ence between me and the oth­er guy is that I’ve got five kids, I own a home and I’m not twenty-five years old no more,” he said in com­par­ing him­self to Kralle.

If elec­ted, he’d open an of­fice in a prom­in­ent and ac­cess­ible loc­a­tion in a shop­ping cen­ter, then fight to keep the 169th in the North­east.

Voters who an­swer their door re­ceive a “Neilson for the North­east” Phil­lies sched­ule mag­net and a piece of lit­er­at­ure that high­lights his past ef­forts to cre­ate jobs and cut gov­ern­ment waste. The theme on the bro­chure is, “The ex­per­i­ence we need. North­east val­ues we trust.”

Voters who are not home re­ceive a hand-prin­ted note that says, “I am sorry we missed you today. Please come vote on April 24th in the spe­cial elec­tion. Push but­ton #301. Ex­per­i­ence mat­ters! Ed.”

Neilson, whose five sons range in age from 6 to 27, seems to en­joy the cam­paign trail. Many of the voters are mem­bers of uni­ons that have en­dorsed his can­did­acy.

Since Neilson is run­ning in a spe­cial elec­tion, he is reach­ing out to Demo­crats, Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents likely to show up at the polls in two weeks. He ac­know­ledges be­ing a little wor­ried that Re­pub­lic­an turnout will be high­er than nor­mal be­cause the GOP pres­id­en­tial race is on­go­ing.

Neilson has raised about $200,000 in the race, enough for plenty of lawn signs, news­pa­per ad­vert­ise­ments and cam­paign mail­ers, but he val­ues door-to-door con­tact.

“I think this is more ef­fect­ive than the mail,” he said. “You have to ex­plain the spe­cial elec­tion. We’ve nev­er had that up here. That’s why I’m work­ing so hard.”

Neilson has also cam­paigned at su­per­mar­kets, bowl­ing al­leys and seni­or cit­izen cen­ters. He is be­ne­fit­ing from a ma­jor out­reach by the AFL-CIO to uni­on house­holds.

The can­did­ate is also run­ning tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. One fea­tures him tour­ing blighted prop­er­ties with City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on. The oth­er, titled “Why I’m sup­port­ing Ed,” fea­tures U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, former con­gress­man Bob Bor­ski, po­lice uni­on pres­id­ent John McNesby, elec­tri­cians uni­on boss John Dougherty and re­tired po­lice de­tect­ive Pat Boyle.

Des­pite all that, Neilson be­lieves the per­son­al touch is what will get people to the polls.

“If I don’t ask for your vote, I won’t get it,” he said. “Signs don’t vote.”


Kralle’s plan is to knock on the doors of as many re­gistered voters as pos­sible, no mat­ter their vot­ing his­tory. He ex­pects to get to more than 80 per­cent of doors by April 24.

On Sat­urday af­ter­noon, dur­ing a can­vas of the 66th Ward, 33rd Di­vi­sion, he gave a sim­il­ar pitch to most voters. He’s a gradu­ate of Our Lady of Cal­vary Ele­ment­ary School and Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School. He is a lect­or and Euchar­ist­ic min­is­ter at Our Lady of Cal­vary. He’s the former in-house base­ball dir­ect­or at Cal­vary A.A.

If elec­ted in the spe­cial elec­tion, he’ll re­open O’Bri­en’s dis­trict of­fice on Academy Road. He’d be in the Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity and, he sug­gests, more likely to be able to keep the 169th in Phil­adelphia.

Among those Kralle saw on Sat­urday is at­tor­ney Anne Mar­ie Coyle, who con­sidered en­ter­ing the race. She has a Kralle sign on her lawn.

A couple of res­id­ents note Kralle’s youth, but he does not see that as a neg­at­ive.

“Denny O’Bri­en was twenty-three years old and had no kids when he was elec­ted, and he be­came speak­er of the House,” he said.

O’Bri­en joined Kralle at the door­steps of voters whose polling place is at Chalf­ont Re­cre­ation Cen­ter.

The coun­cil­man, who’ll be fea­tured in a robo-call, en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally greeted res­id­ents and gave an en­thu­si­ast­ic en­dorse­ment of his former aide, de­scrib­ing him as “like a son.” O’Bri­en, who turns 60 in June, said Kralle wouldn’t need on-the-job train­ing and that they would form a “one-two punch.”

“Vote in the spe­cial elec­tion first, then go back and vote in the primary,” he told one res­id­ent.

The House Re­pub­lic­an Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has fun­ded three mail­ings — all fea­tur­ing O’Bri­en — and sent a staffer, Ry­an Trav­is, to serve as field dir­ect­or.

Demo­crats hold a voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age of about 55 per­cent to 34 per­cent, but Re­pub­lic­ans of­ten fare well in the 169th. In 2010, Gov. Tom Corbett won the dis­trict, while Sen. Pat Toomey lost by just two points. GOP turnout could be high­er than nor­mal if pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates Mitt Rom­ney and Rick San­tor­um ap­pear to still be in a com­pet­it­ive con­test on primary day.

Kralle might get out­spent 5-to-1 by Neilson, but he val­ues knock­ing in doors.

“We owe it to voters to ask for their vote in per­son,” he said.

While Mc­Cann needs votes only in the primary and Neilson needs them only in the spe­cial elec­tion, Kralle must get people to vote for him twice. He thinks the nov­elty of a spe­cial elec­tion is work­ing to his be­ne­fit.

“It’s a won­der­ful mar­ket­ing tool for the cam­paign,” he said. ••


You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus