Finally, there’s some competition in the 169th Legislative District.
Former Rep. Denny O’Brien, a Republican, last faced a Democratic challenge in 1998.
Last year, O’Brien proved his popularity wasn’t limited to his district, as he easily captured an at-large City Council seat. He resigned at the end of 2011, and his district office on Academy Road closed.
Democrats weren’t eager to challenge O’Brien, but now that he’s moved to City Hall, they have a well-funded candidate who might be able to capitalize on the party’s big voter-registration advantage.
Ed Neilson, 48, who lives in the Far Northeast’s Chalfont neighborhood, is a former political director for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. He was a deputy secretary in the Department of Labor and Industry under Gov. Ed Rendell. Today, he is director of government relations and business development at Chartwell Law Offices.
Neilson is unopposed in Tuesday’s primary and is the Democratic candidate in the special election that will be held the same day.
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Dave Kralle, 25, who lives in Normandy but spent almost his whole life in Chalfont, is the endorsed Republican candidate in the primary and the GOP choice for the special election. He’s worked for O’Brien for a decade, starting when he was an intern in high school. He moved to O’Brien’s campaign staff while in college and later worked in his House and Council offices. He’s been a 66th Ward committeeman since he was 18.
John McCann, 34, of East Torresdale, is also running in the Republican primary. He has a law degree and has been a teacher for 11 years.
Neilson, thanks to support from labor unions, is winning the money battle. He has enough campaign cash to run a bunch of cable television commercials and operate phone banks. He’s been endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22. He’s pleased with the strong support he’s getting from Democratic ward leaders and elected officials. FOP president John McNesby has been a tireless campaigner on his behalf.
“I’m humbled by the whole experience,” he said.
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All of the candidates have spent hours most days knocking on doors.
Neilson, an Abraham Lincoln High School graduate, talks about his wife and five sons and his involvement as a leader with the Boy Scouts of America and a coach with Calvary Athletic Association.
“I’m meeting as many people as I can before Election Day,” he said. “I’m running like I’m a hundred points down, like I don’t have one vote.”
Kralle, an Archbishop Ryan graduate, cites his endorsement by O’Brien, his work as a lector at Our Lady of Calvary, his roles with the 8th Police District Advisory Council, Chalfont Town Watch, Ryan Alumni Board and Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 17 and his former duties as director of Calvary A.A.’s in-house baseball program.
“My campaign is focused on knocking on doors and getting people to polling places,” he said.
McCann, a former star basketball player at Father Judge, tells residents that he has chosen to remain in the Northeast and will support policies that encourage people to stay in the city. He has the backing of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties and Humane PA. Always by his side on the campaign trail are his younger brother Brian and his secret weapon, his 2½-year-old son Quentin. Other family members and friends are helping out.
“I offer experience in education, outside of politics,” he said. “I’m the fourth generation to grow up here. I’m vested. I think I can add common-sense solutions to problems.”
McCann believes lowering taxes and providing resources to lower crime rates can stabilize and even increase population.
“I’m going to try to reel some people back in,” he said.
McCann declined to say for whom he’ll vote in the special election.
“I wish both of them good luck,” he said.
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In all, there will be six special House elections. Republicans control the House, 110-87.
No matter the outcome of Tuesday’s special election, Neilson is guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot. That race might be for the final two-year term in the 169th district in Philadelphia.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission last week passed a preliminary map that moves the district to York County. It is one of five districts that both parties agreed to move. The districts either have vacancies or upcoming retirements, and their new locations have seen increases in population.
If the maps don’t change, the winner of the two-year term would have to challenge Democratic Rep. Mike McGeehan in 2014, since all of their residences will be in the 173rd district.
None plan to move with the district to York County.
“I like it too much in Northeast Philly,” said McCann, who started the year planning to challenge McGeehan until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the original maps.
Neilson reasons that Democrats might want to keep the seat if he wins the special election.
“It gives me a seat at the table. I’m the best chance the neighborhood has to keep it whole,” he said.
“It’s critical for the people of Northeast Philadelphia who want to keep the district here that I win the special election,” he said. “I’ll be a member of the majority party, and I’ll be able to reopen that conversation.”
Kralle supports school vouchers for Catholic and private schools, favors the state’s new voter identification law and wants to stiffen the penalties for crimes committed with illegal guns.
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The endorsed Republican has released a five-point plan to combat child sexual abuse. The plan includes removing the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, allowing expert testimony at trial and requiring people to report knowledge of the crime to law enforcement, not merely a superior within their organization.
McCann, a building representative for the New Jersey Education Association, has released a six-point plan for public education that focuses on technology, character development and vocational schools. He’d add public school teachers to the School Reform Commission.
If elected, McCann would donate the whopping $163 per diem legislators receive to the FOP Lodge 5 Survivor’s Fund.
Neilson contends that his background sets him apart.
“Experience matters,” he said. “Both candidates combined don’t match my record.”
Neilson plans a bipartisan approaching to serving.
“I’m representing a district, not a party. My record shows I can work with Democrats, Republicans, anybody. The first thing I’ve got to do is fight for jobs,” said Neilson, whose other priorities include forming a senior citizen task force.
Kralle’s work with O’Brien has included outreach efforts at the former state lawmaker’s senior citizen and youth expos and anti-crime forums. If he wins, he’ll reopen O’Brien’s old office at 9811 Academy Road and bring back some of the former staff.
“I have to earn people’s vote,” he said. “Denny O’Brien’s endorsement is telling. He knows me. We need somebody to continue where Denny O’Brien left off. My roots are here. I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve always been involved in the community and will be, whether I win or lose this election.” ••EndFragment