Richie Antipuna has a vision to clean up the neighborhood he loves so much.
And as he mounts a campaign to run for state representative in the 177th district, which includes Port Richmond, Fishtown and Antipuna’s neighborhood of Kensington, the prospective candidate said he knows he is tackling a monumental challenge, but it’s one he is facing head-on.
Antipuna likes to emphasize one other thing. Despite his recognition around Kensington, he says he is not a politician.
Antipuna has never served in public office. He did start a run for city commissioner last year but it swiftly fell apart — he changed parties too late into the race and had to abandon his plans.
This time around, as he mounts his campaign for the state House of Representatives, Antipuna will confront a tough opponent if he emerges victorious in the Democratic primary. It’s Rep. John Taylor, a 27-year veteran of the Philadelphia political scene.
Antipuna plans to face Democrat William Dunbar in the primary, currently scheduled for April 24.
Antipuna is collecting petition signatures to get his name on the Democratic ballot. He hopes to have more than 500 signatures by the Feb. 26 deadline.
As for why voters should look his way, Antipuna says he has the motivation to deliver change to an area ravaged by crime. And, he adds, he has the plan to back it up.
“I have a strong following in Kensington, as well as in many of the other neighborhoods that make up the district,” Antipuna said during a Saturday afternoon chat from a diner booth at Fourth and Spring Garden streets. “My reason for running is to get things back to the way they should be, because it’s anyone’s right to run for whatever office they want to, whether they have a political background or not.”
A similar vision of revival has been outlined by newly elected City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.). He is touting a “Clean and Green” initiative that enlists communities in the battle against blight, crime and violence in some of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
One of those neighborhoods is Antipuna’s home base of Kensington, which has declined from a bustling industrial center in the 1960s to a drug-addled neighborhood that is among the city’s worst.
As someone who grew up in Kensington and is raising a family there (he has two teenage daughters), Antipuna is well aware of the problems in his neighborhood, as well as in other areas of his district.
If he’s the Democratic choice in the upcoming primary, he’ll need some serious help to overtake respected incumbent Taylor. Antipuna intends to keep reminding neighborhood voters how things used to be.
“At one point or another in my life, I’ve lived and worked in every neighborhood in the district,” Antipuna said. “When I was a kid, and well into my teens, everybody knew everybody in the neighborhood. We said ‘hello’ when we passed each other on the street … it was a true community. There’s no community spirit anymore.”
When that fabric of the neighborhood started to fray is tough to pinpoint, Antpuna said, but he is clearly unhappy that family values now must be preserved in an environment of drug dealers, prostitutes and violence.
When manufacturing jobs left the area, waves of residents went with them. Over time, the local economy suffered. According to an analysis undertaken last year by Philadelphia magazine, Kensington and neighboring Fairhill are home to all 10 of the city corners with the most drug activity.
Part of his plan, Antipuna said, is to set up community programs that focus on children and senior citizens. He’d also like to team with city officials and community activist groups to clean up vacant lots and decaying properties, as well as turn his attention to reviving the business district to create jobs.
Antipuna has been a recognizable face in the community. He also created the popular Richie Antipuna Show, a forum to discuss community issues, that has aired on Comcast and the Internet.
His campaign manager, Anthony Samacicia, is on board with the message of neighborhood revitalization.
ldquo;It needs to be a cooperative approach. It’s up to the community to get on board with the initiative, but at the same time, it’s important to know they have someone to go to in order to seek support,” Samacicia said.
Antipuna is looking for all the campaign volunteers he can find. He hopes to raise $100,000 to fund his election run.
His mission, if elected, is to press for state funding that will aid anti-crime efforts and neighborhood revitalization, he said.
ldquo;I’ve been an advocate of Kensington for a long time, but I’m also an advocate for humanity,” Antipuna said. “Somewhere along the line the city forgot about Kensington, and currently there’s no representation in the area to get things done.”
Antipuna is well aware of the challenge he faces to take on that job.
“Win or lose, I want to keep the politicians in office on their toes,” he said. “Even if I don’t win, I’ll still be the biggest advocate for my community. What these current politicians are doing is a slap in the face to the people that live in these neighborhoods. I’ve seen neighborhoods like Fishtown and Port Richmond band together to change for the better, and Kensington can do that too.” ••
For information, visit Antipuna’s campaign Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RichardAntipunaForStateRep/
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org