Legislative elections are just around the corner, and this year, there’s a new face in the mix.
Democrat William Dunbar, a fresh-faced 27-year-old, will run in November against incumbent Republican John Taylor for his 177th district seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Taylor has represented the district — which covers most of the riverward neighborhoods, including Port Richmond, Bridesburg and Fishtown, and parts of Juniata and Wissinoming — for 27 years.
Because of Taylor’s long tenure, Dunbar views his own campaign as a political version of the story of David and Goliath. Yet he has faith that his youthful energy and contemporary ideas will lead him to victory.
During a recent interview, Dunbar explained that he has devoted himself to a career — and a life — focused on public service. Born and raised in the Overbrook Farms section of Philadelphia, Dunbar went to Lincoln University and received his undergraduate degree in political science and criminal justice; he earned his master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Dunbar lives in Port Richmond with his wife, Fay Marie, and their three children.
“When I moved to Port Richmond with my wife about four years ago, we did so because we thought it was a great neighborhood. The mom-and-pop shops on every corner, the community aspect, the neighborhood feel with a big city vibe … we loved that and we wanted to be part of it, to raise our family in it,” he said. “But what I began to realize was that we needed more resources in our community, and a more active role from our current leaders. This realization is really what prompted me to run.”
If he wins, it wouldn’t be Dunbar’s first exposure to political office. He has been special assistant to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-2nd dist.), was director of community engagement under state Rep. Tony Payton (D-179th dist.), served as director of children and youth programs at the United Communities of Southeastern Philadelphia — a non-profit that focuses on building self-sustaining communities — and has had an active role in the CORE Philly Scholarship Program, the Urban Education Fund, and other community programs.
But he knows that unseating an incumbent, especially a longstanding and well-regarded civil servant like John Taylor, is no easy task.
But Dunbar says he’s up for the challenge.
As he sees it, a fresh outlook is needed to deliver changes for the better.
ldquo;We need better schools. We need better crime protection for our citizens. We need more police on the streets. And we need more social resources,” he said. “And God knows, we don’t need any more representatives voting for our governor and his despicable budget.”
Taylor’s hands-on approach to community action has earned him much support over the years. He’s known locally for cracking down against community and school violence and addressing the urban decay and blight issues that have plagued the community.
Comparatively, Dunbar’s political platform focuses on four main components: education, crime, the economy and housing.
Although he supports the need to address blighted properties, Dunbar wants to keep education reform at the forefront.
“It is inhumane for children to be imprisoned in these failing schools because of where they live. My main platform surrounds educational opportunity and figuring out how we can create these opportunities in a structured and sustainable way where we’re all winning,” Dunbar said.
If Dunbar proves successful in the November election, the state House will offer his first position as an elected official.
He doesn’t regard his youth as a disadvantage. It seems his supporters don’t, either.
Grant Venerable, former senior vice president at Lincoln University, has faith in Dunbar’s ability.
“I have watched Will grow from youth to the man he is today. His ability to have such enormous vision at such a young age, but also the maturity to remain balanced, is extraordinary,” said Venerable. “He realizes that, with an obligation to a larger community, we can become a better society. Retaining the values of older generations and applying them to form new values will have a spillover effect … he is twenty-first century.”
Dunbar said he understands that voters may recognize Taylor as a familiar face, but will they still feel he’s the best candidate?
“Representative Taylor and I have not met, but I welcome the conversation with him,” said Dunbar. “At this point we need representatives in our community that are focused on the work at hand. My district is one that needs attention. We need a representative who is there, fighting, every day for that community. I’m here to fight, to shake hands and kiss babies. I’m a young face, new, with fresh ideas. The first step toward progress is getting me elected … change comes one seat at a time.”
For more information on William Dunbar’s campaign, visit www.williamfdunbar.com.