Neilson hopes to keep O'Brien's seat

Ed Niel­son (second ffrom the right) is palling around with sup­port­ers at his vic­tory party at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s on Tues­day, April 24, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Greg Bez­anis)


Ed Neilson was on his way from his cam­paign of­fice at the Grant Academy Shop­ping Cen­ter to his elec­tion night party at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s on Roosevelt Boulevard when he re­ceived a phone call from his op­pon­ent.

It was about 9:45 p.m. when Dave Kralle called Neilson to con­grat­u­late him on win­ning the spe­cial elec­tion in the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict. Neilson was un­op­posed in the Demo­crat­ic primary, held the same day.

“I’m very humbled,” he said. “It was such a group ef­fort.”

Neilson de­feated Kralle, a Re­pub­lic­an, by an un­of­fi­cial count of 3,453 to 2,941, or 54 per­cent to 46 per­cent.

Re­gistered Demo­crats hold a more than 20-per­cent­age-point ad­vant­age on Re­pub­lic­ans in the dis­trict.

“I knew it would be close,” Neilson said. “Re­pub­lic­ans come out bet­ter than Demo­crats in a primary. His­tory tells you that. But the people of the 169th spoke, and they want me to fight their fight.”

Neilson will serve out the re­mainder of the term of Re­pub­lic­an Denny O’Bri­en, who joined City Coun­cil at the start of the year. His swear­ing-in ce­re­mony will take place on May 8.

In the Nov. 6 gen­er­al elec­tion, Neilson will face a fa­mil­i­ar foe, Kralle, who de­feated teach­er John Mc­Cann with 68 per­cent of the vote to win the Re­pub­lic­an primary.

The win­ner of the gen­er­al elec­tion will serve a two-year term. The Le­gis­lat­ive Re­ap­por­tion­ment Com­mis­sion has voted to move the 169th dis­trict to a fast-grow­ing area of York County, pending court ap­prov­al.

If that re­dis­trict­ing plan holds, the Neilson/Kralle win­ner in the fall would have to chal­lenge Demo­crat­ic Rep. Mike McGee­han in 2014 to keep his seat.

Al­though Demo­crats agreed to the plan, it was the GOP that pushed for the seat to move.

“Now, it’s a Demo­crat­ic seat. We want to keep it here,” Neilson said.

Kralle, who worked for O’Bri­en in his House and Coun­cil of­fices, con­ceded to Neilson in front of sup­port­ers at Rose­wood Cater­ers.

“He has big shoes to fill,” said Kralle, who had O’Bri­en’s sup­port.

Kralle beat Neilson in the dis­trict’s biggest ward, the 66th, but “not by enough,” he said. Neilson won the oth­er three wards com­fort­ably to more than off­set his 85-vote de­fi­cit in the 66th.

A former polit­ic­al dir­ect­or of In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tric­al Work­ers Loc­al 98, Neilson went on to serve as deputy labor sec­ret­ary un­der Gov. Ed Rendell. He now handles gov­ern­ment re­la­tions and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for a law firm.

Neilson plans to keep his cam­paign of­fice open and will also have a dis­trict of­fice at a site to be de­term­ined, prom­ising that it will be han­di­capped ac­cess­ible. He’ll also speak to the pres­id­ents of loc­al seni­or cit­izen or­gan­iz­a­tions to form a seni­or task force.

In the early-morn­ing hours on Elec­tion Day, Neilson’s sup­port­ers hung vot­ing re­mind­ers on door handles and dec­or­ated polling places. Poll work­ers showed voters a blown-up dia­gram of the bal­lot so they could find the spe­cial elec­tion and Neilson’s but­ton in the booth.

Fam­ily, friends, neigh­bors and Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5 rep­res­ent­at­ives backed Neilson at the polls.

Neilson said those sup­port­ers had in­flu­ence in a close, low-turnout elec­tion.

“Every­body was out. Each one of those votes coun­ted,” he said.

Neilson ran a tra­di­tion­al cam­paign for a state House seat, knock­ing on doors and put­ting up lawn signs. His wife, Dor­is, and friend Jeff Gra­ham were es­pe­cially ef­fect­ive at per­suad­ing voters to put a sign on their lawn.

The Demo­crat also had the sup­port of the po­lice and fire­fight­ers uni­ons and oth­er labor or­gan­iz­a­tions. He raised enough money to run nu­mer­ous cam­paign com­mer­cials on cable tele­vi­sion. Kralle couldn’t match that.

“It was hard work and a team ef­fort from labor and vo­lun­teers,” said Neilson cam­paign man­ager Bri­an Ed­dis.

The cam­paign turned neg­at­ive in the end, with Kralle get­ting slammed by Neilson, Mc­Cann and the FOP. Even a group called “Con­cerned Ir­ish Amer­ic­ans of Phil­adelphia” bashed Kralle, a proud mem­ber of An­cient Or­der of Hi­ber­ni­ans Di­vi­sion 17.

Kralle was on the de­fens­ive be­cause of his age (25), cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions by former May­or John Street and a school vouch­ers group, role in a mur­al me­mori­al­iz­ing slain po­lice of­ficer John Pawlowski and the fact he does not own a home. A Neilson for the North­east fli­er dis­missed him as an “im­ma­ture kid.”

“The last-minute neg­at­ive at­tacks really hurt,” Kralle said.

Kralle seemed par­tic­u­larly irked that a Mc­Cann let­ter stated that he “so­li­cited” cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from Street.

“I nev­er so­li­cited con­tri­bu­tions from John Street,” said Kralle, adding that the former may­or was his teach­er at a class at Temple and that he sent $350 in on­line dona­tions on his own, a ver­sion con­firmed by Street.

Kralle said he is proud that he ran a pos­it­ive cam­paign.

“I have no re­grets,” he said.

Among those join­ing Kralle were his mom, broth­er, sis­ter, O’Bri­en and state Rep. Mike Vereb of Mont­gomery County.

O’Bri­en be­lieves the neg­at­ives were dam­aging but cred­ited Kralle with com­ing close to vic­tory with a pos­it­ive mes­sage.

First elec­ted to the state House in 1976 at age 23, O’Bri­en re­calls Re­pub­lic­ans nom­in­at­ing Jerry Ford for pres­id­ent that year, only to lament that, “We picked the wrong guy,” after hear­ing a stir­ring con­ven­tion speech from Ron­ald Re­agan.

“I think we picked the wrong guy,” O’Bri­en said of the 169th spe­cial elec­tion. ••


Votes in the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict spe­cial elec­tion


Ward    Kralle  Neilson

57    462    814 

58    154    327   

65    178    250

66    2,147    2,062 

Over­all  2,941    3,453

End­Frag­ment End­Frag­ment

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