Northeast Times

Could change be headed to the 177th Legislative District?

— The ma­gic num­ber is 28 in this House dis­trict. A 28-year-old in­cum­bent vs. his 28-year-old chal­lenger.

Start­Frag­ment

Wil­li­am Dun­bar be­lieves it is time for a change in the 177th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict.

Dun­bar is the Demo­crat chal­len­ging Re­pub­lic­an Rep. John Taylor, who was first elec­ted in 1984.

“I’m twenty-eight years old. He’s been there twenty-eight years,” Dun­bar said.

Taylor said there is no reas­on to toss him out of of­fice on Nov. 6.

As the only Phil­adelphia Re­pub­lic­an in the le­gis­lature — Up­per Mo­re­land’s Tom Murt rep­res­ents a small por­tion of Somer­ton in the 152nd Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict — Taylor said he has been in­volved in is­sues such as pub­lic school fund­ing; the Edu­ca­tion­al Im­prove­ment Tax Cred­it pro­gram to be­ne­fit Cath­ol­ic schools; red-light cam­er­as; spon­sor­ing a “land bank” bill to help cit­ies ac­quire tax-fore­closed prop­er­ties; and the homestead ex­emp­tion and oth­er mat­ters re­lated to sav­ing tax­pay­ers money when the city ad­opts the Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive next year to cal­cu­late prop­erty taxes.

Taylor said city lead­ers are not go­ing all out to topple him.

“It’s not easy be­ing a Re­pub­lic­an, but the city of Phil­adelphia knows that me be­ing there is the only line to the ma­jor­ity party,” he said.

• • •

The 177th stretches from Wissi­nom­ing to Fishtown and also in­cludes North­wood, Frank­ford, Brides­burg, Port Rich­mond, Har­rowg­ate and Ju­ni­ata.

Taylor, 57, lives on Haworth Street in North­wood. He is mar­ried with four chil­dren.

Dun­bar lives on Castor Av­en­ue. He is mar­ried with three chil­dren. He was an aide to state Rep. Tony Payton be­fore resign­ing last Oc­to­ber to be­come a full-time can­did­ate. He is also a former aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fat­tah.

Demo­crats have a huge voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in the dis­trict.

“He doesn’t want people to know he’s a Re­pub­lic­an,” Dun­bar said of Taylor.

In fact, cam­paign lit­er­at­ure does not list Taylor as a Re­pub­lic­an. A bul­let point un­der “The Taylor Re­cord” in one cam­paign piece states, “Called a ‘Li­on’ for stop­ping Re­pub­lic­an ef­forts to cut med­ic­al care for the eld­erly.”

Taylor hopes voters will keep say­ing, “So what,” to op­pon­ents, point­ing out he is a Re­pub­lic­an rep­res­ent­ing a dis­trict with a big Demo­crat­ic tilt.

The law­maker has three dis­trict of­fices. The dis­trict is a mix of new­comers and long­time res­id­ents who have been vot­ing for Taylor every two years for al­most three dec­ades.

“People util­ize our of­fices and are fa­mil­i­ar with a lot of stuff we do,” Taylor said.

Dun­bar said the two can­did­ates are “drastic­ally dif­fer­ent” in many ways.

The Demo­crat op­poses the state’s new voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law, which will be im­ple­men­ted in 2013. Taylor voted for it.

The chal­lenger is pro-choice on abor­tion and has been en­dorsed by the Planned Par­ent­hood Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Com­mit­tee. Taylor is pro-life.

Dun­bar also joins Demo­crat­ic le­gis­lat­ors in call­ing for the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice to in­vest­ig­ate the hand­ling of the case of con­victed child sex ab­user Jerry San­dusky. Gov. Tom Corbett was state at­tor­ney gen­er­al when the al­leg­a­tions sur­faced. House Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve Demo­crats are try­ing to score polit­ic­al points.

The two can­did­ates will not settle their dif­fer­ences in a de­bate.

Dun­bar wants to de­bate his op­pon­ent.

“I’ll clear my sched­ule any day be­fore the elec­tion,” he said. “I’m more than happy to de­bate him, but the guy doesn’t want to de­bate.”

Taylor re­calls see­ing Dun­bar at a re­cent North­wood Civic As­so­ci­ation when the de­bate is­sue was men­tioned.

“Let’s do it right now,” Taylor told his op­pon­ent.

The de­bate didn’t hap­pen then, as the group was not pre­pared for an im­promptu de­bate. Taylor be­lieves it’s bet­ter for both can­did­ates to ex­press their views in front of built-in audi­ences at com­munity meet­ings rather than bring­ing sup­port­ers to a form­al de­bate.

• • •

Dun­bar, not­ing the num­ber of low- and middle-in­come res­id­ents in the dis­trict, be­lieves key is­sues are de­cay­ing hous­ing, strug­gling busi­nesses and cash as­sist­ance for the dis­abled and un­em­ployed.

“The Re­pub­lic­an agenda that Corbett and John Taylor are spew­ing across Pennsylvania are do­ing all of us a dis­ser­vice,” he said.

Both can­did­ates ex­pect a high turnout at the polls and have been knock­ing on doors.

Dun­bar claims to have can­vassed the dis­trict four times. Last month, he cam­paigned in the dis­trict with U.S. Sen. Bob Ca­sey Jr.

The chal­lenger has met voters who say kind things about Taylor, but he be­lieves likab­il­ity shouldn’t de­term­ine one’s vote.

“The primary job is to go to Har­ris­burg to vote on and craft le­gis­la­tion that will dir­ectly im­pact the com­munity you serve,” he said.

Taylor will out­spend him, Dun­bar con­cedes, but the Demo­crat thinks the out­come won’t be de­cided un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing after Elec­tion Day. He thinks the 177th’s Go­liath could be sent in­to re­tire­ment.

“He’s in the race of his life. I’m the Dav­id of this dis­trict,” he said.

• • •

Taylor was un­op­posed in 2010 and took 59 per­cent of the vote against Harry Eng­gass­er in 2008, when Barack Obama had people in the dis­trict ex­cited about his can­did­acy.

“We’re com­pet­ing with the top of the tick­et. There will be a pretty siz­able mar­gin for the pres­id­ent in this dis­trict. We know that,” Taylor said. “The chal­lenge is to get people to vote without pulling the straight lever.”

Taylor will be ask­ing people to vote first for state rep­res­ent­at­ive, which will be lis­ted on the bot­tom of the bal­lot. He’ll be telling voters to push num­ber 108 first.

“The big key, which we didn’t do in 2008, will be to tell people how to split their bal­lot, to work from the bot­tom up. In ’08, we didn’t do a good job of that,” he said.

Taylor’s cam­paign team knocks on each door of the dis­trict mul­tiple times. The in­cum­bent ex­pects to ap­pear at half the doors by Elec­tion Day.

On Sat­urday, he joined sup­port­ers Car­los Ruiz, Joe “Coach” Heffn­er, Donna Heffn­er and Mark Heffn­er in banging on doors in the 33rd Ward, 10th Di­vi­sion in Ju­ni­ata.

He and his team prom­ised to help a wo­man who has a plumb­ing prob­lem in her home, an­oth­er wo­man who had her car stolen and an­oth­er wo­man who com­plained of drug houses on her block.

A Luzerne Street res­id­ent who iden­ti­fied her­self as a Demo­crat­ic com­mit­tee­wo­man prom­ised to vote for him.

An L Street res­id­ent and neigh­bor­hood act­iv­ist wear­ing a “Yes We Can” Obama T-shirt prom­ised to go door-to-door with Taylor this week.

A How­land Street res­id­ent thanked Taylor be­cause his staff helped her get a death cer­ti­fic­ate when her dad died. He ex­pects her vote, but is sur­prised by her re­sponse.

“I haven’t voted since Re­agan was in of­fice,” she said.

Taylor, elec­ted the same year Ron­ald Re­agan earned a second term as pres­id­ent, be­lieves he is far more qual­i­fied than Dun­bar. The in­cum­bent ar­gues that he and his staff are act­ively en­gaged, un­der­stand con­stitu­ent needs and are ad­ept at solv­ing prob­lems.

If re-elec­ted, Taylor hopes to chair the power­ful House Trans­port­a­tion Com­mit­tee. ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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