When Kevin Boyle challenged John Perzel two years ago, there was only one issue in the race — Perzel’s pending criminal charges.
Perzel, a Republican, served the 172nd Legislative District for 32 years, including a stint as speaker from 2003-06. He beat back a few tough challenges but otherwise cruised to re-election every two years.
By 2010, he was facing charges that he used public funds for election purposes. The Republican election wave was not enough to save him. Boyle, a Democrat who formerly served as an aide to City Councilman Bill Greenlee, took 53.7 percent of the vote.
Perzel ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.
Boyle, meanwhile, has spent his two years in office supporting legislation that will crack down on negligent property owners and help keep private elementary and high schools viable. He believes he deserves another two years.
“I’m running on my record,” he said.
Al Taubenberger is the Republican candidate. He’s the longtime president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
Taubenberger last November lost a tight race for an at-large City Council seat. He finished 203 votes behind David Oh after leading most of the night.
Based on that strong showing, Taubenberger joined the legislative race to return the 172nd district to Republican control.
Besides his work at the Chamber, Taubenberger serves as president of the Burholme Community Town Watch and Civic Association.
“It’s an old-style neighborhood race. The race will come down to who has done the most for the community,” he said.
Boyle, 32, and Taubenberger, 59, both live in Fox Chase. The incumbent lives on Burholme Avenue, while the challenger resides on Loney Street.
So far, it’s been a ground game, with few mailings and no cable television commercials.
“We have a commercial ready to go,” Boyle said.
A state House district is small enough to allow candidates to knock on most or all of the doors within the boundaries. There are plenty of rowhomes, especially in the Mayfair and Holmesburg portions of the district, making the job easier.
Boyle, whose wife, Caitlyn, is a high school English teacher, is a veteran of door-to-door campaigning. He helped his older brother Brendan in his unsuccessful challenges to Rep. George Kenney in 2004 and ‘06 and his victorious campaign in 2008 after Kenney declined to seek another term in the 170th district.
In 2010, the younger Boyle went door to door in winning a three-way primary and the race against Perzel. He also had to turn back a primary challenge in April.
“Primary challengers are mixed blessings,” he said.
While he was forced to spend some money in the spring, Boyle was able to get to about 7,500 likely Democratic primary voters’ doors from January through April and has been banging on the doors of registered voters since the second week of July.
Taubenberger is in his fifth campaign, but the first in which going door to door is paramount. Besides last year’s Council race, he ran for Congress in 2002 and ’04 and mayor in ’07.
Like Boyle, Taubenberger is meeting registered voters face to face, reasoning that there will be high voter turnout in a presidential year.
“If you’re registered, I’m knocking at your door,” he said.
The district will change once the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approves new legislative maps. The 172nd district would, under the map pending before the court, gain Rockledge, portions of Burholme and Castor Gardens and more of Fox Chase while shedding Tacony and portions of Mayfair and Holmesburg.
Boyle’s overall focus is making the Northeast a good place to live and work. He’s been vocal about his opposition to a proposed methadone clinic at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street and hopes the directors decide against opening. The matter is in the courts.
“The community is one-hundred and ten percent opposed to them,” Boyle said.
Taubenberger, a lifelong Northeast resident who is married with four children and four grandchildren, wants to use the office to protect Philadelphians from what he sees as the shortcomings of city government.
At doors, he tells residents that it’s unfair for the city to raise property taxes and close fire stations. He opposes the city’s appeal of the binding arbitration award for the firefighters union and contends that the police department is understaffed.
Taubenberger does like Councilman Bobby Henon’s Bad Neighbor Initiative to address deteriorating properties. He thinks single-family properties are best for a neighborhood, and the civic association he leads has taken a firm stand against duplex conversions.
Taubenberger’s priority is jobs, and Mayor Michael Nutter appointed him to the Philadelphia Jobs Commission.
But the way Taubenberger sees it, if the city lowered taxes on people and businesses, jobs would increase and there would be no need for a commission.
The candidates differ sharply on the state’s new voter photo identification law, which will be delayed until next year following a judge’s ruling on Tuesday.
Boyle voted against the bill and, in a printed message to constituents, called it an “outrageous assault on our most fundamental American right” and a “new scheme to suppress our vote.”
Taubenberger believes the law will have little impact in the 172nd when it is ultimately implemented.
“I think most people in the district are registered and have ID,” he said.
So, who is going to win the race?
Four years ago, when Democrat Barack Obama carried the district over Republican John McCain 52 to 47 percent, it was a strong year for Democrats.
Two years ago, Boyle was a rare Democratic highlight on a big night for Republicans, who gained 13 state House seats. He questions whether state Republicans, who have to protect a number of vulnerable freshmen, will come to Taubenberger’s aid.
Boyle liked the results of a recent internal poll.
“We have a very healthy lead, well over twenty points, about twenty-five,” he said.
Taubenberger has also taken a poll, which showed a much closer contest.
“The district is very conservative, and I have high name ID for someone who is not elected to public office,” he said. “It’s a very close, competitive race.” ••EndFragment