The race to succeed state Rep. Mike McGeehan got a bit more crowded last Thursday as Holmesburg business owner Paul DeFinis declared his candidacy for Pennsylvania’s 173rd legislative district seat.
DeFinis, a 49-year-old Democrat, made his announcement during the monthly meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association, a group that he helped found a decade ago. The Torresdale native and 1982 Archbishop Ryan graduate owns and operates DeFinis State Auto Body at 8305 Torresdale Ave. He joins tavern owner and Torresdale resident Mike Driscoll in the Democratic field for the May 20 primary.
McGeehan was first elected in 1990 and will not seek a 13th term in office. On the Republican side, Mike Tomlinson is the lone declared candidate. Candidates must submit nomination petitions by March 11.
“I care about this community and like you I come to these meetings every month to make the community better,” DeFinis told UHCA members. “I feel I could be a great voice for the civic (associations) and the community.”
In addition to his auto body business, DeFinis is a certified public adjuster. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Penn State.
DeFinis, the fourth of six siblings, has never before run for public office, but he worked in the office of former state Sen. Jim Lloyd as a high school senior. He has also done neighborhood-level volunteer work on a few political campaigns.
Several years ago, he was among a group of automotive professionals assembled by the Pennsylvania Gasoline Retailers Association that took part in public hearings and helped draft legislation to amend the state’s Motor Vehicle Physical Damage Appraisers Code. DeFinis described it as a consumer advocacy effort that ultimately restricted the power of insurance carriers to dictate where and how accident victims get their vehicles repaired. The group partnered with House Insurance Committee Chairman Nicholas Micozzie (R-Delaware County) on the package.
With the Upper Holmesburg civic group, DeFinis has served as zoning chairman. In that role, he twice attended the City Planning Commission’s Citizens Planning Institute and served as his organization’s point person on a neighborhood planning initiative.
The outcome was the 26-page Upper Holmesburg Neighborhood Goals and Strategies Report, which will be incorporated into the city’s Philadelphia2035 initiative.
The report, issued in 2011, has served as a guide for the redevelopment of the former Liddonfield Homes public housing site into a future Holy Family University campus. The Philadelphia Housing Authority awarded development rights through a request for proposals process. Construction is pending a formal sale of the property.
“The RFP was based on the (neighborhood) plan,” DeFinis said in an interview with the Northeast Times.
In 2006, DeFinis also helped the UHCA block an effort by a Georgia-based company to establish a 20-acre auto junkyard near Hegerman and Pennypack streets. He views public office as a next logical step.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and the opportunity came up,” he said. “It’s probably a one-time deal.”
In other neighborhood business, the civic association gave its approval to a proposed nail salon, but rejected a property owner’s effort to subdivide a single-family home.
The nail salon would replace a former lingerie shop at 8921 Frankford Ave., next door to an established barber shop. Although the storefront has long operated as a business, it is zoned residential, so the would-be proprietor needs a variance to open the salon.
The civic group voted 14-9 to approve the request, with opponents expressing a concern that nail salons are sometimes associated with neighborhoods in decline.
Meanwhile, the UHCA opted not to vote on a zoning issue at 8517 Frankford Ave. The owner of the property seeks to legalize what she described as a two-story duplex with separate apartments on each floor. She plans on renting the spaces to relatives.
However, the site is not zoned as a multi-family dwelling. The city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection has it listed as a commercial property (the residence in fact is attached to a tax office), while the Office of Property Assessment considers it a single-family dwelling, according to the owner.
UHCA President Stan Cywinski said that the civic group has a standing policy against rental conversions, a policy members established through a prior vote.
He recommended that the owner contact a zoning attorney to help sort out the apparent contradiction in the city’s records for the property. ••