Northeast Times

Somerton Civic Association has new leader

  • Newly in charge: Seth Kaplan, 29, spends time with 3-year-old daughter, Michaela, at Boyle Memorial Playground in Somerton. Kaplan is the new president of the Somerton Civic Association, replacing Dolores Barbieri, who resigned the post last week to give way to Kaplan. No one else was nominated. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Newly in charge: Seth Kaplan, 29, spends time with 3-year-old daughter, Michaela, at Boyle Memorial Playground in Somerton. Kaplan is the new president of the Somerton Civic Association, replacing Dolores Barbieri, who resigned the post last week to give way to Kaplan. No one else was nominated. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Newly in charge: Seth Kaplan, 29, spends time with 3-year-old daughter, Michaela, at Boyle Memorial Playground in Somerton. Kaplan is the new president of the Somerton Civic Association, replacing Dolores Barbieri, who resigned the post last week to give way to Kaplan. No one else was nominated. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Res­id­ents had every reas­on not to at­tend the June 10 meet­ing of the Somer­ton Civic As­so­ci­ation. It was the group’s fi­nal monthly meet­ing be­fore its an­nu­al sum­mer re­cess. The agenda was pretty light. Rain was fall­ing in buck­ets.

But some 50 mem­bers and oth­er com­munity stake­hold­ers trudged through the down­pour to the meet­ing hall at Walk­er Lodge 306 for the gath­er­ing — not ne­ces­sar­ily be­cause of the agenda, but more-so be­cause that’s what they al­ways seem to do.

For years, the SCA has been con­sidered one of the most act­ive neigh­bor­hood or­gan­iz­a­tions in the North­east and per­haps the city. It’s a repu­ta­tion built upon the en­gage­ment of the group’s former pres­id­ent, the late Mary Jane Hazell, as well as her long­time col­lab­or­at­or and even­tu­al suc­cessor, Dolores Bar­bieri, whose col­lect­ive in­flu­ence has guided the vo­lun­teer non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion es­sen­tially since the 1970s.

That for­mid­able leg­acy will trans­fer in­to new hands when the SCA re­con­venes in Septem­ber as 29-year-old Seth Ka­plan will hold the gavel as the as­so­ci­ation’s new pres­id­ent. Bar­bieri resigned the post last week, cit­ing her de­sire to fo­cus on oth­er com­munity activ­it­ies and Ka­plan’s will­ing­ness to take the job. There were no oth­er nom­in­ees for the po­s­i­tion, so mem­bers ap­poin­ted Ka­plan and a slate of oth­er of­ficers by ac­clam­a­tion.

“I think they see someone who’s young and wants to make a dif­fer­ence,” Ka­plan said of his neigh­bors. “And they’re go­ing to watch what I do and how I op­er­ate a his­tor­ic­ally strong or­gan­iz­a­tion.”

The new civic lead­er told the North­east Times that he’s been pre­par­ing for an op­por­tun­ity like this for much of his life. 

The son of two teach­ers who each served more than 40 years in the city’s pub­lic schools, Ka­plan grew up in nearby Bustleton. He gradu­ated from Wash­ing­ton High in 2003 and Al­bright Col­lege with a bach­el­or’s de­gree in his­tory and polit­ic­al sci­ence.

While Ka­plan was still an un­der­grad, his dad, Jay, met Brendan Boyle’s fath­er, Frank, at the polls in 2004. At the time, Brendan was run­ning for a state House seat. Seth joined the cam­paign that year as an in­tern, then vo­lun­teered for Boyle’s 2006 cam­paign for the same 170th dis­trict seat. Boyle lost both races, but re­turned in 2008 with Ka­plan as cam­paign man­ager and won the seat. Ka­plan left a ca­reer in the fin­ance in­dustry to join the cam­paign full-time.

Ka­plan served as Boyle’s deputy chief of staff un­til 2010, when he be­came chief of staff for state Rep. Kev­in Boyle, Brendan’s broth­er.

Ka­plan moved in­to Somer­ton in 2008 and joined the civic as­so­ci­ation. He now has a 3-year-old daugh­ter, Mi­chaela, to care for, too. So his mo­tiv­a­tions for pro­tect­ing and im­prov­ing the neigh­bor­hood are many.

“A lot of it is hav­ing worked with Brendan Boyle and see­ing the im­pact of what mem­bers of the com­munity can do, see­ing that in­di­vidu­al voices can make a dif­fer­ence,” Ka­plan said.

Ka­plan soon took a lead­er­ship role in the or­gan­iz­a­tion after Domin­ic Ragucci stepped down from the zon­ing chair­man po­s­i­tion. Hazell held the same job in the late 1960s and early ’70s be­fore serving more than three dec­ades as pres­id­ent.

“Once Domin­ic de­cided to step down, I looked to fill the void. They were big shoes to fill,” Ka­plan said. “[For me] it was learn­ing on the fly. A lot of what pre­pared me was my le­gis­lat­ive job, by work­ing with and learn­ing from the com­munity, work­ing with busi­nesses and res­id­ents to learn what be­ne­fits their needs.”

Ka­plan also hopes to learn from oth­er civic lead­ers past and present. He is well-aware of Hazell’s oft-told an­ec­dote in­volving her first zon­ing fight with the SCA. She and her hus­band had moved in­to the sub­urb­an-like neigh­bor­hood in 1965. Soon after, au­thor­it­ies an­nounced plans to build a 12-story apart­ment build­ing on By­berry Road. 

Hazell mo­bil­ized neigh­bors to fight the pro­ject, only to learn that it would be a re­tire­ment home for po­lice of­ficers and their fam­il­ies. She op­posed it any­way, ar­guing that high-rise apart­ments had no place in a com­munity of mostly single-fam­ily homes. Hazell and the SCA lost that battle, al­though the pro­ject was downs­ized to eight stor­ies. But years later, she ac­know­ledged that the FOP home had be­come a com­munity as­set.

It was one of the few zon­ing fights that the SCA lost un­der Hazell’s lead. In 2007, the Phil­adelphia Eagles named her one of the 75 greatest liv­ing Phil­adelphi­ans. Two years later, Hazell passed away. Bar­bieri moved from vice pres­id­ent to pres­id­ent as the group con­tin­ued its im­port­ant work.

Of note dur­ing the Hazell era, Mike Stack III served for a time as the group’s pro bono leg­al coun­sel. Stack later won a seat in the state Sen­ate and is the cur­rent Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, with sup­port from Hazell, who also served as a Demo­crat­ic com­mit­tee­wo­man in the 58th Ward. 

Years later, Hazell sup­por­ted Brendan Boyle in his bids for the state House, al­though the civic lead­er of­ten said her pri­or­ity was the com­munity, not polit­ics. Boyle is now the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee for Con­gress in Pennsylvania’s 13th dis­trict. He and Stack still live in Somer­ton.

“She was a big sup­port­er of Brendan and Stack, and I have to be­lieve she’s smil­ing right now about what they’re ac­com­plish­ing,” Ka­plan said.

Ka­plan also ap­pre­ci­ates the work that people like May­fair’s Joe De­Fe­lice are do­ing. De­Fe­lice is the zon­ing chair­man of the May­fair Civic As­so­ci­ation, that group’s former pres­id­ent and the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Phil­adelphia’s Re­pub­lic­an City Com­mit­tee.

“A great ex­ample is Joe De­Fe­lice with the May­fair Civic As­so­ci­ation, how he goes about it. His en­tire life is May­fair,” Ka­plan said. “He’s de­voted him­self to a com­munity and that’s what I look to do as well.”

Ka­plan already serves on oth­er Somer­ton or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing the boards at MaST Com­munity Charter School, North­east Vic­tims Ser­vices, North­east Fam­ily YMCA and the Re­tired Seni­or Vo­lun­teer Pro­gram at the Klein JCC, along with coach­ing base­ball at Somer­ton Youth Or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“With every or­gan­iz­a­tion, it’s about form­ing re­la­tion­ships between them and the SCA, form­ing al­li­ances,” he said. “Be­cause at the end of the day, we all have a com­mon goal to strengthen the com­munity.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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