The battle in the 169th district is heating up
The clock is ticking on the 169th Legislative District being based in the Northeast.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission has voted to move the district to a fast-growing area of York County. The new maps have been appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The winner of the Nov. 6 contest between Democratic state Rep. Ed Neilson and Republican challenger Dave Kralle will likely serve only two years before the seat moves.
Both candidates hope to keep the seat in the Northeast. Rep. Denny O’Brien long held the seat before vacating it in January to join City Council.
Neilson, 49, of Millbrook, a former political director of the local electricians union and a former official in Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, was director of government relations and business development at Chartwell Law Offices when he decided to enter the race.
Kralle, 26, of Normandy, was an aide to O’Brien.
In an April special election, Neilson defeated Kralle with 54.1 percent of the vote. He was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Kralle won the Republican primary, setting up the rematch.
In an effort to keep the 169th district local, Neilson submitted testimony to the reapportionment commission and met with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.
“I met with both sides of the aisle from day one up there to lobby to keep this district,” he said.
Neilson told Republican House Speaker Sam Smith that he’s doesn’t blindly vote with his party in Harrisburg and that the GOP would do better to move another district, if Philadelphia is to lose a district.
In addition, he cited population trends in the last decade.
“The 169th increased in population,” he said.
The state Supreme Court already has rejected the commission’s first set of maps, requiring the 2012 races to be held using lines drawn 10 years ago. That decision should help Democrats cut into Senate Republicans’ advantage and win back some House seats that the GOP took in the 2010 Republican wave election.
Still, Republicans are expected to hold both the Senate and House, and Kralle thinks he’d be the better lobbyist to keep the 169th in the Northeast, if the court again throws out the maps.
Kralle also contends that he’d be a better legislator than Neilson, who serves in the minority party.
“It’s important that I get elected because my party will be in the majority the next two years. We need somebody in Harrisburg who can use those two years effectively,” he said.
If the Supreme Court accepts the maps, Kralle’s home would be located in the 173rd district, represented by Democratic Rep. Mike McGeehan.
Neilson’s home would be in the 174th district, represented by Democratic Rep. John Sabatina Jr. He declined to speculate on a possible showdown with Sabatina in the 2014 primary.
“One election at a time,” he said.
The rematch does not seem to have the excitement level of the special election, but both men say they are active on the campaign trail.
Neilson won’t run cable television commercials this time, but he’ll send out up to five mailings. When not in Harrisburg, he’s meeting voters at their doorsteps and at the St. Martha carnival.
“Every night, I’m home, I’m out,” he said.
Kralle understands his uphill climb. He has no commitments of strong financial support from the House Republican Campaign Committee, though Reps. Mike Vereb and Bill Adolph have helped him. He held a $35 per person fund-raiser at Paddy Whacks Irish Sports Pub last month.
Neilson has an easier time raising money as an incumbent and has served about 1,700 constituents. He has helped citizens receive unclaimed money from the state treasury department. He and his staff met with senior citizen groups in the summer and held a recent senior fair at Penn-Crisp Gym. He attracted a big crowd to Archbishop Ryan High School in August for an outdoor screening of the movie The Three Stooges.
“It’s more challenging,” Kralle acknowledged. “I don’t have a district office where I can serve constituents.”
Kralle was given a good chance to win the special election, but believes some late negatives from his opponents helped lead to his defeat. He vows to keep his clean-campaign pledge, saying that it’s important to maintain the integrity of the political process even if it does not lead to victory.
“It’s something every candidate ought to take seriously,” he said.
Kralle has been knocking on doors in between taking three classes at Penn to finish his master’s degree in public administration.
The challenger is buoyed by earning an endorsement from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22. The union backed Neilson in the special election.
“That’s a great endorsement to have,” Kralle said.
Kralle opposes Mayor Michael Nutter’s decision to appeal Local 22’s contract award, which was won in binding arbitration. Union boss Bill Gault lives in the 169th.
“The first thing I told them,” Kralle said of his meeting with Local 22 officials, “is that I have no allegiances to Mayor Nutter.”
On the issue of education, Kralle favors an elected school board in Philadelphia.
“The political appointees are just not cutting it,” he said.
Kralle favors increases in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and other measures to give parents and students choices when faced with attending a public school that is unsafe or has subpar educational standards.
“I’m in support of full school vouchers,” he said.
Kralle has also campaigned on toughening laws against sexual predators. He said it was appropriate for Jerry Sandusky to receive a sentence that will likely keep him in prison until he dies.
“I’m pleased that that monster will not have contact with children anymore,” he said.
Neilson said his service on the House Children and Youth and Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees is rewarding. He’s proud that he reads long bills and hasn’t missed a vote.
Neilson is the prime sponsor of a half-dozen bills.
One would allow a school to punish students who bully classmates on the Internet. He cited the bullying of a 15-year-old student at a local charter school. Some students made an unflattering YouTube video about the girl. The ringleader of the bullies has left the school, and the abuse has stopped.
“It’s been very satisfying,” Neilson said of the outcome.
Neilson also is pushing a bill to include physical and mental disabilities as a protected class in the ethnic intimidation law. He’s also in favor of a bill to prevent the release of prisoners until their electronic monitoring devices are set up. And he wants to use gambling proceeds to establish a fund to pay tipsters who identify the killers of law enforcement officers.
“It’s a little motivation. They’re going to want a piece of that money,” Neilson said. ••