If the crowd of 20 voters that attended the candidates’ forum for the 197th District’s special election came looking to hear from boosters of the North Philadelphia neighborhoods that encompass the district, they didn’t leave disappointed.
Choosing to stand, instead of sit, in front of a table set up for them, Republican candidate Lucinda Little, the only candidate to actually appear on the March 21 ballot; write-in Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala; and late-arriving Democratic write-in candidate Danita Bates fielded questions at the African American United Fund building on North Broad Street from the audience as well as from moderator Aissia Richardson.
One of the first questions posed to Little and Honkala revolved around their priorities upon winning the election. Honkala, as befitting her well-earned reputation as an advocate for the homeless and poverty-stricken, said that the top item on her agenda would be housing.
“The day after I’m elected, I’m going to drive around the district, and anyone I see who is homeless, on March 22, I’m going to put an end” to their situation, she emphasized. She also stated that if Philadelphia should shed its sanctuary city status, she would turn her office into a sanctuary office.
Little, a Feltonville resident who was a registered Democrat for 20 years before joining the GOP, said that jobs would be her primary focus for the district. “We need jobs, and people need the skills to get jobs,” she explained. She also stressed the need to address drugs in the district, agreeing with Honkala that more needs to be done to combat the opioid epidemic.
When Bates arrived, most of her answers to questions directed her way revolved around her high energy level, and her commitment to the district through her various volunteer and advocacy work.
Bates did provide the evening’s most surprising information. During an answer to a question about how she would drive write-in votes to the polls, she mentioned that she was just one of 30 write-in candidates who had a meeting Wednesday evening at the Guardian Civic League about the election. “We’re going to team up to push forward the strongest candidate,” she added.
While her claim of 30 candidates for the position could not be verified by press time, Little said after the event that she hoped it was true.
“I know of only eight write-in candidates,” she said, “not 30 – I hope there’s 50!”
As a Republican running in a district where only 5 percent of registered voters identify themselves as such, Little played up her bipartisan bona fides, saying that it would be a boon to Philadelphia to have another Republican in Harrisburg to represent the district and the city.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what our political affiliation is; we’re neighbors. We need to support each other.”
Richardson, the moderator, was struck by the potential number of write-in candidates, chalking it up to the impact of the presidential campaign. “It’s interesting that so many folks have made a decision to put themselves out there,” she said. “It says something about Bernie Sanders and the engagement he did to get people involved in politics.”
Jean Hackney, from Grands as Parents, a group that advocates for rights and housing for grandparents raising their grandchildren, helped put the forum together. She did so, she said, because she had yet to hear anyone address her chief concern about the district and its future.
“I really want to know what they’re going to do about the blight in the 197th – you want us to vote for you, but what are you going to do about the 197th?” she asked. “You take care of the blight, the rest of it will take care of itself.”