The bar isn’t very high for newly minted state Rep. Emilio A. Vazquez.
The last two elected officials to represent North Philadelphia’s 197th House District in Harrisburg left office in disgrace: former state Rep. Jose "J.P." Miranda went down over a ghost employee scam and former state Rep. Leslie Acosta pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering.
Vazquez, a Brooklyn native who moved to Hunting Park with his family in the 1970s, said it’s a new day for his district.
“What happened with the past two district representatives, I don’t have anything to do with it,” Vazquez told Philadelphia Weekly. “But moving forward, I’ll make sure that I win the confidence of the voters in the 197.”
The 197th District, a gerrymandered wedge of predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhoods, is in many ways the face of Philadelphia’s seemingly intractable poverty rate. The median household income in parts of the district is as low as $17,106, according to a recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Vazquez, 49, has long headed up the city’s 43rd Ward and is a member of the bickering clans that make up North Philadelphia’s Latino strongholds. He now must work with past rivals City Councilwoman Maria Quíñones-Sánchez and state Rep. Angel Cruz.
Perennial promises to bury the hatchet for the good of the barrio’s constituents are hardly news, but Vazquez said that he intends to keep the peace this time.
“I’m going to be calling (Quíñones-Sánchez) and I’m going to be calling (Cruz) to make sure we’re all on the same page for the embetterment of the district,” he said.
But Vazquez acknowledged he will stay at the helm of his conflict-prone ward, joining a lengthy list of elected Democrats who also double as ward leaders.
His role as a ward leader was instrumental during the bizarre special election that followed Acosta’s abrupt ouster as Vazquez, despite his early interest, wasn’t the party’s first choice. He ultimately won with a last-minute write-in campaign after the party’s nominee, Freddie Ramirez, was booted from the ballot for failing to meet residency requirements.
The result of the special election is currently being challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Republican and Green Party candidates that Vazquez trounced on March 21.
In a recent interview, former Gov. Ed Rendell called on Democratic City Committee Chairman and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady to strip ward leaders’ power, saying their self-interest had contributed to fiascos like the 197th District’s special election. Brady didn’t bite.
Vazquez seems comfortable enough with his current arrangement. Asked about how he would juggle the roles, he said, “I have to follow the ethics for the office I was sworn in for.” He promised to separate his political operations from his day-to-day legislative duties.
Prior to taking office, Vazquez worked for the Philadelphia Parking Authority. He started as a ticket writer in 2003, and climbed the ranks to become a revenue auditor at Philadelphia International Airport, where he was making $58,220 per year at the time of his departure.
On March 31, Vazquez received a payout of $3,294.75 for 117 hours of accrued holiday, vacation, administrative leave and comp time, according to PPA spokesman Martin O’Rourke.
Vazquez said he was charged with monitoring the money that comes in from the cashiers at the airport’s toll booths.
“At the end of the week, we would sum up how much money we made and make sure that it was accurate. If anybody was short, we would write them up,” Vazquez said, adding that his financial experience will be a benefit to the district.
In the mid-2000s, Vazquez was hit with several tax liens, one as high as $34,160.76. He filed for bankruptcy and the liens have been resolved for more than a decade.
“That was 10 years ago,” Vazquez said. “It’s been taken off my credit report.”
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.