On Wednesday, the Democratic candidates for the 197th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives vied for the last word before the primary elections on May 15, which — given that there are no Republican candidates currently running for the position — will most likely determine who will represent the district in North Philadelphia in the state legislature this fall.
In a forum co-hosted by Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan independent voice for better politics and government, and AL DÍA News at the AL DÍA newsroom, candidates Danilo Burgos, Frederick Ramirez, and incumbent Rep. Emilio Vazquez introduced their platforms and debated questions on how to deal with gun violence, the opioid crisis, job creation, and other topics of importance for the communities of the 197th District, comprised of neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, including sections of Fairhill, Kensington, Hunting Park, Glenwood, and Feltonville.
“We forget, but so much of what dictates Philadelphia’s fate — funding for schools, funding for neighborhoods, funding for health and human services, is determined in the state capital,” said David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy who co-moderated the forum along with John N. McGuire of AL DÍA, as he introduced the candidates.
Burgos, a former aide to Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Councilman Allan Domb who has been endorsed by Democratic ward leaders in the district, cited his work with the Philadelphia Dominican Grocers Association as an example of his expertise in accomplishing change in the community.
He named crime as one of the top issues that he would address if elected, while also emphasizing that he would “[put] a human face to the problems that affect us” for the rest of the state.
Frederick Ramirez, president of the Pan-American Mental Health Clinic, said that his work in opening up behavioral health clinics in North Philadelphia and working in the field with the for-profit corporation for the past 18 years has prepared him for a role in the state legislature. Ramirez ran for the House seat in a special election in March 2017 but was removed over allegations that he was not residing in the district.
“We’re probably the poorest district in the commonwealth. The poorest district in the poorest large city in the country,” said Ramirez. “And yet we pull together.”
He called for an increased focus on education, and a hard line on gun control.
“I would never vote for a bill that waters down background checks. Gun violence in our community is the number one stressor of our children, youth, our elderly, and our citizens. We are under siege. And I would never give up that principle for that. Too many of us have suffered the consequence of too many guns and too much gun violence in our community,” stated Ramirez.
Vazquez, the incumbent who was elected via a write-in campaign in March 2017 when former Rep. Leslie Acosta resigned due to charges of corruption, said that he has been able to bring in to the district $4.8 million in the past year, although he did not provide full details of that number other than citing a $1.5 million to Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging.
With the goal to “make sure that our district gets the way it was when I first got here in 1972,” Vazquez said, if re-elected, that he would focus on improving education and job creation, including bolstering small businesses and manufacturing in district communities.
Burgos said that in order to garner bipartisan support, he would focus on ways to increase the tax base.
“We need to figure out collectively, from both sides of the aisle, how do we increase our tax base without hurting our blue-collar constituents across the state,” he said.