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Daniel Orsino
Daniel 'Duke' Orsino says he's not afraid of getting his hands dirty to get work done. Photo by Nigel Thompson / AL DÍA News

Daniel ‘Duke’ Orsino wants to disrupt business as usual in Philly City Council

Orsino is anticipating a city council at-large campaign amid a row of resignations resulting in a number of vacant seats.

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Philadelphia’s at-Large city council seats will be some of the most sought-after vacancies next year, given the unusually high number of resignations ahead of the mayoral race in 2023 to replace term-limited Jim Kenney.

The race for mayor is already competitive, and the race for city council is shaping up to be a similar, crowded field of hopefuls. 

Daniel Orsino, a former Republican-turned-Democratic Socialist, is mulling over his chances at a possible campaign as one of the five candidates at-large Democratic members. 

Orsino, 35, ran unopposed on the Republican ticket for District 1 in 2019, eventually facing off against City Council Democratic Majority Whip Mark Squilla, though he managed to siphon a few thousand votes down the wire, the first LGBTQ+ candidate to do so. 

At the time, he considered his bid a rebellious nomination to stick it to the party. 

“I had gotten about 20% of the vote as an openly progressive on the Republican ballot. I had gotten nearly 20% of the vote against Mark squilla, by the way,” he said. 

His strategy was risky. Throughout the 2019 primary, he treaded quietly through the GOP ranks up until the primary, but always considered himself “extremely liberal.” 

Unequivocally citing former President Donald Trump as his reason to dump the Republican party, Orsino explained to AL DÍA his plan to reform Philadelphia’s Republican Party. 

“We tried to see if we could try to create a more liberal branch of the Republican Party because we were really aggravated by Trumpism and all that fun stuff going on, in the racism and all,” Orsino recalled. 

And he succeeded, carefully navigating the “mortifying” events with “Trump Republicans (...) because I was running unopposed, and I knew any second, they could jerk me back off the ballot.”

Orsino had built a small resistance from within the party and saw it as the sunset of the modern GOP into a new wave of progressive Republicans, “the start of something bigger,” he said. 

But the January 6th insurrection was Orsino’s last straw, and considering how he’d performed well enough on a Republican ticket, the South Jersey native is now revisiting a run with a party that shares his values and with a progressive edge.

Change is the principle

Daniel ‘Duke’ Orsino is Philly born, and raised in neighboring Gloucester City, New Jersey.

Five years ago, Orsino and his husband, Rithy, moved to North Philadelphia, a place he had long considered home, and he works as a Housing Counselor for Congreso, Philly’s Hispanic center located in Kensington. 

Quick to the point, he dove into his work and how it continued to inform the political platform he’s built. “It’s a big undertaking.” 

Similar to his presence within the GOP, Orsino says reform is the path to any progress, and he wants to start with housing, working primarily with seniors. His work led to an AL DÍA 40 Under Forty recognition in 2021. 

“There's not enough housing to go around. Gentrification is horrible. I'm just gonna say it off the bat, it's really limiting the availability of affordable housing,” Orsino said.

He spoke of interactions between his department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provides federal subsidies for public housing, housing vouchers, ultimately attempting to make it more affordable for lower-income populations.

But the waitlists are, in many cases, years long, and real estate availability in affordable neighborhoods is becoming alarmingly limited.

“It's a universal issue here in town. There is no housing availability, senior housing, like I said, [a] five-year waiting list of times harder to solve that.”

Orsino says the system is outdated and no longer serves its purpose. 

“If we're going to solve this issue, the current model doesn't work. This voucher system is not working. [Philadelphia Housing Authority] is a mess. I mean, it needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. And we need to rethink what public housing is.”

Responding to how he would manage it legislatively, Orsino wants to look outward and run case studies in countries like “Asia, where public housing is 100 times better.” 

Orsino also expanded on his housing platform, available on his website, to examine new housing concepts, where he hopes to bring urban planners to shift models outside of American public housing “and go from there.” 

Expansion of Public Services

Through his own professional experience, he’s made headway.

“When I worked at the Senior Center, I created programs that brought LGBTQ social services for older adults to North Philadelphia. And part of that was to create programs that were culturally competent, particularly for black and brown communities.”

Orsino maintained that a concentration of services in Center City needs to be spread outward, in keeping with his theme.

 “Unfortunately, a lot of the programs that are run by, you know, a lot of these organizations in Center City, focus on middle to upper-class white folk. That's the sad truth.”

It’s all part of his plans to reform how the city approaches public services, and he wants to go further. 

In doing so, Orsino hopes to tackle public safety and reform the way that Philly trains and hires police officers.

“Our police need a degree. All our police need a criminal justice degree and a minor in social work like that they should have a minor, like some sort of minor in social work.”

And beyond a collegiate requirement, he believes that extending Academy training should be two years long and “ involve actual classes” that get to the bottom of crime in Philly.

The city does not require law enforcement officials to hold a college degree but asks for an equivalent of a high school diploma. 

The training period is roughly six months or 30 weeks, and the department ranges from a series of examinations. 

Orsino envisions a model where social workers are placed in police stations, fire stations, and alongside paramedics, in concert with establishing a well-rounded network of clinicians by expanding healthcare. 

“I don't think any city has ever done this. And I think it's very feasible. So universal health care is something I'm very big on. And I think it's a very feasible plan to grant everybody. Universal healthcare in the city of Philadelphia.”

Under Orsino’s ambitious proposal, there is a funding strategy by way of establishing a Public Bank governed by the municipality. 

His proposal mirrors that of mayoral candidate Derek Green, who proposed legislation that would workaround the limits imposed by the state that prevent Philly from creating a Public Bank by creating a Public Finance Authority. 

Under Green’s proposal, the Finance Authority would be overseen by a mayor-appointed, nine-member corporate board. 

The only existing Public Banks in the country are located in North Dakota, founded in 1919, and a much younger, though similar operation in American Samoa. 

“We'd have to have a big oversight over this,” Orsino said, and added he would install a Fiscal Committee to supervise operations.  

“I think this, if it was run with a lot of oversight, I do trust this because this is a good way to bring in income into the city without having to charge people more taxes. Like, I don’t want to be charged more taxes.,” he jested. 

 

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This content is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.

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