New PA State Rep. Jose Giral wants to turn the page in District 180
Jose Giral was a former aide to Rep. Angel Cruz, and now his boss' former district is his to change.
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The newest State Representative for Philadelphia’s District 180 is Puerto Rican born and New York-raised Jose Giral, a former small business owner who has called Philly home for more than two decades, and hopes to lead the North Philly district into a brighter future after some turbulent times.
Giral is replacing his former employer and longtime District 180 Representative Angel Cruz, who was at the helm for more than 20 years. When the longtime city official decided not to run for reelection, he passed the torch to his former legislative aide.
The longtime Philly resident ran a successful campaign that painted Giral as a representative of the community.
With a district openly dealing with the opioid crisis, underfunding of schools, and rising gun violence, Giral has a lot of new ideas he is excited to share with new Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and his fellow representatives in Harrisburg.
From P.R. to Brooklyn
Giral was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. He came to Philadelphia around 22 years ago, and opened up an auto shop he owned for over 17 years before taking on politics full time.
Over the past two decades in politics, Giral served as the Democratic committeeman for the 33rd ward for the past eight years and as a commissioner for Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, among other local and statewide organizations.
During this period, he also worked closely with former State Rep. Angel Cruz.
As for what issues he saw plaguing his community and surrounding neighborhoods, Giral attributes a lot of it to gentrification, an issue still prominent in big cities today.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where it was gentrified. It's happening over here. I want to make sure that the Latinos in this city stay here. I was a victim of gentrification. One of the reasons I came to Philadelphia was because it was so expensive,” said Giral. “That's one of the reasons I'm advocating for affordable housing, and job creation, especially for minority communities.”
Always locally active
In a sit-down with Al DÍA at his office in Kensington, Giral dove deeper into his public service life, Cruz influence and his new role as state rep.
“Throughout my 20 years, I've participated in just about every election the city has had, in one form or capacity. Either through supporting individual candidates or a whole slate of candidates,” said Giral of his Philly politics experience.
As a legislative aide, beyond policy research, Giral also engaged in creating community events and helped on the constituent services side of Cruz’s office. That experience influenced his recent run for office in 2022.
“One of the reasons I ran for office was to make sure that the constituents have served in this community,” said Giral.
The Brooklyn-raised Giral came into public service and politics at a young age. Seeing certain issues around his neighborhood as a child is what first got him interested in helping out his community, and informed the rest of his public service and political interests.
“It was like a calling. Being involved in the community and trying to fill that void, got me involved with doing the community activist thing, and then you start volunteering,” he said.
In Philly, that volunteering work included in Philly’s 24th Police District, and on the Police District Advisory Commission, better known as “PDAC,” that serves as an advisory commission inside districts to target police work and receive feedback from the community.
A small business owner
Prior to politics, Giral was also the owner of a small business in Philadelphia — an automotive shop he ran for over 17 years. It’s an experience and offered a perspective he told AL DÍA that he feels he can bring to the table as a state representative.
Unlike others in the position — not just in Philly, but across the state — he’s one of the very few that’ve run their own business and understand firsthand the struggle it is to run a successful venture, employ people, and keep it going through tough times such as COVID-19, which was a killer for a lot of small businesses around the country.
“Small business is tough. Employees, taxes, and just business itself. Right now, it's a hard time for a lot of small businesses. Some businesses took advantage of the PPP loans, so that helped a lot. Unfortunately, the small ones that didn't have the infrastructure or the resources to apply for those loans, they've suffered tremendously,” Giral said.
A man of the streets
Giral is also a self-proclaimed “man of the streets,” so being a Pennsylvania State Representative is a new kind of role for him — one he embraces but hopes will not affect people’s perception of him.
“I love engaging folks, being in the community… I'm more of the street guy, I don't want to be known as the politician that you see on television,” said Giral. “I want to be known as the politician that you see on the streets every day.”
To help him prepare for that new role, Giral was able to lean on the experience of his former boss and predecessor, Cruz — who ran the district for more than 20 years.
“You learn what to do, what not to do, what to take a backseat on. There's a lot of institutional knowledge there that I picked up over the years, and I brought things to the table,” said Giral. “In the six years that I've worked for him, it was hand-in-hand, even though I was employed by him. It was a mutual work relationship.”
Taking the torch
As for what prompted Giral to run for public office, he told AL DÍA that the political organizing early on, as well as the amount of work he was putting in the office as an aide to Cruz, prepared him for the challenge.
“I was doing the job anyway. I was in the office. A lot of the people in the community, nonprofits, religious institutions, they said if anybody's going to run, it should be me,” he said. “I was hearing that enough you kind of feel maybe it's true.”
However, it was never a role he imagined for himself.
“I always saw myself serving the public, even though I was a business person. I felt like I was serving the public because it was a service industry,” said Giral. “I saw myself, maybe not playing this role, but I saw myself being a public servant.”
Issues to address
Giral was officially sworn into office on Tues., Dec. 3, commencing his two-year term. He is a part of the largest class of incoming legislators to the House Democratic Caucus in more than 15 years. Giral spoke to what he is most looking forward to accomplishing over the next two years.
“We want to stop the drug flow into our communities. For affordable housing, we have power there to fund these projects to be able to get people some affordable housing,” he said.
When it comes to education, it’s about “getting bang for the buck.”
“I want to start holding people accountable because a lot of money is being pumped into the school system. We want to fund the programs that are working, and defund those that are not,” said Giral.
A team player
The city also saw many City Council resignations last year as many are now vying for Mayor Jim Kenney’s job, including former councilmembers Derek Green, Helen Gym, and Allan Domb.
Someone Giral would have had to work closely with would have been former Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez of District 7, which also ecompasses the Kensington neighborhood. It’s now Quetcy Lozada.
Whoever wins that seat in 2023 will be working with Giral to better the communities they represent. He set a tone of unity — one that’s not been the case in recent decades in the community when talking about government entities working together.
“I got an open door policy. I want to work with everybody,” he said. “We don't have to agree on everything. We need to have dialogue. We sit down, we'll go back and forth, we come to some consensus. We're here to figure out the best solutions for the citizens of Philadelphia.”
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