Reading wants you to know Latinos are showing out at the polls
A political battle brews in newly-redrawn PA House District 129, and Latino turnout could flip the seat for Democrats.
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The morning of Saturday, Oct. 22 was crisp and tranquil in Reading, Pennsylvania, home to Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, the Democratic candidate for PA House District 129, whose campaign operations run out of her restaurant, Mi Casa Su Casa.
Every Saturday, Cepeda-Freytiz’s business becomes a makeshift headquarters for her campaign, where they host volunteer drives and assign staff to canvass surrounding neighborhoods in what felt like a familial gathering. At the entrance, Sue, and Sherri greeted guests and gave instructions to sign in, and handed out brochures, pins, and yard signs.
Ángel Figueroa, Cepeda-Freytiz’s campaign manager, told AL DÍA that with “some coffee, music, people always come immediately.” On a table were ham, egg, and cheese croissant sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil to reserve their warmth, and next to them, a large coffee thermos.
Cepeda-Freytiz seemingly ran her campaign no different than how she runs her business as canvassing efforts ran as smoothly as though it was the restaurant’s morning shift. Staffers were planning to target surrounding neighborhoods in Glenside.
Barreto Fetterman’s presence that day was part of the “Latinos for Fetterman tour” in counties with the largest Latino population. The tour, scheduled just weeks out from the midterm elections on Nov. 8, kicked off with Fetterman’s endorsement for Cepeda-Freytiz’s campaign.
“We met here years ago,” Barreto Fetterman told the eager crowd of her relationship with Cepeda-Freytiz. “We talked about what a big future you had in politics and to see you continue to fight, it really means so much.”
This year, House District 129 underwent dramatic redistricting following the 2020 Census. The once-a-decade process shifted the district’s Latino populations across Berks County, a process that state Rep. Manny Guzmán said was responsive to the Latino population growth.
What the district's rearrangement signified for the 129th District in Reading, currently held by Jim Cox, is an area that’ll observe a drastically different ethnic makeup, particularly for the Latino community. A shift in population gave candidates like Cepeda-Freytiz an edge to run for office.
“El tiempo es ahora. The time is now,” Cepeda told AL DÍA amid planning to pack their cars and head to a rally after the tour’s proceedings concluded. “I think people have lost their self-worth and self-value. Through this movement, and through this experience, they’re identifying with people that look like them,” she continued.
Cepeda-Freytiz, a former Reading City Council president, who defeated Democrat Mark Detterline in the PA House District 129 Democratic primary, is challenged by Barry Llewelyn for a seat that has only been held by Republicans throughout its entire existence.
In her position, Cepeda-Freytiz is poised to become the first Latina representative for the district in Harrisburg, in addition to flipping the seat for Democrats. As a result, the race has drawn the attention of a number of strategists at higher levels of government.
This detail isn’t lost on Cepeda-Freytiz, a Reading resident of 16 years, who served on city council during almost four of those years. Her platform boasts a “People over Politics” movement centered on many progressive-leaning policy points, including gun safety and voting rights.
“My background is in community organizing and community empowerment,” Cepeda-Freytiz said. “I will always be accessible. Just because I have this position doesn’t change anything because my job is to serve the people. And the people are the ones who are going to give me my marching orders.”
She does not mention abortion on her campaign website, but said in previous interviews with AL DÍA and others that she supports the right to choose and specifically stressed her support for putting it in Pennsylvania’s constitution. In sharp contrast, Llewelyn’s policy outline espouses the anti-woke campaign, ubiquitous among GOP hopefuls in the country.
Responding to questions about the electorate she hopes to sway, she said “people are hungry for social justice.”
The Cepeda-Freyitz team maintains an ever-changing relationship with establishment Democrats. A source close to the campaign recalled a struggle to highlight Cepeda-Freytiz’s platform while not conforming to external agendas. The source added that their operations continue to run as scheduled, and any additions would need to integrate themselves into Cepeda-Freytiz’s campaign trail, currently in full throttle, though they are happy to adjust when necessary.
“Reading has made some history throughout the region,” noted Figueroa, who canvassed for then-nominee Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election. “If any statewide candidate wants to get elected by Latinos, they have to come to Reading, Pennsylvania.”
But Cepeda-Freytiz is glad the Fettermans are making an effort. It’s no secret that Latino political discontent is rooted in the lack of outreach from campaigns – a disparity that party allies have made up via ad spending.
“[Gisele Barreto Fetterman’s] presence is answering that question,” Cepeda-Freytiz said of the disparity. She went on to express full confidence in the Fetterman camp and was excited to welcome them to her restaurant.
“You should be ready for Latinos to vote,” said Barreto Fetterman of her impression the first leg of the tour left on her. “Stop writing Latinos off.”
Despite the proximity to Election Day, the Fetterman camp has long crafted Spanish-language messaging, targeted at the Latino community, making them the first campaign to do so in the race. The campaign’s commercial efforts include radio ads voiced by Barreto Fetterman, a strategy that Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, adopted for his campaign.
Fetterman’s website was also the only one to provide translation tools.
Barreto Fetterman recalled a text exchange, vetted by AL DÍA staff, with a voter who expressed gratitude to Barreto Fetterman for sending campaigning materials in Spanish, and said: “Stop writing Latinos off.”