Even in a Democratic Party infamous for fratricide, North Philly’s 197th House District stands out as one hot mess. As a result of blunders, a Republican might snatch a seat that has been Democratic for at least 50 years.
Lucinda Little, 48, has her eyes on the vacant House seat in the 197th, which is south of the Boulevard and mostly east of Broad Street.
In this crazy political year, there are several oddities about this race.
Little is the only candidate on the ballot, the result of an unforced error on the Democratic side.
If Little wins, she will be a white woman representing a Hispanic-majority district with 15,608 Latino voters, followed by 13,157 African Americans and 866 whites. This is based on information from voters who self-identify on voting records. Not all do.
The first woman to hold the seat -- a Latina, Leslie Acosta -- was shamed into resigning after pleading guilty to felony conspiracy to commit money laundering. In 2014, Acosta won the seat from incumbent Jose Miranda, who later pleaded guilty to a corruption charge. Acosta’s resignation triggered a March 21 special election.
Successive terms of bad governance by Democrats spurred Little to run. “I looked at what was going on,” she says. “I’m just as bad as them if I didn’t do anything to change the narrative.”
I ask Little, a first-time candidate, what it’s like to be a Republican in the age of Trump.
She sidesteps and says she did “what I had to do” with her vote, although “I didn’t particularly like either of them.” She is “in the middle,” where most Americans are, she says.
She knows turnout generally is poor in her district and the special election, she estimates, might bring out only 2 percent to 4 percent of the 42,986 registered voters.
Minuscule turnout + no opponent on the ballot = a chance for the GOP to humiliate Dems in a district where 85 percent of the voters are Democrats.
The possible spoiler? Write-in candidates.
Although rare, there have been write-in victories, such as in 2010 when Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska won re-election after losing in the primary.
Before getting into write-ins, let’s explain how we got here.
After Acosta was shamed out of office, Democrats nominated Frederick Ramirez to run for her seat. His residency was challenged and the courts booted Ramirez off the ballot. Democrats then nominated Emilio Vazquez, but the deadline had passed. They went to court to pry open the ballot for their guy, but Commonwealth Court Judge Anne E. Covey basically said tough noogies, you missed the deadline.
Vazquez will be a write-in candidate, says Democratic Party City Committee Chairman Bob Brady, as will Cheri Honkala for the Green Party, another genius who missed the deadline. “There may be some more,” says Brady.
There will be, says another source who names Edward Lloyd, Orlando Acosta (no relation to Leslie), and Juan Ramirez as potential candidates.
I interviewed Little on International Women’s Day, which she supported, but wouldn’t take the day off from campaigning. (That evening she received the endorsement of Firefighters Local 22.)
She arrived with her husband, Jeff, a retired Municipal Court writ server. Their son, Jake, 20, is in community college. Little grew up in Langhorne (Class of ‘86, Neshaminy High), has lived in Feltonville for 25 years, and is a clinical research coordinator.
The 197th includes parts of Feltonville, Hunting Park, Glenwood, Fairhill, North Square and Francisville. Gerrymandering created a Hispanic majority district shaped like a Trojan horse made of Lego bricks.
Little says she likes Spanish culture and music and has bought Rosetta Stone software to learn Spanish.
She campaigns primarily on three issues -- more funding for public schools, attracting jobs to the district, and working to repeal the soda tax if possible, because she says it harms local stores. She opposes Mayor Kenney’s plan to spend $90 million of city money, plus more from the state, for a park over I-95 between Walnut and Chestnut Streets. “The money can be better used elsewhere,” she says. “Society Hill has enough parks.”
Her focus is very tight on her district, which she says has been ignored for a long time.
“In the district, for the district,” her campaign motto goes. “Think big, vote Little.”
In a crazy political year, anything can happen. Could she be worse than the last two reps?