Monday, January 5, 2015

Vince Hughes: Philly's money man in Harrisburg

State Sen. Vincent Hughes is interviewed at his office on Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia on July 7, 2014. Sean Walsh/Staff
State Sen. Vincent Hughes is interviewed at his office on Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia on July 7, 2014. Sean Walsh/Staff

STATE SEN. VINCENT HUGHES (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) has spent the last 27 years in Harrisburg. As minority chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee - the position from which Vince Fumo built his political empire - Hughes

is already a key player in the Capitol. And if his party takes the Governor's Office or wins a majority in the Senate this fall, he could become even more of a force in state politics.

Hughes, who is married to actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, sat down with Daily News reporter Sean Collins Walsh - once at the City Avenue Hilton, where he holds many of his meetings, and again at his district office on Parkside Avenue - to talk about his role in Harrisburg.

Q A lot of Philadelphia politicians don't like serving in Harrisburg and end up seeking city office. Why are you an exception?

For me, the issue is where you can make the difference. It's not ambition for ambition's sake. I'm the senior senator from the city. The appropriations position is one of the most powerful positions in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania - it just structurally is. Why would I give that up if my goal is to make a difference?

Q So I take it you're not looking at other offices.

One of my groomsmen [from his 2005 wedding to Ralph] is my congressman, Chaka Fattah, so that's not going to happen. Another one of my best friends is my city councilman, Curtis Jones.

Q Can Democrats really win the Senate this year?

Yes. Four years ago, we were down 30-20. Now it's 27-23. If we win the Governor's Office, we only need to pick up two seats and then the tie is broken by the lieutenant governor, [who would be] a former senator, Mike Stack. That's very doable.

Q A study last year said big cities fail to wield power in state capitals because their delegations are often divided and don't speak with one voice. With Philadelphia officials having spent recent weeks essentially begging for permission to tax themselves to fund schools, what do you make of that conclusion?

I would challenge that notion. I don't think it has anything to do with who's in the General Assembly. It has everything to do with who's in the Governor's Office, and the things that Gov. Corbett wants to do are the total antithesis of what is good for the city. If you look at the last 12 years, the city and the state did well two-thirds of those 12 years.

Q Meaning under former

Gov. and Mayor Ed Rendell?


Q Your ex-wife, regional

Red Cross CEO Renee

Cardwell Hughes, who is a former Common Pleas judge, has said that people are asking her to run for mayor. Would

you support her running?

Here's my deal on endorsements. Long time ago, a guy was running for office and he said, "Would you endorse me?"

I said, "Absolutely." Of course he never got enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.

So therefore: Get a name on the ballot, and then we'll talk about who I'm supporting, all right? I got in trouble for that thing 20 years ago.

Q Your current wife is a big time star. Do people recognize her when you're walking around?

Oh, absolutely.

Q And in Harrisburg, do they recognize you more often?

No, they still recognize her. She's on three TV shows right now. It's hard to miss her. "Instant Mom," "Ray Donovan" and "One Love," and a potential fourth coming up.

It's a blessing. She is a blessing for me.

Q What's your favorite?

"Ray Donovan."

Q So tell me about why

we're here, at the Hilton. I understand you have meetings here a lot?

I'm supporting a business in my district, No. 1.

Q Little neighborhood joint, huh?

Ha! Little small neighborhood operation, yeah.

It's because the lines have to be drawn so brightly now that, during the course of my 20-hour days, you have to separate politics [from official business], and I'm always meeting with folks, talking with people about various kinds of issues.

This becomes a relatively easy, convenient place because it's so accessible off of City Line Avenue, off the Schuylkill.





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