The battle to represent the barrio came to television Tuesday as political foes Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and State Rep. Ángel Cruz sat beside one another to take questions in a live debate on Telemundo.
In next week’s Democratic primary, the 7th District Council race figures to be close. Despite Quiñones-Sánchez’s 11 years in office, the district has incredibly low voter turnout, and her opponent, Cruz, has been a state representative for 20 years and has the backing of most ward leaders, who will distribute sample ballots with his name on them at the polls.
Quiñones-Sánchez won reelection in 2015 by under 1,000 votes against a lesser-known opponent with baggage. Ironically, she and Cruz seem to agree on many issues; they just don’t get along.
The 7th District includes North Philadelphia, Hunting Park, and Kensington, the heart of the city’s opioid crisis. Both candidates said they oppose putting a supervised injection site in the district to prevent overdose deaths. Quiñones-Sánchez said she is working with Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to secure funding for more treatment centers in the district and city. She criticized what said she was the administration’s inability to reclaim drug corners. (She has vowed to sue the city to determine what police can legally do to round people up and get them into treatment, without infringing on their rights.)
Cruz agreed more treatment was the answer, along with prosecuting drug companies that irresponsibly distribute opioids. He said the district needs better surveillance cameras to catch drug and gun crimes.
Cruz said he’s against the sweetened beverage tax but if there’s no other way to pay for pre-K and rebuilding parks and recreation centers, he’d hesitate to vote to repeal it. Quiñones-Sánchez said the money could come from changing the construction tax abatement or real estate taxes. “It’s unfair to put the burden of tax on the poor who don’t have the option of buying any other beverage compared to someone who’s buying a $7 coffee," she said.
Reporter Syrmarie Villalobos asked both candidates if they had accepted donations from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 since the federal indictment of its leader, John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, on embezzlement charges. (Several candidates have accepted the union’s money this year, including incumbents Helen Gym and Brian O’Neill, and challenger Isaiah Thomas.)
Cruz said he had not taken any 98 money for his campaign but Quiñones-Sánchez disputed that since the union gave his ward, 7th Ward Friends of Ángel Cruz, $10,000 on April 26.
Cruz said the money would go to fund ward operations, not his campaign. (His ward, however, is expected to be supporting his campaign on primary day.) Quiñones-Sánchez said she received a Local 98 donation last year but gave it back after the indictment came down.
Quiñones-Sánchez has already asked local authorities to pay attention to poll worker activity and voter interference in the district. She also wants an investigation into 2015, when her challenger, Manny Morales, received more than 1,000 votes on “voter assisted” ballots (meaning another person was in the booth to help the voter). Cruz chaired Morales’ campaign. “The only way that they will win is illegally,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.
Cruz retorted that Quiñones-Sánchez was acting like “the boy who cried wolf,” by accusing him before a vote is cast. “There’s no crime that has been committed,” he said.
They represent some of the same constituents, but any hope of harmony seems slim. Quiñones-Sánchez said that in the 20 years Cruz has represented a portion of the district in Harrisburg, she’s never been able to work with him because he’s a “marioneta” (puppet) for the party.
“I work with all the elected officials that have common vision and values," she said. "The party has always been hostile to the community and never wants to listen to the community.... You only defend the party’s interest and institutions or corporations.”
Cruz said he can’t work with Quiñones-Sánchez because she doesn’t respect the party and she’s never tried to get along. "If you want the party to support you and respect you, you have to learn to sit down with people who do not have the same values or visions that you understand,” he said.