Meet the Dems vying to replace Rep. Brian Sims in the state House

Four candidates are running for the Philadelphia-based seat. Sims is seeking the Dem nod for lieutenant governor

By: - February 21, 2022 6:30 am

By Michele Zipkin

Assuming the courts don’t intervene, less than 90 days remain until Democratic candidates for Philadelphia’s 182nd House District will face each other in the spring primary.

The district includes the Gayborhood, Bella Vista, Center City West, and Fairmount neighborhoods. Those candidates are Jonathan Lovitz, an out gay man; Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans woman; Ben Waxman, an LGBTQ ally; and business owner and committee person Will Gross.

The seat is being vacated by state Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia,  who is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Sims, who is out, will face fellow state Rep. Austin Davis, of Allegheny County, in the primary.

Clockwise from top left: Jonathan Lovitz; Deja Lynn Alvarez; Ben Waxman; Will Gross (Philadelphia Gay News photo collage).

Here’s a look at the state of each campaign in the run up to election day.

Lovitz, who works as special advisor to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, prioritizes issues including the safety and advancement of businesses and workers, union support, affordable and equitable healthcare and housing opportunities, environmental welfare, uplifting arts and culture organizations, and protecting voters’ rights. In the last half decade, he wrote and helped pass over 25 laws on the state and local level, increasing workplace protections and making available billions of dollars in economic development to small business owners, including LGBTQ people and other minorities.

“I couldn’t be happier with the momentum and support for my campaign in the 182nd District,” Lovitz said in an email. “The fact that we are approaching the primary with so much support from Philadelphia and across the nation signals that seeking to truly help people is the message voters want to hear.”

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Lovitz has received a diverse selection of endorsements, including from Labor leader Ryan Boyer and the Laborers’ District Council, the Philadelphia Musicians’ Union, Congressman Ritchie Torres, actor and Pa. native Billy Porter, Jim Obergefell, Dennis and Judy Shepard, and others.

“There are some truly passionate folks running for office this year, but none have the experience and broad coalition of support to get the job done that I do,” Lovitz said. “I can’t wait for several debates and forums ahead to share my vision, my plans, and my readiness to deliver the results everyone in the 182nd deserves at long last.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Lovitz raised $152,355 in campaign contributions in 2021 and has an ending cash balance of $109,949.

Alvarez, a long-time transgender rights activist and local LGBTQ leader, currently works as director of community engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures and as LGBTQ care coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Top priorities for her include connecting people to affordable, high-quality employment; training to equip workers for better-paying jobs; making sure affordable housing and food are accessible; improving healthcare systems, public schools, social service programs, infrastructure and transportation; and growing investment opportunities for small businesses.

She has garnered endorsements from several local politicians, including Sims and state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, as well as local activists Salima Suswell and Kendall Stephens, actress and activist Sandra Bernhard, and LPAC, a political organization geared toward LGBTQ women.

LGBTQ organizer Deja Alvarez steps up for Rep. Brian Sims’ Philly House seat

Alvarez has a lengthy resume when it comes to LGBTQ community engagement and activism. She co-founded Mazzoni Center’s Trans Wellness Program and the trans women-focused support and skill-building program Sisterly Love; she formerly worked as coordinator of GALAEI’s Trans Information Project; she served on Mayor Jim Kenney’s Commission on LGBT Affairs; she has sat on the boards of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club and William Way LGBT Community Center; she formerly co-chaired the annual Philly Trans March and co-founded and directed the LGBTQ Home for Hope, the first shelter in Pennsylvania designed for queer and trans folks.

“I’ve always been a bridge builder,” Alvarez said. “I am a Philadelphian, I’ve been here forever. Everybody kind of knows me, so I’m just continuing to build those relationships and gain support and have conversations with everyone. Everybody gets up and talks about, ‘we need to take care of the homeless and we need to help people that are in addiction and we need to change this,’ but who’s done the actual work on any of those levels? I think we just continue to get that authentic message out there. We’re building more support.”

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Alvarez told the Philadelphia Gay News that the campaign has raised almost $40,000, 98% of which came from within the district.

Ben Waxman, who has been advocating for progressive public policy for two decades, runs a communications and public affairs consulting firm in Philadelphia. He most recently served as director of communications for District Attorney Larry Krasner, and has also worked as a reporter for WHYY-FM and an editorial writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.

He is a progressive politician who prioritizes public health measures to end the pandemic, including ensuring that people have access to testing, masks and the means to isolate themselves at home if they test positive. In tandem with that goal, Waxman deems it important to invest in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania when society eventually recovers from the pandemic.

“Not only do we need to restart the economy, we also need to address the deep structural inequities in our society made dramatically worse by the pandemic,” Waxman said. “We have a once in a generation opportunity, because there’s going to have to be this huge investment to help this country, this state and this city get beyond this. We have an opportunity to try to be transformative with that.”

Waxman previously ran against Sims for the 182nd seat in 2016. This time around, voters seem to be much more politically engaged, he pointed out.

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“There are a lot of people who want to talk about issues and politics,” Waxman said. “It’s all about just getting out and talking to as many voters as possible. It’s a sprint and a marathon for the next couple of months.”

In terms of finances, Waxman said he feels good about his team and the campaign money they’ve raised. His campaign raised $44,059 in 2021, and it has an ending cash balance of $43,046, according to documents filed with the Department of State.

Waxman has nabbed endorsements from a variety of politicians, including Krasner, Philadelphia City Council members Kenyatta Johnson and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Pa. House Rep. Morgan Cephas, who represents Wynnefield and Wynnefield Heights, the neighborhoods where Waxman grew up.

“I feel really good about that group of elected officials,” Waxman said. “It’s a really diverse group of people from a lot of different political walks of life.”

As a business owner and committee person for Philadelphia’s 2nd Ward, Will Gross prioritizes bringing a living wage to Pennsylvania; housing and healthcare recognized as human rights; a Green New Deal for Pa.; and working to improve Philadelphia’s schools. As part of the AAPI community, Gross also prioritizes “bringing back diversity to Harrisburg, which is very much consumed by old white guys,” he said. “We need to change that.”

Gross owns Ox Coffee in Queen Village, where he supports LGBTQ communities through employment and customer service, and pays his workers a base minimum of $15 an hour.

“One of the things on my platform is bringing a living wage to the state of Pennsylvania, and making sure that not only the folks that can’t afford to do that make it happen, but also the folks that can afford to do that make it happen,” Gross said.

According to his campaign finance report, Gross’s total monetary contributions are $22,133, with an ending cash balance of $21,820. To date, he said he raised roughly $40,000 for his campaign. “As far as the contributions themselves we have about 250 individual contributions at this point,” Gross said. “I would say the vast majority of them are from here in Philadelphia.”

As part of the endorsement process, Gross has been in conversation with the Working Families Party, One Pennsylvania and Make the Road. He also hopes to secure an endorsement from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, for which his wife is vice president.

Going forward, Gross is planning an aggressive election strategy built on proliferating his message, which he will accomplish via door knocking, mailing digital programs, launching digital campaigns and texting. “We have a petition program that’s already set up, so we’ll be on the ballot,” he said.

“I think in the end we need to help the working folks of the commonwealth. If we help the working folks in this city and across the state, we’re all going to do better. If we take care of our people, if we take care of our families, everyone does better.”

In early February, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted 4-1 to approve new maps for the state’s voting districts for the next 10 years. The constitution requires that the maps be redrawn every decade to correspond to changes in district demographics.

“We owe a major debt of gratitude to House Leader McClinton and Senate Leader Costa for bringing fairness and equity back to the redistricting process,” Lovitz said. “The 182nd’s borders continue to include some of the most important economic, cultural, and educational treasurers in all of Pennsylvania, which all deserve the most experienced, dependable advocate fighting for their success. It’s encouraging to see neighboring boundaries also change shape to reflect the rich diversity of new residents and new businesses flowing into Philadelphia, and across Pennsylvania.”

Alvarez also thanked Rep. McClinton and many others for their hard work to get the legislative map redrawn more fairly.

“We’ve seen the effects of being in such a gerrymandered state,” Alvarez said. “Being able to shift that a little bit is amazing and will be great for us in the long run.”

Like others, Gross believes that the new legislative map is slowly but surely becoming more equitable for working voters.

“I hope it swings things in the direction of being more fair,” Gross said. “I think it’s been gerrymandered too much in the past that it’s overwhelmingly favored the Republican party, and that’s not helping the working folks of this state. I think there’s a lot more that we need to do, but I do have a little bit of hope.”

Waxman hopes that the repositioned district maps will eventually lead to a Democratic majority in the Pa. House of Representatives.

“The maps state-wide for the State House do appear to be much more equitable,” he said. “It makes me excited to go to Harrisburg because there’s really a chance that we may have a majority. If not this time around, we may get it next time around. It’s within reach.”

Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared

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