Wade Albert and Chesley Lightsey are running for judge this year. (Lightsey photo by Kelly Burkhardt/The Philadelphia Gay News).
By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA — As more and more LGBTQ people are running for office on the state and federal level, so too are queer people running for positions in local government. In the first part of this series on local LGBTQ candidates, The Philadelphia Gay News looked at how two LGBTQ candidates for judge are running their campaigns ahead of the May 16 primary.
Wade Albert, running for judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas:
As a judicial candidate with a background in employment discrimination and civil rights law, Albert values fairness, equal treatment under the law and preventing discrimination from prevailing in the courtroom.
“One of the things that’s important to me as well is that the court system hears issues of implicit bias that are in every case, and to make sure that everyone is treated equally in connection with the law,” Albert said. “As an attorney the vast majority of my work is in employment discrimination. I deal with discrimination issues all the time, so I will do what I can to try to prevent that from appearing in any case I would be involved in.”
Albert has also done work in expungement, so he values providing second chances for people accused of non-violent crimes.
“When it comes to criminal justice, one of the most important goals is possibly reforming people,” Albert said. “That means for those who have not potentially committed or alleged to have committed violent crimes, to give them an opportunity to really have a second chance. At the same time I understand that there’s a serious crime problem in the city, and I’m certainly not discounting any of the people that are the victims of violent crimes. So it’s a delicate balance.”
Albert said he is looking for a broad range of support, from endorsements from the Democratic Party and unions to smaller progressive organizations and entities.
He takes a similar approach to targeting voter demographics in his campaign — he’s vying for Democratic votes and values the LGBTQ vote, but beyond that, the more habitual voters, the better. Albert plans to win over as diverse a swath of Philadelphia’s communities as possible.
“I think that looking at people who have a history of voting in municipal elections is very important,” Albert said. “People who are super voters are always going to be important. Ultimately, I would like to have votes from as many people across the city who registered as Democrats as possible.”
At the moment, Albert is working toward gaining support from party leaders. As his campaign progresses, he plans to go into communities and wards where he has done pro bono work and make the case for why he deserves their votes. Disseminating mail and internet ads will also be part of Albert’s campaign strategy.
Chesley Lightsey, running for judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
Lightsey’s experience as a prosecutor in the DA’s office will largely set the groundwork for her judicial values. Though she intended to prosecute family violence and sexual assault cases when she joined the DA’s office in 2005, her experience as a trial attorney landed her in the homicide unit. As she prosecuted cases with child victims, child witnesses and domestic violence that ended in homicide, she spent time with victims’ families and went through “the worst with them,” Lightsey said. “Those victims are a huge cross section of the city. Predominantly young Black men are victims of homicides in the city.”
Then, she took the helm in resentencing minors who were convicted of murder, who, up until 2016, received mandatory life sentences. Now, there’s an opportunity for those people to be on parole. In that role, Lightsey met families who had lost a loved one decades ago, and the defendants in their cases re-entered the courtroom as adults who had changed substantially.
“Even though it was heart wrenching watching families relive what they had been through, it reminded me of what I already knew that we’re all capable of — being way better than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” Lightsey said. “And that people change drastically over time.”
As such, Lightsey plans to be a judge who cares deeply about victims and their losses, but also a judge who recognizes that while defendants may be convicted of crimes, they also have the capacity to grow as time passes.
Like Albert, Lightsey is seeking all kinds of endorsements, including bigger entities like the Democratic City Committee and labor unions, as well as smaller organizations like the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and Reclaim Philadelphia.
“I want to go to every event where actual voters will be,” Lightsey said. “I think it’s important that I hear their stories, but that they hear mine.”
The voter blocs that Lightsey is hoping to capture include people who care about criminal justice and criminal justice reform, even though she may not sit in a criminal courtroom.
“I think that the folks who will be drawn to my campaign more are those who recognize that violent crime is an issue in the city, and that we need to take that seriously,” Lightsey said, “but also understand that there are diversion programs and ways to work with folks who are committing smaller petty crimes — it benefits all of us to look towards rehabilitation and what that can look like such that this person doesn’t come back in front of a court system.”
Much of Lightsey’s campaign will have a grassroots approach. She plans to put resources into getting out into communities, attending events, and meeting people. But she also plans to have a social media and web presence, and will regularly update her website once it’s up and running. While she will eventually launch mass mailers, she and her campaign team also plan to go door to door to spread the word about what she stands for.
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.
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