The race for this Center City Philadelphia House seat is getting crowded

Political operative, former journalist Ben Waxman is the latest entrant in the fight for the Democratic nod for the 182nd House District

By: - November 14, 2021 6:30 am

Philadelphia City Hall (Flickr Commons)

By Harrison Cann

PHILADELPHIA — The 182nd House District is home to some of Philadelphia’s main attractions, including City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, Pat’s and Geno’s, and the Gayborhood. It’s one of the state’s most liberal districts and it’s searching for a new representative.

And while voters, unsurprisingly, will be choosing from a diverse field of candidates, the district itself could be changing, too. With the redistricting process underway in Pennsylvania, 2022 elections will be shaped not only by the candidates but the map drawing as well.

State Rep. Brian Sims, who currently holds the seat, is pursuing a bid for lieutenant governor as current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman eyes the U.S. Senate vacancy. Sims was the first openly gay legislator in the state to win an election, defeating longtime Rep. Babette Josephs in 2012.

Philadelphia’s Gayborhood (also known as Midtown Village), where a large concentration of LGBTQ-friendly small businesses, services, restaurants and gay bars are located, is in the 182nd district. With the district being home to so many different voter groups, you can already see the diversity among candidates.

Those vying for the seat include a Black preschool teacher, transgender and LGBTQ activists, and Jewish men, all of whom can identify with various parts of the Center City community.

Right now, four Democrats have entered the race. They include Ben Waxman, who runs a communications consulting firm, Deja Alvarez, community engagement director at World Healthcare Infrastructures, Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tyrell Brown, teacher and Reclaim Philadelphia organizer.

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“We’re talking about one of the most affluent districts in the commonwealth. It’s politically liberal but I don’t think it’s truly progressive,” said Larry Ceisler, a public affairs executive who ran for the 182nd District seat back in 1992. He said the district could change drastically during the state’s reapportionment process, stressing that the outcome of the race will depend heavily on the new maps.

Waxman comes into the race having already run in 2016. He lost to Sims in the Democratic primary, receiving 34% of the vote compared to Sims’ 40%. He said he considered running again but got caught up in Larry Krasner’s campaign for district attorney.

That election work benefited Waxman, as he’s received an endorsement from Krasner as well as state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, and City Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

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Numerous endorsements have already flooded this race. The incumbent Sims has already endorsed Alvarez, who boasts endorsements from state Sen. Sharif Street, state Rep. Joe Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, and Philadelphia City Councilmember Mark Squilla. Lovitz has picked up endorsements from the LGBTQ newspaper The Washington Blade, the Laborers’ District Council, and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y.

Ceisler, however, said that endorsements can only help candidates so much. Putting in the work to organize and engage with voters is what matters most in local races, including those for the state House.

“I don’t know how much endorsements really mean in a race like this. For the most part, you have a very informed electorate who actually reads things and tries to get to know the candidates. I think it’s really up to the individual,” he said.

Al Spivey, a government relations and strategic communications expert based in Philadelphia, agreed that personality matters. He said the district’s makeup may give those involved with the LGBTQ community a better connection to the community, but track record means a lot more.

“Based on what you’re doing now, as a regular citizen, has a lot to do with what you’re going to wind up doing as an elected official,” Spivey told City & State.

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With the candidates having very similar policy views, they’ll have to rely on that advocacy experience to stand out to voters.

“It’s a really kind of advantage for all of us, because we really get to make the case for ourselves,” Waxman told City & State. “I don’t see it as a challenge. I think people’s experiences are different so their own sort of approach to issues is different. People have a chance to look at everybody up close and decide who they think is right for the job and that’s really what it comes down to.”

Waxman said his time working under state Sen. Vincent Hughes and Krasner helped him gain experience fighting for issues like voting rights and raising the minimum wage. Lovitz also touts legislative experience, having advocated for economic policies in states around the country. He said the district needs someone in Harrisburg who’s able to work with both sides and build coalitions.

“After working on so many pieces of bipartisan legislation around the country and getting them all passed, I learned how you build consensus and deliver what people expect you to do,” Lovitz told City & State. “People trust leaders with proven records, with gravitas and with the experience to deliver on the goods.”

Alvarez and Brown have their own advocacy experience as well. Alvarez, who, if elected, would become the first transgender Latina Pennsylvanian in the General Assembly’s history, focuses her work on providing social and health care services to transgender individuals and those with HIV/AIDS. Brown has spent time as an organizer for Reclaim Philadelphia, a progressive activist organization looking to shift political power to the multiracial working class. The group has been very active in the campaign for Krasner and other progressives including state Sen. Nikil Saval and state Rep. Rick Krajewski, who unseated incumbents in 2020.

“I think having a voice that understands marginalization to the degree that I do is definitely a voice that’s missing,” Alvarez said. “And it’s a voice that’s needed.”

With progressive politics becoming increasingly popular in some urban areas, the makeup of a district and voter turnout will weigh heavily on the outcome of upcoming elections. As the progressive left tends to be more organized, Ceisler said, they’re in line to benefit from midterm elections if turnout is high.

“The lower the turnout, the better it is for the organized, and the better organized over the past few years, hands down, is the progressive left because they are backed by more politically active unions,” he said.

Harrison Cann is a reporter for City & State Pa., where this story first appeared.

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