With Johnson-Harrell’s exit, candidates lining up to run for vacant Philly House seat

State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell speaks at a rally during Gun Violence Awareness Day on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

By John N. Mitchell

PHILADELPHIA — It didn’t take long for names of potential candidates for the now-vacant 190th House District seat to begin emerging.

Now ex-Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a West Philadelphia Democrat who was charged last week with stealing more than $500,000 from her own charity, resigned from the House on Friday. It wasn’t even cold when Philadelphia Democratic Committee Chairman Bob Brady confirmed he was aware of “at least four or five” candidates who wanted to fill it.

The list so far includes Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative; Ark of Refuge pastor Pam Williams; Amen Brown; and Ray Bailey. Brown ran for the seat on the Party of Amen Brown ticket and Williams ran on the Working Families Party ticket in the special election in March.

Brady said he knew of “at least two more potential candidates” who were mulling over a possible run at the seat, which Johnson held for just nine months after she won the special election in March.

Johnson-Harrell to resign House seat Dec. 13 over criminal charges

“Yes, they are all going to enter their names in the hat,” Brady said on Friday. “Some of them have already run for the position before. They’ve been vetted, but they will be vetted — very carefully — again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the field becomes very crowded. The most important thing is we don’t want to have another replay of what we’ve had in the past. People will be watching very close.”

The West Philadelphia seat has been problematic for Democrats, who make up 87% of voters in the district.

Vanessa Lowery Brown, who held the seat before Johnson-Harrell, was forced to resign in 2018 after she was convicted on bribery charges.

Told the names of some of the candidates, 6th Ward leader Pete Wilson, whose district is one of six in the 190th state House District, said he was “aware of a few more potential candidates.”

Like Brady, Wilson said, “We can’t have any mistakes in the 190th” again.

He said he was disappointed that Johnson-Harrell’s political career had ended under the circumstances it did, but added that “in the short time that she served and before she was very hands on” in the district.

“That’s what’s going to be the biggest thing for me: what have they done in the 190th,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of people out there and that’s going to be good. It’s going to make us have to do more work because we are going to have to vet more candidates.

Johnson-Harrell case trips up Dems in the 190th District — again

“But what I want to know is what have you done other than having had an address in the the district for the last year?”

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, must call a special election to fill the 190th state House District seat within 10 days of Johnson-Harrell’s departure and hold it within 60 days of calling it.

Brady said special elections can cost as much as $200,000, and he would prefer that the election be rolled into the April presidential primary.

The 190th District is located entirely within Philadelphia and comprises the neighborhoods of Belmont, Carroll Park, Cathedral Park, Mill Creek, Haddington, East Parkside, West Powelton, Allegheny West and Lehigh West.

John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.