Summaries of participating candidates’ remarks at Haverford Democrats’ meeting, March 13, 2018

In order of appearance:

Lindy Li: Underscoring her local roots, Li told the audience that Mike Zabel, candidate for state rep. from the 163rd, was her Greek teacher at Agnes Irwin School a decade ago, “and now we are both running for office!” In fact, Li explained, she ran for U.S. Congress in the old PA-7 two years ago, inspired by her own immigrant story as the grandchild of Chinese rice farmers who went on to graduate from Princeton. “Only in this country” said Li, can someone with that background run for high office, despite having “three strikes against me: I’m young, I’m a woman, and I’m an Asian American.” As a lifelong “underdog,” Li said that she is running “so that each of you can live your American Dream.” Her top policy goal is campaign finance reform; political contributions from corporations and interest groups “have a stranglehold on politicians,” preventing action in areas like climate change and gun violence, as well as in healthcare. She witnessed “institutionalized bribery” as an employee at Merck, where supervisors openly encouraged donations to Pat Meehan. Li first decided to run for Congress on her birthday in 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting; “I’ve assumed a sense of responsibility for that.” Declaring her willingness to lose her seat in Congress over advocacy of gun laws, Li also noted her commitment to a “legislative fix” for Citizens United, Medicare for all, and fiscal responsibility. She wants to be “the most accessible politician of my generation, a friend you can come to.”

George Badey: The focus of Badey’s remarks was on his standing as “the only electable” candidate in this crowded race. Stipulating that “we all agree on the issues” and on opposition to Trump’s threat to “the rule of law” and his “crazy agenda,” Badey emphasized his 40-year history working in the Democratic Party “because it is the right thing to do.” He became chair of the Radnor Democratic Committee in 2010, after working on the 2009 “Radnor Revolution” that ended Republican domination of the township. Badey ran against Pat Meehan for U.S. Congress in 2012, “when the district was rigged,” but now sees himself as uniquely suited to run in the new PA-5 because of his dual roots in Delaware County and South Philly, where he grew up. Expanding on his electability point, Badey noted that about 78% of the new district’s population lives in Delaware County and “we deserve to have someone in Congress from Delaware County.” He believes the Delaware County Democratic Party should endorse one candidate. Otherwise, he argued, we will split the Delaware County votes and the one candidate from South Philly will win. Badey thinks the South Philly candidate [Rich Lazer] “would vote in the way we would want him to vote on the issues.” But representative should come from Delco, not from the “tiny sliver of the district” in South Philly that holds only 16% of the district’s residents. “My secret weapon,” said Badey, is his many contacts in South Philly, where he grew up the son of a longshoreman, was valedictorian at South Philadelphia High School, and now serves as the Mummers’ spokesperson and lawyer. “I am you,” said Badey, “and somebody like you deserves to go to Congress.” Badey explained that he wants to “go to Washington to re-awaken the American Dream,” address income inequality, women’s right to choose, and environmental decline.

Dan Boyle: Declaring that “we don’t need career politicians or someone with good intentions,” Boyle defined himself as the sort of “champion” we need in Congress who “knows how to get the job done.” The job, as Boyle sees it, is to “stop the partisan bickering which is getting us nowhere,” and bring the skills he has as a litigator, mediator, and negotiator to the legislative process, persuading the “unbending” Republicans to compromise. Willing to “call out anybody if I have to,” Boyle said he would “do anything that has to be done” to serve the district, the commonwealth, and the nation, in that order of priority. The youngest of seven from a Chadds Ford family, Boyle has worked as a laborer in family businesses, done general contracting, earned a B.A. in Business at Penn State and a law degree at Widener, and served as a trial attorney for small businesses and individuals seeking redress for injury. His growing interest in the “rigged” tax code caused him to get a Master of Law in Taxation. He spoke in some detail about his strong sense of the injustice in a tax code that requires middle-class people to pay more than their share of taxes while the wealthy have access to endless loopholes that allow them to pay “nothing.” He wants to change the tax system, simplify it, stop the “privileges for the super-wealthy,” and recognize that it is “immoral for the wealthy not to pay their share” of the nation’s bills. Boyle also mentioned his commitment to job creation and health care, but believes that voters want “new blood,” not the “deadwood” represented by career politicians.

Rich Lazer: “We all agree on the same issues,” said Lazer, specifying the need for a $15 minimum wage, a Democratic push for “single payer” healthcare for all, common sense gun laws, and protecting women’s right to choose. Building on that assumption of general issues agreement, Lazer emphasized his roots in South Philly, where his father was a sheet metal worker. After graduating from LaSalle University, Lazer worked for Councilman Jim Kenney in constituent services and learned the importance of that role in civic life. In this job, too, he came to understand the potential, positive impact of marijuana de-criminalization and the purpose of sanctuary city status. When elected mayor, Kenney appointed Lazer to be his Deputy Mayor for Labor. Lazer explained to the audience that he handled all labor matters for the city, including the negotiations to win better wages and collective bargaining rights for workers at the Philadelphia International Airport and negotiations to settle the 2016 SEPTA strike. Lazer expressed special pride in his work with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, ending their five years without a contract, and his participation in “taking back the school district” from state control. Lazer pointed to his participation in the Kenney administration achievements in establishing Pre-K programs, Community School programs, and criminal justice reform.

Greg Vitali: Describing his change of mind regarding a run for the U.S. Congress as “indecisive but not Machiavellian,” Vitali conceded that the “optics of the timing” of his re-entry “was not good,” because it came a day before the deadline for others to declare a run for Vitali’s seat as state representative from the 166th district. He explained that he spent a “sleepless night” before a planned vacation to Florida, agonizing over his decision to walk away from his “dream of becoming a congressman,” and decided to cancel the trip and re-enter the congressional race. To answer the question, “what has changed” since he first got out of the race on February 13, Vitali pointed to three influences: (1) the number of constituents who encouraged him to run when he was out gathering signatures on his petition to run for state rep., (2) the change in the district map, which means he will not need to raise as much money as was necessary in the old PA-7, so will not have to spend as much time asking people for money, and (3) a conversation with Joe Sestak, Charlie Dent and Joe Hoeffel, all of whom have served in Congress from Pennsylvania, and their assurance that it is possible to get things done in the House without becoming a “money-raising machine.” Sestak argued that legislative experience is what “distinguishes me from the others in the race.” His experience will make him effective in D.C. sooner than novices would be. The policy issue Vitali discussed was environmental protection, since he has spent the “last quarter century” on that issue and is, he said, “considered the leading environmental legislator in Pennsylvania.” Our district, said Vitali, needs someone who can “focus on the environment” and serve as a “hindrance” to the Trump administration’s anti-environment policies. “I know I need to win back your trust,” conceded Vitali, adding that he plans to do that by campaigning on his environmental policy background and knowledge of legislative process.

Margo Davidson: “Battle-tested” is how Davidson described herself, not someone who “just showed up” to run for U.S. Congress. Her remarks emphasized her path to this race, starting out as a broadcast journalist for WDAS in Philly, covering City Hall and the “MOVE debacle” in 1985. Davidson turned to community organizing when the crack cocaine epidemic hit, founding two non-profit organizations to serve children of addicts with after-school care and summer camps and to help small businesses in her Upper Darby area. Work on the 2008 Obama campaign pulled her into electoral politics, and Davidson was recruited to run for state representative in the 164th district in 2010. “I was counted out,” she remembered, but became the first female African American Democrat to win a seat in the state assembly, and only one of eleven Democrats across the U.S. to “flip” a seat from red to blue in the 2010 election, “the worst Republican wave” in modern history. Davidson noted that she is the only female in the current race who has legislative experience. She recalled how Democrats in Harrisburg and across the commonwealth “held Tom Corbett to account – and to one term,” arguing that she is prepared to do the same with President Trump, adding that the job in the U.S. Congress is “serious business” requiring experienced legislators who “know how to take on the Republican machine.”

David Wertime: This China expert and senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine noted that he recently won a grant from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism to develop an innovative online platform that will encourage diverse local community members to tell their own stories. But the focus of Wertime’s remarks was on the need for new leadership with “an exciting vision” that “can weave policies together” in a way that reflects the “different truth we have to tell.” Wertime said that the current leaders in D.C. regard those who demand social services as “losers, moochers.” He does not accept that view, believing “we are all worthy” of programs like Earned Income Tax Credit, paid family leave, and automation re-training. The Haverford native knows that when voters ask about candidates’ backgrounds and policy positions, they are essentially asking “why should we trust you?” To answer that, Wertime described “the phone call that changed my life” in the fall of 2014, when he learned that his mother was suffering from “progressive, super-nuclear palsy,” a condition that has gradually diminished all of her faculties. Wertime’s middle-class family could not possibly afford her care and treatment without Medicaid assistance; he knows what it means to be one illness away from financial ruin. While he thinks that the policy differences in this field of Democratic candidates is “not big,” he also thinks that “this is not the moment in history” to retreat back to old thinking that asks “who can raise the most money?” He grew up with the economic constraints his working mother faced, has raised $75,000 via crowd sourcing, and believes that his direct experience with economic challenges in his personal and political life inform his vision of a society in which we all have worth and all have contributions to make if we are supported by our local, state, and national community.