The image of the Northeast existing as a stepchild section of Philadelphia is an image that Mayfair Civic Association president Joe DeFelice said his neighborhood aimed to defy. That image and initiatives for the future are enmeshed in the hotly contested race for the Pennsylvania House 172nd District seat.
One year ago, after an intense fundraising effort, DeFelice met with NEastPhilly to discuss the renovation and reopening of the Mayfair Memorial Playground.
At the time Mayfair was struggling with the recent political changes caused by the indictment of John Perzel, the powerful, long-time State Representative for the 172 District of the Pennsylvania House. That indictment coupled with the downturn in the nation’s economy forced communities in the Northeast into a difficult era.
Grants from state government that were freely given in previous years dried up. Pennsylvania had voted in a Republican governor and a Republican legislative majority who slashed funding that created serious budgetary constraints. While the 172nd District became represented by a Democratic leader looking to promote community funding, Rep. Kevin Boyle was new to the state legislature lacking the pull of Perzel.
“I think Kevin is trying but he is a freshman Democrat in a significant minority,” said DeFelice. “Kevin just can’t wield the clout that John once did, so the community has had to get more creative in the way that we do things.”
That was where DeFelice and company defied odds. Mayfair itself saw community activism unparalleled in many other Northeast neighborhoods. A combined effort from Mayfair community organizations brought about positive changes and strengthened the local voice.
“Rather than relying on the elected officials, the neighbors have decided to rely on themselves,” said DeFelice. “At the time when the article was written last year we did not have a playground. It took lobbying international corporations [and] the School District to allow us to build. These are things we would have relied on elected officials for.”
But the 172nd District was always bigger than Mayfair although the neighborhood was arguably impacted most by Perzel’s financial influence and subsequent loss. Neighbors from Fox Chase and Holmesburg, among others, were impacted as well. Those neighbors turned to both each other and their new representative.
Rep. Boyle, a Northeast native, described his passion for the district and said he was committed to his constituents.
Not surprisingly, Boyle’s leadership elicits different views from residents across the district.
Gina O’Rourke owner of Fox Chase’s In The Loop Café said Boyle’s office spoke with her several times over the past year.
“I talked to Jeff of Boyle’s office about putting in a child’s crossing sign on the corner,” said O’Rourke. “And if the men that work for him are any indication then they seem very helpful.”
Fred Moore, president of the Holmesburg Civic Association also said Boyle was a positive influence in the 172nd’s community.
“I can only say that Kevin Boyle has done a better job,” said Moore. “Perzel did nothing for Holmesburg. Kevin has risen to the occasion.”
While some residents were receptive to another Boyle win in November others were uncertain that any change had occurred in the past year claiming Boyle was inactive.
Sally Danciu of Fox Chase’s Sally’s Flowers explained that she saw no change in the past year, believing that Boyle was still getting his feet wet.
“I think it would be unfair to compare Kevin Boyle to former State Representative John Perzel because of Perzel’s many years of working in state government,” said Ken Warner of the Fox-Rok Athletic Association.
The Fox Chase Home Owner’s Association and its Town Watch were unavailable for comment.
Al Taubenberger, Republican candidate for the State House’s 172nd District, disagreed with any notion of positive contributions by Boyle during the past year. Taubenberger said his plans, upon election, were to further include the community in decisions beginning with monthly meetings.
“The representation that was there for 30 years is no longer there,” said Taubenberger. “Not as far as the interaction with
community groups and that sort of thing.”
DeFelice disagrees with Taubenberger’s criticism of Boyle’s participation.
“When he [Boyle] can he has been receptive,” said DeFelice. “At every one of our civic meetings there’s a representative from his office there.”
Mayfair and its surrounding neighborhoods felt the effect of lacking discretionary governmental funding support during Perzel’s era. But the ripple of the Perzel corruption probe spread a positive mindset and new ideas within the district giving the community a new strength of voice.
“We have a Thanksgiving parade that they took off the avenue because of budget crunch,” said DeFelice. “But a bunch of our neighbors got together like, Donny Smith, Lisa Greco, and Kevin Leonard of our board said no, we’re putting this back on the avenue. And we had the best turn-out in recent memory.”
DeFelice says they are changing Mayfair, and the district, for the better.
“We’re not the Mayfair of the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s,” said DeFelice. “We need to be more progressive when looking toward the future.”