Meet Daniel Alvarez – the Philadelphia Republican Party's District Attorney candidate.
Alvarez, who goes by "Danny," came to Philadelphia in 2003, immediately after earning a J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University. He went right to work as an assistant district attorney – a position he held through December 2011. Since then, Alvarez has switched from prosecutor to criminal defense lawyer at his own practice, Alvarez Law, LLC. He also serves as a judicial law clerk for a Common Pleas judge.
Thirty-five years old and married with a three-year old girl and a six-year-old boy, Alvarez has never previously run for public office. However, his humility and humbleness in seeking one of the largest prosecutor's offices in the country shows quite clearly.
"I am running as a father and not as a politician. I am not a politically ambitious man, but I am ambitious for my city. People have a right to be free from harm. We live with so much crime that our freedom is greatly impaired. Essentially, our God-given rights are being violated by an unacceptable level of crime and violence," Alvarez told me this week while he was preparing to circulate his nominating petitions.
During his eight years as a prosecutor, Alvarez served tenures as a Gun-Court and Gun Violence Task Force prosecutor. He successfully prosecuted illegal firearms possession as well as straw purchases.
"We must tackle the escalating gun violence," Alvarez says. "Clearly, more must be done. At its root, there is a lack of respect for authority, and a troubling absence of fear of God. Also, we need to clean our own house, and aggressively investigate and prosecute public corruption; we shouldn't wait for the federal establishment to do it for us. And we need to stop looking the other way. When public officials are corrupt, they are stealing from our children's future."
Alvarez's proudest moment on the job?
"A case that comes to mind is when I successfully prosecuted an ethnic intimidation and assault case where a gay man was assaulted," he says. "The trial was before the Hon. Judge Kosinski some years ago."
Curiously enough, the last time a Republican won a citywide election in a race in which the City Charter didn't essentially guarantee a Republican a seat (such as City Council At-Large or City Commissioner) was in 1989, when District Attorney Ronald Castille won his reelection. Today, Castille is now state Supreme Court Justice Castille – not a bad distinction to have for the last Republican District Attorney from Philly.
Could Alvarez be so lucky? In a city so blue that it's indigo, it sure will be an uphill battle.
"The reality is that Dan Alvarez's race is one that today he's not in a position to win," said J. Matthew Wolfe, a Republican ward leader from West Philadelphia. "He has to work very hard to put himself in a position to win. He has to get out there and campaign. He has to raise some money because that's unfortunately an important element of politics. He has to take advantage of the media opportunities that will be offered to him in this. He needs to put forth a coherent plan on how he can improve things in the District Attorney's office.
"If the election was held tomorrow, he wouldn't win," added Wolfe, who also once served as a Deputy Attorney General during the Ridge Administration. "But that doesn't mean that he can't put himself in a position to win, and that's what this race is all about."
Marc Collazzo, an attorney who also serves as the Republican ward leader in Alvarez's home ward, had this memorable story to tell. "In 2010 when I ran for State Rep. in 170th [district], I was at the Somerton Train Station, and he [Alvarez] came over to me to introduce himself. He said he was very GOP Party-oriented."
A week later, Collazzo happened to be campaigning at the same station when Alvarez "hands me a check and says 'I want you to know how much I appreciate what you are doing.'"
"Danny is as genuine as genuine can be," Collazzo said, adding, "what he brings to the table is making fundamental changes in how Philadelphia is perceived. One of things he said last night – and he's a very religious man, a very pious man -- was how much he respects his mother. He is tired of how Philadelphia is viewed by others -- that we are viewed as Killadelphia."
Republican City Committee General Counsel Michael Meehan has known Alvarez for more than six years. "He's a bright, aggressive former prosecutor. He has experience and knowledge to address the issues facing Philadelphia," Meehan said.
In a series of phone and email interviews with me, Alvarez, whose mother is from Puerto Rico and whose deceased father hailed from El Salvador, never once brought up his Hispanic heritage. Nor has he ever, apparently, with any of people that I spoke to for this profile. But in a city in which identity politics has a history of translating into votes, it can't be ignored or marginalized.
"All Philadelphians are underserved. But there needs to be more outreach to many groups, to include the Hispanic community. Simply put, we should reach out to all people regardless of their ethnicity," Alvarez quipped.
"We're not running him because he's that," Collazzo said, referring to Alvarez's ethnicity. "We're running him because he's Danny Alvarez and all the wonderful things he brings. What it represents for the GOP, and it's quite significant, is that we are showing that our umbrella is much bigger than the perception of what it is."
So what does the current occupant of Three South Penn Square think of his Republican competition?
In an emailed response sent through his campaign manager, William R. Miller V., incumbent District Attorney Seth Williams told me last night, "I've worked with Mr. Alvarez, and I know him to be a public servant."
That was all he said regarding Alvarez, but Williams did send this statement, as well.
"A democracy only works when there are sincere, competent challengers to an incumbent. In any campaign, the incumbent must defend his or her record in office, while the challenger's role is to convince voters they can do a better job. That's how our system of government works. Public safety should be the priority of every Philadelphian, and I'm glad there are citizens willing to engage in the discussion so early in the campaign. I welcome the opportunity to talk about my record as District Attorney, the innovative, community-based programs I've established, and the tone I have set for our office."
Let the races begin.