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Candidate for NE Philly’s 177th District draws criticism for using ‘junkie’ in Facebook post

Patty Pat Kozlowski was criticized for calling a man she says was trying to buy drugs outside her house a junkie.

Patty Pat Kozlowski, the Republican candidate for the 177th Legislative District, picks up a needle outside her home in Bridesburg. Kelly Brennan / Staff .
Patty Pat Kozlowski, the Republican candidate for the 177th Legislative District, picks up a needle outside her home in Bridesburg. Kelly Brennan / Staff .Read moreKelly Brennan

A state House candidate from Northeast Philadelphia who posted on Facebook about breaking up a drug deal outside her Bridesburg home defended her actions Tuesday, contending that she was taking a tough-love stance on the drug problem plaguing the area.

Patty-Pat Kozlowski said she wasn't acting as the Republican candidate for the 177th Legislative District on Saturday when she confronted an alleged drug dealer with a baseball bat and then took to Facebook to describe the incident, drawing criticism over her use of the word junkie.

"I was acting as Patty-Pat from Bridesburg who was protecting her home and her family and her neighborhood from a drug dealer," she said.

On Saturday, Kozlowski said an unidentified man, whom she referred to as a junkie in the post, sat on the sidewalk outside her home and called a dealer, who later  pulled up looking for him.

When Kozlowski saw the dealer pull out needles and a bag, she said, she "blew [her] top,"  grabbed the baseball bat, and confronted the man, telling him to get off her sidewalk or she'd "start swinging."

After she posted about the incident on Facebook,  dozens of  users called her use of the word junkie to describe the man sitting outside her home stigmatizing and offensive. Her Facebook post has since been made private.

Kozlowski, who ran unopposed in the May primary, wants to represent the 177th District, which encompasses Bridesburg, Northwood and Mayfair, and parts of Port Richmond, Fishtown, Lawncrest, and Tacony.

Her Democratic opponent, Joe Hohenstein, said in a statement that he was "disheartened" by Kozlowski's Facebook post.

"I believe that the issues of community safety, addiction, and homelessness cannot be viewed as an 'us vs. them' fight with physical violence being the solution," the statement read. "The post simply added to the pain and stigma of addiction for the families in the 177th who have lost brothers, sisters, children and parents or who continue to deal with addiction every day."

Kozlowski sees things differently. "I can't stop and hold my tongue," she said, adding that she will not apologize for the language she used in the post. She said she does regret that the post "pitted people against each other."

"I use the word junkie," she said. "I understand that's probably what got me in trouble."

Michael Meehan, chairman of the Republican City Committee, said he understood Kozlowski's anger.

"A drug transaction was occurring right in front of her," he said. "While I wouldn't have made the post, I can understand her anger."

One researcher said language can color how the public perceives people with a substance problem.

"The language that shapes our perceptions of people who are struggling with addiction unfortunately makes the public less willing to support measures, policies, and programs that could possibly help reduce the problem," said Jerry Stahler, a geography and urban studies professor at Temple University who researches substance abuse and addiction.

John Wilfrond, a neighbor and supporter of Kozlowski, has been in recovery for five years. He said being called a junkie is like a kick when you're down.

"It does hurt," he added. "You still have feelings and emotions."

Kozlowski said the backlash from the Facebook post will not hurt her chances of winning in November.

As the former director of park stewardship for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, she said, she's been on the front lines of the city's opioid crisis, recalling times when she picked up hundreds of needles in the city's parks.

"We have to stop coddling," she said.

Her stance on drug use is what she believes her constituents want in a representative.

"I'm not the suit and tie, I'm not the high heels and pearls politician," she said. "I'm jeans and sneakers, and if I lose, I'm not going to regret anything."

"But … I'm not going to lose," she added.