Philadelphia's struggling schools, violent crime, and high poverty call for more education funding, reasonable gun restrictions, a higher minimum wage, and more. But the city's insular, leaderless delegation to Harrisburg has scored close to zero on all these counts for years.
Unfortunately, the April 26 primary won't change much - even though half the state Senate and the entire House are up for election.
Although four of the city's seven senators are on the ballot, only one faces a contested primary. And in overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia, the primary is the battle that usually wins the war. Just one of the Democratic Senate nominees and five of the 27 House nominees are expected to have Republican opponents in the general election.
In the only Senate district sure to change hands, the party has decided which insider shall prevail. Retiring Sen. Shirley Kitchen has bequeathed her North Philadelphia seat to Sharif Street, son of former Mayor John Street, a longtime Kitchen ally. Street's primary opponent has dropped out.
The lone contested Senate primary is emblematic of insider politics, too, featuring a contest between Democratic factions. The son of a ward leader, State Rep. John Sabatina Jr. was eased into a House seat and, last year, a Senate seat by party bosses in the Northeast. State Rep. Kevin Boyle, who is backed by a rival faction, is challenging Sabatina for the Senate seat 10 months later.
Sabatina says his opposition to higher gas taxes motivated his vote against a bipartisan transportation funding bill, but he offers no alternative means of fixing roads and bridges. He also lacks a convincing rationale for his vote in favor of a bill enabling predatory lending.
KEVIN BOYLE has a stronger grasp of the challenges facing his district and his party's failure to field candidates who can address them. An energetic proponent of adequate school funding and a higher minimum wage, he is the better candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination.
There are more signs of life in the city's House races, with 10 contested primaries. A few can be attributed to District Attorney Seth Williams' prosecutions of Reps. Ron Waters, Michelle Brownlee, and Louse Bishop for taking money from an undercover informant. Their party-chosen successors, seated after low-turnout special elections, are facing challenges. Another House member now defending herself in the same case, Vanessa Lowery Brown, has also drawn challengers.
The party is facing a fight in a few other districts. In the lower Northeast, Rep. Mark Cohen, in office since 1974, faces a challenge from Jared Solomon, a civic leader who lost to Cohen by 158 votes in 2014. Rep. Brian Sims' canceled congressional run also attracted a strong field in his Center City district.
These races could shake up the delegation a little, but there should be much more vigorous political competition in a city with Philadelphia's diversity and challenges. Elections should be about hope, so here's one: Perhaps one of these candidates will become the leader who inspires Philadelphia's lawmakers to build coalitions and make an impact on state policy.