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Pa. State Rep. Jared Solomon: From the butcher shop to the sausage factory | John Baer

Meet one of the young legislators behind the 'Philadelphia Platform,' Northeast Philly state Rep. Jared Solomon.

Pa. State Rep. Jared Solomon
Pa. State Rep. Jared SolomonRead moreCourtesy Rep. Jared Solomon

Jared Solomon, a Democrat from Northeast Philly, was first elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives the same day Donald Trump was elected to the White House.

So here’s a shock. Solomon, now in his second term in Harrisburg, says the most important thing he’s learned as an elected official is this: “That the obstacle to progress is not partisanship.” (It’s a lack of personal relationships, he says, both within and across the aisle.)

The 40-year-old legislator made his way into politics from humble beginnings. Just three years old when his dad left home, Solomon moved in with his public-school teacher mom over his great-grandparents’ butcher shop, the W&G, on Rutland Street in the Castor Gardens neighborhood.

He grew up there, went to Abington Friends on scholarship, graduated cum laude from Swarthmore College, earned a law degree from Villanova, became an Army Reserve JAG officer, practiced law with some city firms, founded a civic organization (Take Back Your Neighborhood), and lost by 158 votes to former Rep. Mark Cohen in 2014 before beating the 42-year incumbent in 2016.

Solomon now lives three blocks from the former butcher shop with his wife, Tiffani McDonough Solomon, whom he met in law school. She works, splitting time between Philly and New York, as legal counsel to the fashion giant Louis Vuitton. And, yes, he says, she has a nice wardrobe.

Solomon is part of a new, younger group of Philly lawmakers pushing long-term-oriented proposals called the Philadelphia Platform, which he initiated last year to address the city’s most serious issues. He’s convinced Harrisburg’s oft-perceived, sometimes real aversion to Philly’s needs can be improved through relationships. He spoke with the Inquirer last week.

Before and after your election, the broad-brush image of our legislature is something less than stellar. Do you see evidence that’s changing?

I do. And I’m very optimistic about it. When I was first elected, I visited Republican leaders, including Speaker Mike Turzai, in their districts to get to know them and what’s important to their districts. Because we need to work together. That’s the cultural change that a lot of us are moving towards.

In January, you were part of the roll-out of the Philadelphia Platform, primarily aimed at fighting persistent poverty in the city. How’s that going?

I think it’s going well. There’s a handful of proposals related to workforce development and criminal justice reform, two areas absolutely key to the overall poverty issue, that Speaker Turzai and (House Majority Leader) Bryan Cutler are on board with to move legislation. And because of our work in building relationships, I think we’ll be able to get those done.

Everybody who’s run for office or been in office in Philadelphia says they’re going to move the needle on poverty. Why hasn’t that happened?

I don’t think it’s done just with an approach in policy. Unless the city, state and federal government works with the religious community and the non-profit world together, it’s not going to get done. I think until we get to that point, you can throw all the policy you want at the problem but you’re not going to create a success story.

Why hasn’t that happened?

Folks tend to be siloed. Government tends to be siloed. When I first got elected from the outside, I had never been an elected official. I just assumed everybody talks. I thought all politicians talk to one and other, coordinate efforts. And you realize, because of schedules, because people are busy putting out fires, that we don’t.

What’s needed is just a rejiggering of how we operate to get us all on the same page, pointed in the same direction.

You’re in a second term as a minority member from a city the legislature doesn’t exactly embrace. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?

That the obstacle to progress is not partisanship. It’s relationship-building and the willingness to travel the state, get to know other people’s districts, who they are.

I don’t know much about Potter County. But I know folks in Potter County and folks in my district in Philadelphia share one thing in common: They pay us to work together on the same things to get things done. I know that for sure.

You’ve advocated some big reforms such as term limits and recall elections. Isn’t that, given this legislature, just tilting at windmills?

No. I don’t put out policy just because it sounds good in a sound bite. It’s because I’m willing to do the spade work to get it done.

And that applies to election law reform, campaign-finance reform, redistricting. Because that’s where we need to go. And the way you get there is by establishing relationships that will allow us to have those serious discussions.

There’s state legislation to create open primaries, allowing independent voters, of which Philadelphia has more of than registered Republicans, to vote in our now-closed primary elections. What do you think?

I’m completely supportive. It would give us a diversity of views. It would take us out of our comfort zone. Force us to talk to more people, expand our base.

That’s good. It flexes our electoral muscles and gets us out into communities. There couldn’t be anything better for our democratic process.

For many, Philly politics is equated with corruption. How do you change that?

Not with one thing. It takes a comprehensive approach, especially as relates to election reforms. And, as Democrats, we all need to speak out. We believe in work and life-sustaining jobs. And when there are folks who are taking resources away from people working for hard-earned money, that’s not OK.

And when one occupies public office and doesn’t have an eye on the ball, that’s a hit on government. And, as Democrats, we believe in government, so that’s a problem.

Do you think any single public office is better suited or positioned than any other public office to achieve needed change?

No. It’s what the individual makes of it.

You live on Large Street. Are you living large on Large?

That’s what people say. Living large on Large.

They do?

No. Nobody ever says that. You’re the only person I’ve ever heard say that.