Could change be headed to the 177th Legislative District?
— The magic number is 28 in this House district. A 28-year-old incumbent vs. his 28-year-old challenger.
William Dunbar believes it is time for a change in the 177th Legislative District.
Dunbar is the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. John Taylor, who was first elected in 1984.
“I’m twenty-eight years old. He’s been there twenty-eight years,” Dunbar said.
Taylor said there is no reason to toss him out of office on Nov. 6.
As the only Philadelphia Republican in the legislature — Upper Moreland’s Tom Murt represents a small portion of Somerton in the 152nd Legislative District — Taylor said he has been involved in issues such as public school funding; the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program to benefit Catholic schools; red-light cameras; sponsoring a “land bank” bill to help cities acquire tax-foreclosed properties; and the homestead exemption and other matters related to saving taxpayers money when the city adopts the Actual Value Initiative next year to calculate property taxes.
Taylor said city leaders are not going all out to topple him.
“It’s not easy being a Republican, but the city of Philadelphia knows that me being there is the only line to the majority party,” he said.
• • •
The 177th stretches from Wissinoming to Fishtown and also includes Northwood, Frankford, Bridesburg, Port Richmond, Harrowgate and Juniata.
Taylor, 57, lives on Haworth Street in Northwood. He is married with four children.
Dunbar lives on Castor Avenue. He is married with three children. He was an aide to state Rep. Tony Payton before resigning last October to become a full-time candidate. He is also a former aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
Democrats have a huge voter-registration advantage in the district.
“He doesn’t want people to know he’s a Republican,” Dunbar said of Taylor.
In fact, campaign literature does not list Taylor as a Republican. A bullet point under “The Taylor Record” in one campaign piece states, “Called a ‘Lion’ for stopping Republican efforts to cut medical care for the elderly.”
Taylor hopes voters will keep saying, “So what,” to opponents, pointing out he is a Republican representing a district with a big Democratic tilt.
The lawmaker has three district offices. The district is a mix of newcomers and longtime residents who have been voting for Taylor every two years for almost three decades.
“People utilize our offices and are familiar with a lot of stuff we do,” Taylor said.
Dunbar said the two candidates are “drastically different” in many ways.
The Democrat opposes the state’s new voter identification law, which will be implemented in 2013. Taylor voted for it.
The challenger is pro-choice on abortion and has been endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Political Action Committee. Taylor is pro-life.
Dunbar also joins Democratic legislators in calling for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the handling of the case of convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky. Gov. Tom Corbett was state attorney general when the allegations surfaced. House Republicans believe Democrats are trying to score political points.
The two candidates will not settle their differences in a debate.
Dunbar wants to debate his opponent.
“I’ll clear my schedule any day before the election,” he said. “I’m more than happy to debate him, but the guy doesn’t want to debate.”
Taylor recalls seeing Dunbar at a recent Northwood Civic Association when the debate issue was mentioned.
“Let’s do it right now,” Taylor told his opponent.
The debate didn’t happen then, as the group was not prepared for an impromptu debate. Taylor believes it’s better for both candidates to express their views in front of built-in audiences at community meetings rather than bringing supporters to a formal debate.
• • •
Dunbar, noting the number of low- and middle-income residents in the district, believes key issues are decaying housing, struggling businesses and cash assistance for the disabled and unemployed.
“The Republican agenda that Corbett and John Taylor are spewing across Pennsylvania are doing all of us a disservice,” he said.
Both candidates expect a high turnout at the polls and have been knocking on doors.
Dunbar claims to have canvassed the district four times. Last month, he campaigned in the district with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
The challenger has met voters who say kind things about Taylor, but he believes likability shouldn’t determine one’s vote.
“The primary job is to go to Harrisburg to vote on and craft legislation that will directly impact the community you serve,” he said.
Taylor will outspend him, Dunbar concedes, but the Democrat thinks the outcome won’t be decided until the wee hours of the morning after Election Day. He thinks the 177th’s Goliath could be sent into retirement.
“He’s in the race of his life. I’m the David of this district,” he said.
• • •
Taylor was unopposed in 2010 and took 59 percent of the vote against Harry Enggasser in 2008, when Barack Obama had people in the district excited about his candidacy.
“We’re competing with the top of the ticket. There will be a pretty sizable margin for the president in this district. We know that,” Taylor said. “The challenge is to get people to vote without pulling the straight lever.”
Taylor will be asking people to vote first for state representative, which will be listed on the bottom of the ballot. He’ll be telling voters to push number 108 first.
“The big key, which we didn’t do in 2008, will be to tell people how to split their ballot, to work from the bottom up. In ’08, we didn’t do a good job of that,” he said.
Taylor’s campaign team knocks on each door of the district multiple times. The incumbent expects to appear at half the doors by Election Day.
On Saturday, he joined supporters Carlos Ruiz, Joe “Coach” Heffner, Donna Heffner and Mark Heffner in banging on doors in the 33rd Ward, 10th Division in Juniata.
He and his team promised to help a woman who has a plumbing problem in her home, another woman who had her car stolen and another woman who complained of drug houses on her block.
A Luzerne Street resident who identified herself as a Democratic committeewoman promised to vote for him.
An L Street resident and neighborhood activist wearing a “Yes We Can” Obama T-shirt promised to go door-to-door with Taylor this week.
A Howland Street resident thanked Taylor because his staff helped her get a death certificate when her dad died. He expects her vote, but is surprised by her response.
“I haven’t voted since Reagan was in office,” she said.
Taylor, elected the same year Ronald Reagan earned a second term as president, believes he is far more qualified than Dunbar. The incumbent argues that he and his staff are actively engaged, understand constituent needs and are adept at solving problems.
If re-elected, Taylor hopes to chair the powerful House Transportation Committee. ••