The last time Traci Confer ran for office, she garnered only 532 votes. But that race wasn't for keeps, she says, a fact she plans to make up for this time around.
Confer will face Democrat John Sabatina Jr. and Republican Charles R. Ebsworth Sr. as the Green Party's candidate in the March 14 special election to fill the seat of state Rep. Alan Butkovitz (D-District 174). Butkovitz left the office in November after being elected Philadelphia City Controller.
Of her 2002 run for state Senate, Confer, 35, claims that she "really wasn't running that time."
The Green Party was placing candidates in most races that year, she explains, and her first foray into public politics was a way to get the party noticed: "It was for the sake of having a name on, I'm afraid. But this time, it's more serious."
What that means is that Confer is taking as much time as she can from her full-time environmental activism – she co-founded the group ActionPA and fixes computers to pay the bills – to mail out literature and call on voters. She wants to implement a universal health-care plan for the state.
She also stands "behind the national platform" of the Green Party, according to campaign coordinator Charles Sherrouse, which calls for divestment from the State of Israel.
Seeking to beat the budding politician to the punch is Sabatina, whose presence on the ballot marks his first run for office after nearly 12 years of active participation in Democratic city politics. The former assistant district attorney – in the major-trials unit, he handled attempted murder and robbery cases – says that "95 percent" of his time is spent campaigning, though he's been practicing law to "get by until taking office."
Still, Sabatina – whose father, John Sabatina Sr., is the Democratic ward leader in the 56th Ward, which takes up a large chunk of the Northeast Philadelphia district at issue in the election – adds that he's "not taking anything for granted."
Past electoral results give the Democrat the advantage. Butkovitz represented the district, which spans the neighborhoods of Rhawnhurst and Bustleton, where a good portion of the Northeast's Jewish community lives, for 15 years before stepping down; in the last election, the Democrat trounced his opponent, 13,082 to 3,221 votes.
Should he win, Sabatina, 35, says that he'll focus on reducing crime and expanding health-care access for seniors.
The GOP candidate is not expected to put up much of a fight. Ebsworth came forward only after Glenn C. Romano, who lost to Butkovitz two years ago, dropped out of contention.
Whoever claims victory will fill out the remaining eight months of Butkovitz's term, and must win the May 16 primary and Nov. 2 general election to win another term.