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Two Jews to Make Runs for Philly Council Seats

February 17, 2011 By:
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Sherrie Cohen

There hasn't been a Jewish member of Philadelphia City Council since the death of 90-year-old David Cohen in 2005.

Now, at least two Jews are campaigning for a council seat, though there's still more than a month left to file to be on the ballot for the May 17 primary.

One of the Jewish Democratic contenders is Cohen's daughter, Sherrie. The other is Jewish labor leader Jeff Hornstein, president of the Jewish Labor Committee's Philadelphia chapter.

All 17 seats on the city's legislative body are up for grabs; 10 of them represent districts, while the other seven, called at-large, represent the entire city.

Of the seven at-large seats, five are set aside for the majority party, which for more than 50 years has been the Democrats.

Democrat Sherrie Cohen, 55, is one of 10 announced Democratic candidates seeking an at-large seat. She said she hopes to be the first openly lesbian candidate to win a spot on the council.

The West Oak Lane resident said her campaign is based on social and economic issues and, if elected, she hopes to bridge the gap between the wealthy and impoverished sections of the city.

"Like my father, I seek to be a champion for working families," said the attorney.

The council has never had a huge Jewish presence. During much of the elder Cohen's tenure, the only other Jewish member was Joan Specter, wife of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter; she lost a 1995 bid for re-election.

With several incumbents, including Council President Anna Verna, stepping aside, the legislative body may have its biggest turnover in 30 years. Looming large is the fallout over the city's DROP program, which allows city employees to essentially collect a pension while continuing to work and draw a salary.

One council member enrolled in DROP who has decided to face the voters is Frank DiCicco (D-District 1), whose district includes Society Hill, South Philadelphia and Northern Liberties. He is trying to change the law and get out of the program; if that fails, he has promised to donate his salary.

Hornstein, a Jewish labor leader, has joined a crowded list of Democrats challenging DiCicco. The other candidates so far are Democrats Vern Anastasio, Joe Grace and Karen Brown; Republican Lou Lanni is also running.

Hornstein, 43, has a doctorate from the University of Maryland, and wrote A Nation of Realtors: A Cultural History of the 20th-Century American Middle Class.

His labor activism has coincided with his involvement in the local chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee, where he has served as president since 2008. Last year, it looked as if the local chapter might fold, but supporters raised enough to keep it going and hire a part-time director.

For the past six years, Hornstein has been organizing Philadelphia janitors. "I do think it's time for somebody new," he said, adding that he can do more to affect social change as an elected official than as an organizer.

He said that the incumbent has done too little to develop the Delaware River waterfront.

DiCicco has worked on a number of issues of Jewish concern, including a 2005 bill that paved the way for the establishment of a Center City eruv. He said he's been an integral player in the effort to transform the city's stagnant waterfront, such as pushing for a two-year, public conversation that included a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's school of design.


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