Algernong Allen is running for state representative in Pennsylvania’s 188th District, which includes University City, West and Southwest Philadelphia.
Allen was raised in Southwest Philadelphia and, after graduating Hampton University, he returned home and opened up a jazz club on Baltimore Avenue. His club, Elena’s Soul, burned down on Christmas Eve in 2012. Allen also has a weekly radio show called West Philly Connects on WPEB 88.1.
The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to Allen about his platform.
Daily Pennsylvanian: How do you see Penn fitting into your platforms regarding education?
Algernong Allen: In terms of Penn as an organization with a variety of institutional arms, there are probably several ways that the state could facilitate the work done there in terms of scientific and cultural endeavors but there’s such a wide net there that I can’t reply in detail.
DP: Some critics of your campaign say that you have less experience than your opponent Jim Roebuck. What would you say to that? What do you think the most important skills are to succeed at this job?
AA: I think that a long tenure does not necessarily make you a better state representative. I think the most important criteria is that your constituents are served adequately, and I don’t think that requires as much experience as it does attention to individual people, communities and stakeholders. For me, I have been connected to the community, neighborhood organization and to a limited extent even to the University City District. I have experience, if not [in] politics, and I believe political experience is not necessarily the best thing for our constituents ... maybe it’s time for a new perspective and a new set of eyes.
DP: What is your stance on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana?
AA: I am for decriminalization of marijuana but not full legalization. We need to take some time to see the effects of decriminalization before that. In the meantime it does not make sense to criminalize something that is so commonly and popularly used illicitly. I think instead of making it more criminal, and I’m talking about for small quantities for personal use, it doesn’t make sense to put people behind bars for something that is so common. It doesn’t match up with the current time.
DP: What types of urban farming initiatives do you envision?
AA: We have so many vacant lands that we can create opportunities for gardens and farming while we wait for other spaces. What I think they do is they stimulate community engagement, a sense of knowing your neighborhoods and working in partnership — and they are also good for local residents in terms of eating nutritious [foods], so there are so many wins when it comes to urban farming.
DP: What is your stance on marriage equality?
AA: A substantial part of my platform is for anything for fairness and equality so the marriage equality issue is one of the central themes in my platform. We should have marriage equality undoubtedly because we must respect the rights of all people to be who they are. Pennsylvania is regressing in that area of governing, and in Harrisburg I will be a voice for that particular issue. I’ll sponsor, co-sponsor ... however I can advance that particular agenda. There are other issues with the LGBT community, especially when you talk about how detainees and prisoners are treated ... oftentimes, especially for transgender people, they are classified wrongly in our penal institutions, so there’s a lot of issues [of] fairness in the LGBT community that could be addressed. If my neighbors can’t be treated fairly, then maybe one day I won't be treated fairly.
DP: What are your thoughts on the protection of women’s rights?
AA: Across the board, let's let people be treated fairly under the laws of Pennsylvania. It’s hard enough out here as it is. Let’s give people a fair shot out here — that’s in women’s rights, income gap issues, immigrants rights, minority rights. I am a very progressive person on social issues.
DP: How can the Philadelphia school system be fixed?
AA: In the long term, in terms of legislation, we can fund them adequately first. In order to do that we need to get a new governor, which will require us to mobilize voters. That’s our best chance at getting what I’m advocating for, which is a fair funding formula that matches the needs of schools to their resources. In terms of challenges, there are immense challenges, but once we solve funding we need to make sure [it is] utilized effectively. Whatever public school vehicle we are using, we have to make sure to be transparent and get results for students and parents. The second part of that is how else can we do it ... I believe [in] community empowerment — [figuring] out ways to get neighborhoods involved in your local school and making that process easier to do and getting that done in a much shorter term. The job is two-fold: what you do in Harrisburg and what you do in the neighborhood.
DP: Anything else?
AA: I’ve been able to talk to some students on the campuses. I met with some of the Penn Dems and Penn Immigrant Rights community and we have so much talent in West Philadelphia and so many people who are some of the brightest people in the country, perhaps — certainly Harrisburg — so we have a good opportunity to work together throughout the district, which runs from 30th Street to 58th Street, to make life better for everybody. Talking to students, they often feel disconnected from the rest of the community at large and some of them say that they would love the opportunity to try to match up and empower students to get more involved. If we can get more students involved in the process of making West Philly as a whole better, maybe we can get people to stay longer and not move out of the city.
The big benefit of our campaign is try to get as many people engaged in the process as possible. The primary election is May 20 but by November we want to make sure we have a large voter outreach. Part of our goal is to register 5,000 voters [by] November. We want to make sure we encourage people to vote here locally.
There are so many students that [they] can impact change on a dramatic scale if students got connected to the local situation ... you could really have an impact, not only on the city, but statewide .
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