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Fatimah Muhammad, a Penn alumnus running for a state rep. seat, hosts a get out the vote event at Allegros Credit: Amiya Chopra

Penn alum Fatimah Muhammad, a candidate for Democratic state representative in the district that includes Penn, gathered student support on campus yesterday over pizza.

Muhammad, a 2006 College graduate and former associate director of Penn’s Greenfield Intercultural Center, was scheduled to host a Get Out the Vote pizza party at Allegro Pizza, but was forced to move to another venue down the street.

Muhammad talked to the group of fewer than 20 students and community members. The candidate said the two problems she wants to tackle are poverty and joblessness. She’s had her own experience with these issues. “I was homeless by the time I was eight years old,” she said.

She eventually became a Penn student and later a local community organizer, but had to deal with many obstacles along the way. When planning for her future in high school, her academic advisor told her she should be an “exotic dancer,” she said.

Muhammad believes fixing West Philadelphia’s school system is paramount. She said she has known for a long time that “education was the key.”

She also criticized Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett for cutting a lot of funding from public schools.

Muhammad is challenging James Roebuck, the incumbent who has been in office since 1985.

Roebuck opposes school vouchers, a controversial policy that would allow low-income families to send their children to schools outside their districts through government subsidies.

These subsidies could be used for tuition in private and religious schools, an issue critics disapprove of.

Muhammad’s campaign has received funding from a political action committee affiliated with pro-voucher groups. Moreover, another third-party group with funding from the same sources has been sending mailers attacking Roebuck on his stance against school vouchers.

But Muhammad said she isn’t sure whether she would implement school vouchers. “I’m leaving all possibilities on the table,” she said, because she believes there is no “silver bullet” solution.

“I am working very hard to get elected,” she said, adding that if she wins the seat, “I will find solutions.”

Though she is still making her way in politics, Muhammad is well known in certain communities at Penn.

College sophomore Chris Noble, who attended the event, said she is a household name because of her involvement with the United Minorities Council and her former position at the GIC.

Noble, a political science major, said Roebuck has been here long enough. “He hasn’t done a lot with Philly schools,” he said.

For Noble, who met Muhammad when she was a UMC advisor, Muhammad is “the change candidate for this area.”

The event, however, did not go as smoothly as planned.

Louie Kosmatos, the general manager of Allegro Pizza, did not host the event at his restaurant due to pressure from angry customers and a misunderstanding with the campaign.

Kosmatos said he did not realize the campaign intended to host a event at his restaurant until he saw fliers and advertisements for the event. “I’d never heard of who Fatimah is” before he saw the fliers.

He also said he received phone calls throughout the day from customers threatening to bring their “own party,” he said.

“I felt like it was gonna be like a war over here,” Kosmatos said.

The event was moved to 3934 Spruce Street, the Phi Kappa Psi chapter house. Wharton junior Joe Silvestro, Phi Kappa Psi president, said the fraternity is not affiliated with the campaign in any way.

This article has been revised to clarify that Louie Kosmatos, the general manager of Allegro Pizza, was not aware there was to be a campaign event held in his restaurant due to a misunderstanding with campaign staff.

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