Statehouse representative Jim Roebuck faces three challengers in the primary election for the 188th Pennsylvania House district, which encompasses University City.
Roebuck is being challenged by 2013 Engineering graduate Rick Krajewski, Greg Benjamin, and Karen Dunn. The primary election is scheduled to take place on June 2, and the deadline to request a mail-in ballot is May 26.
Rising College senior and Penn Dems President Owen Voutsinas-Klose said Krajewski won Penn Dems’ endorsement because of his stance on criminal justice reform, his commitment to the Green New Deal, and his efforts to reach out to the Philadelphia community during the coronavirus pandemic.
Krajewski said he appreciated Governor Tom Wolf’s resistance to county lawmakers' calls for the state to open up, and also provided criticism of the state’s treatment of Pennsylvania’s prison population.
“We have the ultimate humanitarian crisis in our prisons and jails, without a real release plan for the vulnerable,” he said. “We still don’t have a clear plan for addressing housing relief. There’s been some important action taken on flattening the curve, but in terms of bringing incarcerated people home and protecting economic security, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Based on a questionnaire Krajewski filled out for Reclaim Philadelphia, a progressive organization fighting for working people in Philadelphia, Krajewski supports a single-payer health care system, a ban on fracking, and the Green New Deal. He also opposes the death penalty and the use of tax breaks to lure corporations.
Roebuck, a former Drexel assistant professor, was first elected to the statehouse in 1985. He is currently the Democratic chair of the Education Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
In March, Roebuck introduced legislation that would give people with student loans a break on interest payments during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, he was active in efforts to reform charter schools and increase funding for colleges.
According to a questionnaire Roebuck filled out for Reclaim Philadelphia, he supports a ban on fracking, a single-payer healthcare system, the Green New Deal, the death penalty, and the use of tax breaks to lure businesses.
Voutinas-Klose said that although there is "nothing wrong" with Roebuck, he has been around for a long time and people in the district think it’s time for a change.
Roebuck’s office did not respond to The Daily Pennsylvanian’s request for comment.
Karen Dunn, a community activist who worked in Roebuck’s statehouse office for 20 years, said Roebuck has lost enthusiasm for issues important to the district.
“For the present incumbent, the big thing was education,” Dunn said. “But our area has problems with housing, the employment rate, citizens receiving money to sustain themselves. It’s not just about education anymore.”
Dunn said she will prioritize implementing the Green New Deal, a set of policies to address climate change, at the local and state level if she is elected as State Representative.
“If we don’t get something straight about our environment, that affects everything,” Dunn said. “That affects housing, that affects education, that affects the living wage.”
Dunn also said she thinks the state has responded well to the coronavirus pandemic by aiding people currently facing unemployment, however, she believes more can be done to protect renters.
“We need legislation to truly hold back the terror that will come to renters through evictions and being told they are responsible for months of rent all at one time,” Dunn said. “I’ve seen the city pass legislation on paying workers during the pandemic but not really advocating for citizens or workers who rent.”
Greg Benjamin is the leader of the 51st ward of Philadelphia and has a long history of pushing efforts that support local libraries and community centers, as well as volunteering as a Christian minister.
Benjamin said the next Pennsylvania state representative must do more to address mental health issues, which he said manifest themselves in areas of education, housing, and criminal justice.
“There are limited resources to help [people with mental health issues] with getting services and just having a safe place to live,” he said. “And of course if you know anything about the criminal justice system, you know that mental health is another significant problem in the criminal justice system.”
Benjamin said he has engaged in significant community outreach during the pandemic by organizing efforts to feed and provide mental health services for underprivileged people in the Philadelphia community, adding that the office of the incumbent, Roebuck, has been “inaccessible” during the coronavirus outbreak.
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