Challengers announce for 2019 Philadelphia elections

Challengers announce for 2019 Philadelphia elections

Author: Marco Cerino/Monday, December 31, 2018/Categories: Philadelphia

While shoppers bustle about the Christmas Village, others in Philadelphia are working towards acquiring offices in the big building where Broad and Market streets intersect. The midterm elections are still fresh in minds, yet some have already declared their candidacies for 2019.

Two new names began their campaigns this week who reflect the diversity of thought and political learning in the city. A single mother and Army veteran from Fox Chase began her work towards a City Council at-large seat on the Democratic ticket, while a Republican defense attorney from South Philadelphia hopes to challenge for the party’s mayoral nomination. 

Melissa Robbins, a local activist with experience working on campaigns in the city and beyond, will be one of many challengers for an at-large seat in City Council. Her party currently controls five. She announced yesterday in Olde City and discussed the trauma people face every day from the gun violence and poverty in Philadelphia that’s become just a part of regular life.

“I see the pain of people,” she said. “As a woman, as a mother, as a veteran, I knew full well I could continue service through public service.”

Robbins served as an Army medic after joining the service out of high school. She’s worked on political campaigns before, from local races to serving as a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in her hometown. She’s been involved in Harrisburg, having completed the Emerge program that offers women training to get more involved with politics and working with Gov. Tom Wolf and his wife on initiatives like equal pay for women. 

Through her work across the city, Robbins sees a need for government to offer more outlets for children and safety measures for communities. She suggests more options for sports and creativity beyond football fields and basketball courts. 

She also called on the Department of Licenses and Inspections to get businesses to update security cameras to make sure they work. Robbins believes this and working street lights would be more effective crime deterrents than having more police. She noted that people need to come out of their houses and work together in communities and also how these measures would convince older residents it’s safe to go outside.

Robbins has worked as an activist and on WURD, a local radio station vital to the African-American community. She may live in the Northeast but she is confident in her network and name recognition in the at-large election. “I’ve spent enough time all over the city of Philadelphia and neighborhoods and I’m not concerned about going into any of these places and being a new candidate.”

Billy Ciancaglini also has some experience with campaigns. He has been a candidate for Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas twice, failing to make the general election in 2015 and 2017. The Temple Law grad and former Democratic committeeman is now looking to unseat Mayor Jim Kenney in November after being fed up with what he sees as the degradation of his city.

His three biggest issues entering 2019 are what he calls the three S’s: sanctuary city, soda tax, and safe-injection sites. He’s against them all. He claimed the publicized case of Juan Ramos Vasquez, a Honduran released in 2015, who stayed in Philadelphia despite ICE’s request to deport him and is now accused of raping a five-year-old girl, set his resolve.

“The soda tax, I probably could have grinned and bear it and simply went out of town to buy my soda,” he said after launching his campaign in Center City Monday. “I’m not happy with that either. Once the safe injection sites open, I’m not going to be happy with those.”

Ciancaglini decried the beverage tax for the detriment to small grocers that support many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. People who cross the county borders for cheaper sodas and juices might also pick up other household needs, putting those stores in dire straits. In South Philadelphia, where the corner grocer has been an institution for generations and survived shifts in demographics and ethnic waves, the loss of local jobs and opportunities for families would be catastrophic. He’s also unhappy with the collection process, in which the city lost $33 million.

This is one issue where the two candidates agree. Robbins already cited the city has “food deserts” where residents cannot find healthy food or fresh produce. She decried the idea that parents must consume the sugary beverages and risk their own health for their children to attend quality pre-kindergarten programs and funded schools.

Like many, Ciancaglini has an opinion on the polarizing Frank Rizzo statue facing City Hall from the Municipal Services Building: “The statue stays!” 

Ciancaglini went to Bishop Neumann in South Philly, where the former mayor and police commissioner remains iconic and the subject of a mural that’s become increasingly scorned and defaced. Ciancaglini even offered to display the statue in his front yard, although he offered no details as to how this might affect his paper delivery or trash collection. 

The candidates did vary on their opinions of the mayor and City Council. While Robbins empathizes with the scope of Kenney’s role and the difficulties of managing different stakeholders, Ciancaglini believes the mayor’s dancing after the court decision justifying his stance against ICE disqualified him from the role. He’d like to see the mayor’s office enforce more accountability from the council. Robbins isn’t targeting any specific candidate for the primary and relishes the opportunity to work with district reps and represent the entire city as an at-large member.

However, both found issues with accessibility of incumbents. Robbins noted how distance and transportation issues can preclude residents from attending City Council meetings and hearings. For those who aren’t close to the trains and trolley that run into City Hall, it can mean long drives and expensive parking in Center City. Ciancaglini, whose schedule precludes him from attending council meetings, would like to see more forums and meetings in the district by council members for public input on legislation. He suggested more usage of social media to solicit responses. 



Marco Cerino a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Philadelphia. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at