Meeting Philadelphia’s four new House reps

Meeting Philadelphia’s four new House reps

Author: Marco Cerino/Thursday, January 10, 2019/Categories: Philadelphia

The 2019-20 session of the Pennsylvania legislature brings new names across the state. In Philadelphia’s delegation, four new Democratic representatives were sworn in on New Year’s Day.

The outgoing reps combined for about a century of service in Harrisburg. Yet, as the commonwealth and her biggest city change, so do the faces representing those citizens.

These lawmakers may be new but their districts are certainly not. In them you’ll find landmarks like Penn’s Landing, Independence Hall, the Italian Market, and Temple University. Neighborhoods like Port Richmond, Northern Liberties, Pennsport, and Fairhill combine the legacy and evolving makeup of Philadelphia.

The freshman class of 2019 brings new perspective and experience to the lower chamber. Two women now hold seats previously held by men representing east of Broad Street. In the River Wards, the Republican district flipped to the Democrats. North Broad sent the first LGBTQ man of color to Harrisburg.

Commitments to Service

The four new reps aren’t complete newcomers to public service. Mary Isaacson worked for the late Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-Philadelphia) for over a decade before earning election to his seat in the 175th district, along with serving as a committeeperson in her ward. Malcolm Kenyatta grew up the grandson of political activist and one-time mayoral candidate Muhammad Kenyatta. While at Temple, he was on the student government and stayed active in his neighborhood. Now he serves the 181st district where he grew up and was once a junior block captain. Elizabeth Fiedler worked for WHYY for over a decade as a reporter and producer before taking over the 184th district in South Philly

Joe Hohenstein takes over the 177th after working in the private sector as a business owner and lawyer. Before starting his term, he spoke of the necessity to serve his district, even if they don’t pay close attention to how he votes.

“There’s a segment of people who care about what happens in Harrisburg but not everyone can pay attention all the time,” he said. “What I want to do is be somebody that people can trust to do the right thing, even when people aren’t paying attention.”

Focus on the Issues

In four interviews, each member spoke to the needs of their constituents and the urgency to get things done. Discussion focused on specific issues and solutions, supporting Gov. Tom Wolf and his agenda. The name Donald Trump largely stayed out of conversation.

Many of the individual concerns focus around party principles. These include education, public health, gun control, and wages.

Both Kenyatta and Fiedler discussed the need to help workers make more and not have to hold multiple jobs to pay bills. Kenyatta plans to introduce legislation to bring the minimum wage in Pennsylvania up to $15 an hour, despite years of inability to move it past the $7.25 mandated by the federal government. “I don’t think we have the luxury of continuing to wait,” he said. “People who are looking up and find themselves underemployed, they don’t have the luxury of time for us to wait to continue to debate this.”

While still in the minority, the new members see a mandate from the people for this term. Gov. Wolf won re-election, as did U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D). Philadelphia’s delegation, almost 15 percent of the 203 seats in the state House, also earned new leadership positions following the election. Jordan Harris is now Minority Whip, while Joanna McClinton made history as the first African-American woman elected Caucus Chair.

Isaacson mentioned the need to resolve the budget deficits that have plagued Harrisburg in the past. “I think that finding sustainable revenues, rather than one-term solutions, is what’s going to be the big issue.”

Fiedler brought up the Philadelphia-Harrisburg relationship, which has been contentious over the years. Gov. Wolf has been active in the area and received support from Mayor Jim Kenney (D) on many initiatives. She hopes to rebuild the bridges between the state legislature and City Council.

“I have been surprised by the degree to which [regular communication between city and state officials] has not always been the case,” she said. “It’s not the way it should be if our true focus is serving our constituents and helping to improve the lives of people in South Philly.”

She hopes to continue meetings with council members at the Oregon Diner and other eateries.

We have seen continued collaboration over the years with state reps and state senators in the city. Hohenstein, Isaacson, and Kenyatta all joined the PA Conservation Voters Thursday for a meet-and-greet in Fishtown to discuss environmental issues with citizens.

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