Somerton meeting addresses election, declining crime

Residents of Somerton got an up-close-and personal view of the ongoing race for the 170th district seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on April 12. Actually, they saw one-half of the race.

Democrat contenders Matt Darragh and Fran Nelms each addressed the community during the monthly meeting of the Somerton Civic Association.

Under SCA bylaws, candidates for any elected office may deliver one five-minute campaign speech during each election cycle. The SCA does not host a single candidates’ night. Incumbent state Rep. Martina White, a Republican, chose to speak to the organization last month.

Darragh and Nelms will face each other on the April 26 ballot. The winner will challenge White in November. The 170th district includes all of Parkwood, Somerton and West Torresdale, as well as portions of Bustleton and Morrell Park.

Darragh said he was born and raised in Parkwood and now owns the house that his late parents bought in 1965. He attended St. Anselm School and Archbishop Ryan High School, before earning a political science degree from Temple and law degree from Widener. He was an intern for Lt. Gov. Mike Stack when Stack was in the state Senate. He has worked in the state Auditor General’s office for about 10 years, most recently as a regional audit manager.

The candidate has also been a Democratic committeeman in Ward 66B for a decade and touted his work on the campaigns of state Rep. Ed Neilson and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Darragh touted his blue-collar work ethic that he inherited from his father, a union carpenter. His said his platform is to work for “better schools, safer streets and fairer taxes.” He has been campaigning door-to-door in the district and claimed he walks “fifty thousand steps” every week to meet voters.

Nelms is a Somerton native who attended St. Christopher School and Archbishop Ryan before earning a political science degree from Temple. His family has lived in Somerton for 55 years and been active in the community. His dad managed the Philadelphia Quartett Club and was a youth sports coach.

Nelms said he worked for U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle for two years when Boyle was a state representative in the 170th district. Boyle’s public service inspired Nelms to follow in his footsteps, the candidate said.

Two of Nelms’ core issues are fixing misspending in public schools and protecting fixed-income seniors who fear that they may lose their homes due to property tax hikes and other financial pressures.

In other business:

• SCA members approved unanimously a zoning variance proposal involving a hair and nail salon. Zoning attorney Brett Feldman said that his client owns a shopping center on the 10700 block of Bustleton Ave. that is zoned as a residential property. As a result, any businesses seeking to operate in the property must obtain a use variance.

The latest proposed tenant wants to operate a hair salon that also offers manicures and pedicures. It would feature three or four work stations. The maximum hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

• Police Capt. Michael Gormley and Lt. Steve Gonzales reported that crime has declined “significantly” in the 7th district’s Police Service Area-3. Statistically, crime was down for the previous month and for the year to-date. Gormley credited the good news on officers working hard on patrol and on sharing crime prevention tips with the community.

Gonzales said that in response to complaints, the district has prioritized enforcing traffic laws in the area of Byberry and Stevens roads. The lieutenant further reported that police have made 11 retail arrests in PSA-3 in the last month.

The district has been working on complaints about dirt bike and ATV riders operating illegally in public streets. Undercover officers are collecting information about where the riders stage their vehicles and where they live. It is against police department policy for officers to chase illegal dirt bike and ATV riders due to the threat to public safety. ••