Ready to run: Joe Hohenstein, with his wife Brandice Mazick, wants to improve the neighborhoods of the 177th Legislative District. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO
Joe Hohenstein likes the work he does, serving as an immigration attorney, because he believes he is making a difference.
Hohenstein said he likes helping people achieve the American dream and make a better life for their kids by working hard and playing by the rules. Now, he is entering the political arena, running as the Democratic nominee in the 177th Legislative District.
“I want to make my difference in bigger pieces and in bigger chunks,” he said.
Hohenstein, 48, lives on Wakeling Street in Northwood, around the corner from his opponent, Republican Rep. John Taylor, though the two do not know each other well.
As a youth, he attended Frankford Friends School, Masterman Middle School and Frankford High School. A Quaker who serves on the Frankford Friends school board, he would go to Harrisburg focusing on consensus.
“We (Quakers) look for and find common ground,” he said.
He and his wife, Brandice Mazick, have two daughters, Emma and Maggie. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on Aug. 3.
His wife is a native of the Midwest and wasn’t sure how she would take to living in the big city, but she now sees her neighborhood as having a small-town feel.
As for her husband’s foray into politics, she thinks he would be an effective lawmaker because he would welcome input from all sides of an issue.
“That’s a skill he has, the ability to listen,” she said.
Hohenstein grew up as the fifth of seven children. He lived in Afghanistan for two years while his parents, Marge and Jack, worked for a Catholic relief organization.
Today, Marge and Jack Hohenstein deliver meals for Aid For Friends and also knock on doors on behalf of their son’s campaign. Their children all work in a service-related field.
“That’s how our parents raised us. That’s why I am who I am,” Hohenstein said.
Hohenstein and Taylor were both unopposed in the April 26 primary. The Democrat spent his time knocking on doors two or three times a week and raising money, mostly from family and friends and fellow Quakers and immigration lawyers. He was endorsed by the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club.
Since the primary, he has been knocking on doors five days a week. He’s handed out about 5,000 pieces of literature since the campaign began.
His team consists of campaign manager Ted Bordelon, about 20 volunteers, a half-dozen interns and the Princeton Strategies consulting firm that helped Jared Solomon trounce 42-year incumbent state Rep. Mark Cohen in the Democratic primary.
Taylor hasn’t been in office for 42 years, but was first elected in 1984, and Hohenstein uses that as he greets voters at doors.
“Hey, I’m Joe Hohenstein, a first-time candidate running against a guy who has been there for 32 years, since I was in high school,” he tells people.
Hohenstein feels comfortable at doors, recalling how he canvassed for Clean Water Action out of college.
The challenger tells voters he is concerned about perpetual budget impasses in state government. Perhaps his top priority is what he calls “fair” funding for city schools. He also wants the so-called “pie” to be bigger so Philadelphia gets more money.
The Democrat wants a moratorium on fracking, or at least an extraction tax. He opposes the death penalty, is pro-choice on abortion and favored same-sex marriage before it was legalized.
If he had been in office, he would have opposed the budgets offered by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Hohenstein labels Taylor, a former local GOP chairman, as “party-line John,” someone who is more of a Republican than a Philadelphian. He believes it’s time for a new era.
“He’s a decent man voting on the wrong side of issues,” he said. “He’s voting like an upstate Republican. We’ve had 32 years of the same person. We need to take a step out and do things differently.”
Hohenstein is looking forward to running on a ticket headed by Hillary Clinton. He also likes the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, Katie McGinty, a Rhawnhurst native. He, like Clinton and McGinty, favors pay equity for women.
As for the man who will head the ticket that Taylor is running on, Hohenstein said he doesn’t trust Donald Trump, especially when it comes to national defense and nuclear issues.
“No way I want Trump’s finger on the button at all,” he said.
Hohenstein has been attending civic and ward meetings, and planning breakfast meetings with voters. He met voters on June 4 at the Memphis Taproom, and has a similar gathering scheduled for Saturday at Great Awakenings Cafe, 1466 E. Cheltenham Ave.
Taylor will have a lot more money than Hohenstein, but the challenger will continue his grassroots campaign. He said he has the ideas and energy, along with a willingness to put in the legwork, to take the fight to the incumbent.
Hohenstein has been to Harrisburg, and said the House Democratic Campaign Committee has indicated it wants to target the district. The 177th district consists generally of Bridesburg and parts of Port Richmond, Tacony, West Mayfair, Holmesburg and Lexington Park.
The boundaries were first used in 2014, when Taylor was unopposed.
Bordelon, the campaign manager for Hohenstein, describes the district — — which goes from Dauphin Street to Cresco Avenue — — as “gerrymandered,” noting that the heavily Democratic 33rd Ward in Juniata was replaced in the last round of redistricting with divisions to the north. Democrat Will Dunbar clobbered Taylor with 61 percent of the vote in the 33rd Ward in 2012.
Taylor has long been dominant in Port Richmond and Bridesburg, but Hohenstein notes that many voters are new to the district. And Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in the 177th.
“It’s a seat that ought to be Democratic,” Hohenstein said. ••