Residents of the 5th Senatorial District on Tuesday will elect a replacement for former Sen. John Sabatina Jr., now a Common Pleas Court judge.
The candidates are Democrat Jim Dillon, who works as a grant compliance officer with the School District of Philadelphia and runs the Hoops 24-7 basketball academy, and Republican Sam Oropeza, who works in real estate and heads the nonprofit Rescuing Streets Through Clean Ups.
Though the election is taking place on the same day as the primary, all registered Democrats, Republicans, independents and third-party voters can vote in the race, and can cross party lines to vote for either candidate.
Both candidates appeared at a debate Monday night in front of a large crowd at Max Myers Playground, sponsored by Take Back Your Neighborhood and ably run by moderator Nancy Ostroff and timekeeper Fran Woodruff.
Among those in attendance at the debate were state Rep. Jared Solomon, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, former Councilman Rick Mariano (who asked a question), congressional candidate Aaron Bashir and legislative candidate Mark LaVelle.
Dillon, 43, is a graduate of Our Lady of Calvary, Holy Ghost Prep and Notre Dame, where he played basketball. He has two daughters who attend Our Lady of Calvary and cares for his mom, who has breast cancer. He’s focused on putting more police on the street, taking illegal guns off the street and raising the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15.
Oropeza, 36, is a graduate of Monsignor Bonner and Williamson Trade School and a former boxer and MMA fighter. He has two children who are homeschooled and lives in Bridesburg. While he calls Dillon a “very nice guy,” he believes he has more of a commitment to the job, as Dillon replaced his older brother Shawn on the ballot after he failed to file a statement of financial interest with the state ethics commission.
If Oropeza wins, he would have to move, since redistricting has moved the 45th Ward to the 2nd district.
Dillon shot down a rumor that he will step aside in 2024 to allow his brother to run, with party backing. He described himself as new to the race but not new to the neighborhood., with a personal connection, not a political one.
“I’ll be running for re-election,” he said.
One debate question asked candidates to list their endorsements. Dillon named Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, SEIU, District Council 21, the Laborers, Sprinkler Fitters 692 and IBEW Local 98.
“These are all people who care greatly about the community,” he said.
A later question from the crowd asked Dillon if he agreed with the guilty jury verdicts of former Councilman Bobby Henon and Local 98 boss John Dougherty, and he responded that he could not say because he is not a lawyer.
Oropeza named state Rep. Martina White, Councilman David Oh, former state Rep. John Taylor, FOP state troopers Lodge 37, the Temple Police Association, Local 22 firefighters and paramedics, ChamberPAC and the PA Pro-Life PAC.
Both candidates want better schools.
“There’s completely not enough money,” said Dillon, adding that many principals are leaving the school district because they cannot adequately do their jobs.
“A parent should always have that choice,” said Oropeza, adding that a good education helps people escape poverty.
Both candidates favor lower small business taxes, oppose safe injection sites but favor treatment for opioid users and are concerned with abandoned vehicles and absentee landlords. Dillon said 311 has to be improved, and Oropeza said he’d work with the city to address the crisis. They both would like to see many renters become homeowners. Dillon wants warnings before tougher penalties for people shooting off late-night fireworks, while Oropeza would like to see more Town Watch groups and confiscation of illegal ATVs.
On crime, Dillon wants a gun court while Oropeza received loud applause when he criticized District Attorney Larry Krasner and said he would introduce articles of impeachment for, among other things, poor treatment of victims. He said Dillon would not be effective on the issue because he’d be in a caucus with ultra-liberals like Sen. Nikil Saval who’ve backed the DA. Dillon described himself as not a “Jim Kenney or Larry Krasner guy.”
“We endorsed Carlos Vega (for DA),” he said. “We canvassed for Carlos Vega.”
The two former successful athletes agreed with the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which passed the state House. It would prohibit biological males from competing in female sports.
“I would completely be for it,” Dillon said.
On the proposed UPS plant at 1 Red Lion Road, the candidates agreed that the site in a residential neighborhood is not ideal.
Oropeza favors opening up natural gas pipelines that would result in good-paying union jobs.
The candidates want more of an emphasis on trade programs.
“I’m going to be a big advocate for it,” Dillon said.
“I believe in a trade school education, especially in Philadelphia. You can make good money working in the trades,” Oropeza said.
The candidates differ sharply on abortion, which is legal in the state up until 23 weeks of pregnancy. Dillon wants them to be safe, legal and rare.
“Abortion is a matter of personal choice,” he said.
Oropeza said 12 years of Catholic education taught him life is valuable and precious. He’ll protect life and oppose any effort to legalize partial-birth abortion.
“I’ll never, ever allow somebody to kill a baby at 24 weeks,” he said. ••