While many seats in Philadelphia have just one candidate running, the 172nd Legislative District features options for voters.
Bob Stewart is challenging incumbent Rep. Kevin Boyle in Tuesday’s primary. Republican Al Taubenberger and independent Tedi Kotori await the winner in the general election.
The district includes Burholme, Rhawnhurst, Fox Chase, Bustleton and a little bit of Somerton. This is actually the second time Stewart and Boyle are squaring off in an election. Stewart beat Boyle in a 2018 race for committeeman in the 58th Ward, 16th Division.
Stewart has co-owned a residential painting company and worked in the food service industry, as a steamfitter, newspaper reporter, bartender and boys lacrosse coach at Archbishop Ryan and Hatboro-Horsham. He worked as an aide to then-Sen. John Sabatina Jr. before entering the House race, arguing that his time in the Senate office and smarts, work ethic, real-world experience and ability to be creative have prepared him to be a state representative.
“I’m ready for this,” he said.
Stewart is commissioner of the Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association and a coach and girls athletic director for the Bustleton Bengals.
“I like giving back,” he said.
As he meets voters, he hears concerns about speeding cars, carjackings and fireworks, adding, “I haven’t met a Krasner fan yet.” He calls District Attorney Larry Krasner “a terrible DA” and wants the state to handle some murder prosecutions.
“The attorney general’s office could absorb some of that,” he said.
The 172nd district has fewer than 65,000 residents, and Stewart plans to attend events and knock on every door once a year.
“State rep should be a very personal job,” he said.
Stewart is pro-choice on abortion, wanting more resources for moms and kids to lower the abortion rate. He likes that UPS is planning high-paying jobs at 1 Red Lion Road, but opposes the proposal because of the size of the structure and the traffic that would come along with it. He suggested some of the vacant areas near Philadelphia Mills mall would be a more suitable location.
Stewart said he would be more bipartisan than Boyle.
“You have to work with the other side when you’re in the minority,” he said.
Stewart, married with two children, also believes he would be a stronger candidate in the general election. He’s sent a mailer noting that Boyle’s access to the state Capitol was temporarily curtailed last fall by Democrats, who refused to give an explanation.
“We need somebody who the public can trust,” Stewart said.
Boyle, who lives in Fox Chase, recently sent a mailing to Democrats and independents explaining “a very difficult experience” for him and his family. Two years ago, he sought treatment for adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which he said has plagued him, untreated, since he was a child. He was prescribed Adderall, which he said made him develop psychosis, leading to paranoid delusions. He said he never did anything physical, but his wife took out a restraining order.
The letter recalls his arrest last September when police found him searching for personal belongings in his former home while his wife was out. Mental health professionals advised he be taken to a treatment facility. He was taken off Adderall, said he has returned to normal, and the charges were dropped.
In the letter, Boyle said he is drafting legislation to ensure mental health issues are treated like other health concerns so those suffering can more easily receive treatment. The letter ended, “I pledge to you that I continue to fight for Northeast Philadelphia, as well as the many thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from mental health problems.”
Boyle, who was reinstated in January as minority-party chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hopes to advance mental health legislation in either a divided government or even under total Republican control.
“Mental health issues impact both Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “I’m very open about what happened to me. It’s been close to seven months since I’ve been back to normal.”
Boyle is the Democrats’ endorsed candidate, with backing from ward leaders Jim Donnelly and Brian Eddis. Ward leader John Sabatina backs Stewart.
“I’m grateful and appreciative of the support of Brian Eddis and Jim Donnelly,” he said.
Boyle is also endorsed by the building trades and the AFL-CIO. He dismisses Stewart’s contention that he would be a stronger general election candidate, saying Eddis and Donnelly considered electability in making their decision.
“I wrestled away a district that was Republican held since before I was born,” he said of his 2010 victory over John Perzel.
Boyle likes the new 172nd district map, which is a lot less gerrymandered than it has been since 2002.
On issues, he is pro-choice on abortion and hopes for negotiations and compromise between UPS and the community for the proposed Red Lion Road project. He wants money to recruit, hire and train police officers.
“Funding the police rather than defunding them is priority No. 1,” he said. ••