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On the surface they should be political friends or at the very least polite allies.
Instead, Philadelphia Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez and State Rep. Ángel Cruz, both Democrats who represent overlapping sections of North Philly, are sworn enemies who will face off next week in their bids for the 7th District.
What remains at stake is the future of a neighborhood mired in violent crime, opioid epidemic and some of the highest poverty rates in the entire city.
Under normal circumstances, the incumbent, in this case Quiñónes-Sánchez, would be a shoe-in for reelection. She is a vocal leader who has served the 7th District - which includes Kensington, Fairhill and Frankford - since 2008 when she became the first Latina elected to City Council. She since won reelection without the official support of the Democratic Party, which, she said "has been hostile to people who are independent, who are not party puppets.”
“It’s no a coincidence that [the 7th District] has lower voter turnout than everyone else because people don’t have faith that the Democratic party represents their interests," Quiñónes-Sánchez said Tuesday during a candidate forum on Telemundo 62.
Cruz, on the other hand, is a 20-year state representative who doubles as ward leader in North Philadelphia. In 2015, Cruz helped run the campaign of Manny Morales against Quiñónes-Sánchez.
“You want the respect of a party you don’t respect,” Cruz said to Quiñónes-Sánchez during an especially heated exchange. “You don’t work with us. You just want to be the leader.”
While the two agree on many policy points - they would both support alternative revenue streams to the soda tax and neither wants to see a safe injection site in Kensington - the two political rivals declared an inability to work together.
"My door is always open," Cruz said, but not to Quiñónes-Sánchez.
Of the 11 ward leaders who could help decide this contest, eight support Cruz while just three support Quiñónes-Sánchez, according to Cruz.
“Why? Because you don’t work with us,” he quipped.
Quiñónes-Sánchez closed her eyes and swallowed hard.
“I am here to defend the community, not a political machine,” she said. “I have the support of party leaders who share my vision.”
Quiñónes-Sánchez added that the only way Cruz will win her seat is illegally. In 2015, she accused Cruz of interfering in the election after 1,000 ballots were submitted for Morales using "voter assistance" from poll workers allegedly loyal to the Democratic party.
This year, the councilwoman delivered letters to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and City Commissioners asking them to ensure a clean and fair election.
Even the state Democratic party itself remains divided over Philly’s 7th District. Former Congressman Bob Brady called the contest the “most volatile” he has seen in a long time.
And that could pose a serious threat to Quiñónes-Sánchez, according to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
“It’s remarkable to me that Maria, with all that she’s done, had as much trouble as she had last time,” Rendell, who supports Quiñónes-Sánchez, recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "And the fact that it’s a competitive race this time, it’s symptomatic of the fact that these elections tend to be low-turnout elections where whatever’s left of the machine turns out the vote.”
Former mayoral candidate Ken Trujillo backed Quiñónes-Sánchez in 2015 but has since switched his support to Cruz.
“There are only two options and he is the best one," Trujillo said. “What I've been impressed with ... is the level growth I've seen. [Cruz] has matured over time.”
Trujillo now considers Cruz and friend, but that was not always the case, Trujillo said. Cruz did not initially back Trujillo’s bid for mayor in 2014 until the two Democrats sat down together. What started as a series of political conversations turned into a lasting friendship, Trujillo said. It’s that kind of openness he wants to see from other lawmakers.
“The concern I have about Maria is that she has demonstrated a unique ability to get virtually everyone to oppose her,” he said. “She takes pride in antagonizing the party.”
The primary election is May 21. See below for complete voter’s guide.