DeLissio touts experience, Khan brings enthusiasm to Hill forum

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When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finalized the state’s constitutionally-mandated political redistricting last month, it brought bad news for many Hillers who support Chris Rabb. The redistricting meant that Rabb, the state representative since 2016, would no longer represent the neighborhood. 

The good news, however, is that Hillers - unlike in the 2020 state rep Democratic primary in which Rabb ran unopposed - will get to choose one of two candidates to represent them in the upcoming primary. The two candidates vying to represent Pennsylvania’s 194th state house district are incumbent Pam DeLissio and newcomer Tarik Khan, who gained notoriety for getting scores of Philadelphians - especially homebound ones - vaccinated during the pandemic. He works as a nurse and is nearly finished with a PhD at Penn.

Hillers got their first look at both candidates Thursday night at the Woodmere Art Museum at an event hosted by the Chestnut Hill Institutional Leaders Group. 

Pam DeLissio

DeLissio, who spoke first, began her pitch by listing her experiences on House committees in Harrisburg: 10 years on the Health Committee, 10 years on the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, nine years on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, six years on the State Government Committee, four years on the Children and Youth Committee and four years on the Human Services Committee. 

“When the House flips, I would then serve as a majority chair,” DeLissio, 66, said to rousing applause from the Democratic-leaning audience, “As a majority chair, you don't just influence policy, you drive policy. You decide what is going to come out of that committee. You can introduce legislation and have it referred to your committee and have that legislation make it to the floor.”

DeLissio’s pitch to voters, unlike Khan's, was also heavy on policy. DeLissio referred to herself as a “policy wonk” who likes data. She noted her support for the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

“I came in during a redistricting year,” she said, “and I viewed first hand how my colleagues were dividing up the spoils, picking their voters to be in their district.”

DeLissio also noted her support for an equitable school funding formula and abortion rights. She said that she plans to introduce a bill creating a single-payer healthcare system in Pennsylvania later this year.

“The pandemic has absolutely emphasized the need for us to make sure healthcare is not tied to employment,” she said.

DeLissio didn’t leave the lectern without taking a parting jab at former President Donald Trump for what she said is his responsibility for deep divisions in American society.

“Quite frankly, the last presidential administration validated a tone of voice and a way of talking to each other that is unacceptable in civil society,” she said. “It's always been there. It will always be there. But it has been validated to a degree because we lead by example, and that was the example.”

DeLissio closed by saying that instead of vilifying the other side, she’d make a point to reach out to Republicans to get things done.

“If we have that kind of attitude, that talking to Republicans is a bad thing, then I'm concerned that this will go on in perpetuity. It can't be tolerated. It's not appropriate. We've got to come back to our senses,” she said. 

Tarik Khan

Like DeLissio, Khan opened his statements by talking about his experience. He worked as a nurse for 17 years. He discussed traveling to Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake, and eventually starting an organization called Enabling Minds, which aims to help children with disabilities attend school. His experience also includes volunteering to vaccinate people at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and starting his own program to vaccinate homebound people in their houses.

“[There] were homebound residents that really needed help that had no access to the COVID shot,” he said. “What I decided to do was to start my own program. After the end of our shifts, I would take the leftover doses of the vaccine to residents. I didn't just do it once, I did it every day during the spring, every workday during the spring.”

He also talked about his family, and his father who emigrated from Pakistan. (Khan’s brother, Joe Khan, ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in 2017, finishing in second place behind Larry Krasner in a seven-candidate Democratic primary.)

“[My parents] taught me and my brother the values that they grew up with, the value of education, … of working hard, … of giving back to the community,” he said.

Khan decided to run because “patients were getting left behind,” he said.

“I think during Hahnemann - that was a big wake up call that the status quo was unacceptable,” said Khan, referring to the controversial closure of Hahnemann University Hospital in the wake of the facility’s purchase by a private equity firm. “Legislators haven't done anything to stop it and they haven't done anything to prevent it from happening again...I don't want to see Chestnut Hill and Roxborough [Hospitals] have the same fate as Hahnemann.”

During his session, Khan talked about Chestnut Hill zoning issues, despite zoning typically being a city issue, not a state issue. 

“With developers, if we give them an inch, they'll take a yard and they'll take everything else they can get,” he said. “We see what's happening in Chestnut Hill. We see what's happening with 10 Bethlehem Pike. We see it in Roxborough if you drive through Roxborough. We need someone who's going to stand with our residents and say enough is enough.”

Towards the end of his pitch, Khan took some swipes at his opponent, whom he repeatedly referred to as “the incumbent,” without saying DeLissio’s name.

“I don't know if the incumbent has built those relationships in Harrisburg that has allowed [her] to be effective,” he said. “I can tell you that I have seen a lot of people [who have gotten elected] after the incumbent that have skyrocketed into leadership positions.”

Khan cited the House minority WHIP as an example of a Democrat elected after DeLissio who now has a leadership position in the party. He also said DeLissio’s office struggles with constituent services.

“People have gone to Pam's office and have not gotten a good response,” he said. “They are not responsive to the needs of the community.”

Towards the end of the forum, Khan described himself as “someone that listens.”

“I do that with my patients,” he said, “and I do that when I meet with stakeholders.”

The Democratic primary is May 17. The general election is Nov. 8.

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