A collection of friends and supporters of State Rep. Chris Rabb gathered in Mt. Airy on Sunday as he announced his re-election bid.
A collection of friends and supporters of State Rep. Chris Rabb gathered outside of the Richard Allen Lane Train Station in Mt. Airy on Sunday afternoon as the neighborhood’s Democratic lawmaker, who has served parts of the Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane communities since 2017, announced his re-election bid. In the process, he came out swinging against the rich and powerful, which, apparently, includes his own family.
The previous day, Rabb explained in his speech, he hadn’t returned home until 4 a.m. He had “crashed” a family reunion in New York, where he met with affluent family members he’s evidently…not terribly popular with. The event, Rabb said, was held on “the 80-acre estate of people who have lived in the same mansion for eight generations.”
“I went there to honor my ancestors who worked on that spot 200 years ago in New York,” Rabb continued. “I was there to remind them that their extraordinary financial wealth was born off the back of enslaved people who they have written out of history.”
The state representative didn’t go into much detail but also didn’t pull punches. He chastised his extended family for contributing to a “legacy of power leveraged to help the elites.”
“There were a lot of looks and whispers when I showed up,” Rabb said. “But wherever we are, that's where we're supposed to be.”
He also railed against “corporate interests that dominate government” and advocated for a Pennsylvania state House that isn’t beholden to the interests of the rich and powerful.
“The dysfunction is born out of corporate greed,” Rabb said of the state of progress, or lack thereof, in Harrisburg. “It's not government not functioning… It is functioning precisely the way the oligarchs want.”
“Oligarchy,” “patriarchy,” and “systemic racism” were all words and phrases Rabb included in his speech.
“If you can't say oligarchy, if you can't say patriarchy, if you can't say systemic racism, if you stutter when you say those words because you're afraid of the ramifications, you ain't ready yet,” he said. “You ain't ready to lead.”
He bragged openly about Pennsylvania’s richest man, the high-profile Republican mega-donor Jeffrey Yass donating to his primary opponent, Isabella Fitzgerald, in last year’s race.
People like Yass, Rabb said, are “afraid of this progressive momentum of people who are already in office for fear that we might influence the state legislature to do awful things like [advocate for] housing justice… and raising the minimum wage,” he said. “Because $15 ain't enough. Not in Philly. Not in Pittsburgh.”
It didn’t make for the most uplifting of campaign announcements – especially once the rain started coming down – but Rabb didn’t seem to mind. And the location was no coincidence. Rabb, along with Councilmember Cindy Bass, played a role last year in renaming the train station in honor of Richard Allen, a formerly enslaved Black abolitionist. The station had previously been named after William Allen, one of the city’s colonial mayors who was also a British loyalist and enslaver.
“We don't much care for that,” Rabb said.
For these reasons and more, former 8th District candidate for City Council Seth Anderson-Oberman, coined a new term for Rabb and his supporters: “rabble-rousers.”
“I think we are the rabble-rousers that we need to move our communities and the issues in our communities forward,” said Anderson-Oberman, who’s worked on Rabb’s past campaigns and was handpicked by Rabb to run against Bass, a three-term incumbent, in May’s 8th District primary. “And I think this is the man who's going to help us get there.”
Bass defeated Anderson-Oberman, but only barely. Winning by a mere 423 votes, the final result favored the incumbent by a 51.7% to 49.1% margin.
At-large City Councilmember Kendra Brooks, a member of the Working Families Party, said she was no stranger to Rabb’s so-called rabble-rousing.
“When everyone said – and they're still saying – that you can't support a third party, even if they share your same big vision for the city...Rep. Rabb was ready and willing and able to come out with me, door knock this community, show up on social media and show up at a time when Philadelphia was looking for something different,” she said.
Rabb’s campaign manager, Rah Noonan-Ngwane, was quick to make the argument that Rabb isn’t all talk. They pointed to Rabb’s accomplishments in the state House as evidence.
“Despite the corrosive hyper-partisanship of Harrisburg, Rep. Rabb has been a uniquely successful legislator, having gotten six pieces of legislation enacted into law in his first six years,” they said. “Rep. Rabb, a true public servant, knows what people need: a home, a job, healthcare and fully resourced education. He reminds us that while wanting the world to be a more just and equitable place is nice, working towards that reality is more crucial.”
At the end of his speech, Rabb did what all politicians do: He asked his supporters for money. But he wasn’t happy about it.
“I hate asking for money, but Jeff Yass has a billion dollars or so, and we can expect him to be spending a lot of it to make my life a living hell,” he quipped as the rain began to fall harder. “Let's get into some rabble-rousing.”