A Mummer Runs for Congress

Candidate George Badey on education, the Tea Party and how a South Philly upbringing gave him what it takes to beat Rep. Patrick Meehan.

Last year, congressional redistricting initiated by the Republican-controlled legislature in Harrisburg took a chainsaw to Pennsylvania’s 7th District, turning it into what the National Journal ranked as one of the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the nation, and what Delaware County Democrat Greg Vitali more eloquently described as an “unmitigated, absolute disgrace.”

The dismemberment was part of a sweeping legislative restructuring by the state’s GOP leadership designed to maximize the party’s majority in as many of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts as it could by corralling Democrats into districts where they could be more easily outmaneuvered. In one fell swoop, the 7th went from a strongly Democratic district to one that now narrowly favors Republicans. The elephants were willing to get exceedingly creative to do it (one look at the map shows you just how much).

Pennsylvania Democrats were duly outraged, and there was no shortage of biting commentary leveled from the media.  David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party, called the 7th District shakeup a “Meehan-mander”—an allusion to the GOP’s blatant attempt to protect their incumbent there, Rep. Patrick Meehan.

For a while, it worked. As of January, not a single Democrat had thrown his or her hat into the race to unseat Meehan. Then, in February, a relatively unknown Philadelphia lawyer, South Philly native and Radnor Township resident quietly began circulating petitions. Earlier this month, George Badey III, who since 2010 has served as chairman of Radnor’s Democrats, opened his campaign office in Villanova and formally went on the stump. A recent poll released by his campaign suggests he might have more of a chance than some might think.

You’ve probably never heard of George Badey (until his decision to run, I hadn’t), but if you’ve been to the Mummers Parade … um, ever … chances are you’ve seen him playing saxophone with the Fralinger String Band. (2013 will mark the 54-year-old’s 41st parade.) I wanted to know more about what inspired a progressive South Philly boy from humble beginnings to seek national office in Pennsylvania’s most gerrymandered district (and how he plans to pull it off), and I recently caught up with Badey to ask him.

What made you decide this was the time to run?
I am running this year because we do not have adequate representation in Congress. My opponent is completely out of touch with the people in the 7th District. Since being sworn in last January he has sided with the far-right element of his party. Unlike his predecessor Joe Sestak, my opponent has voted consistently against the best interests of his constituents and of America. He does not deserve reelection.

How did your background prepare you for the kind of service to your country you’re seeking?
Growing up in a working-class, row-house family and attending public schools gives me the perspective of truly understanding the concerns and feelings of working people; I lived it. As a successful lawyer running a law firm, paying for my employees’ health insurance, dealing with taxes and regulations, and navigating the maze of problems facing a small-business owner, I understand the concerns and feelings of business owners; I lived that too. [My opponent] went to private school, sent his kids to private school, has never run a business, and has been receiving taxpayer-funded health benefits for most of his adult life. The differences between our backgrounds could not be clearer.

Your bio says: “George’s story demonstrates that the American Dream is alive and well.” Some people—particularly working people and their children who are coming of age right now—would say the American Dream is on hiatus. What happened?
I have been blessed to have lived my American Dream. Graduating South Philly High School as valedictorian and getting an academic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, then on to Villanova Law School and a successful legal career is a dream come true. I didn’t do this by myself, though. I had great teachers in the Philadelphia public schools. I had a taxpayer-funded scholarship to an Ivy League college. I liken it to a ladder. I had a ladder there for me to climb. The policies of my opponent and the “new” Republican Party, dominated by the Tea Party, are pulling that ladder up behind them, so it’s not available for the kids who grew up like I did. Republican attacks on public education and higher education are taking the rungs off that ladder to the American Dream.

You graduated South Philly High in 1975, and your kids went to public schools in Radnor. In 2012, at least, these schools represent two dramatically different experiences for students. What are your thoughts on the current state of public education and how can we bring more equity to our schools?
That’s a great question. The opportunities for today’s working-class kids are not what they were for me, or what they need to be. Our system for funding public schools is broken. Relying primarily upon property taxes to fund our schools reinforces, magnifies and perpetuates socioeconomic inequalities. We need to start from the ground up to fund our schools in a more equitable way, and the state and federal governments need to lead the way.

Popular belief says that voters will have one thing in mind when they hit the polls this November: the economy.  How is your economic policy different from your opponent’s?
The economy is an absolutely crucial issue this year. My opponent’s votes in Congress, not his rhetoric, are what really count. His votes with the far-right Tea Party element of the Republican Party designed to bring down President Obama have been intentionally obstructionist. They almost forced us into default last summer; they have said “no” to jobs, and turned their backs on all of us—all for political gain. I believe that we need to be fiscally accountable, but we need to make smart investments to insure our future prosperity. The Republicans in this district are mostly moderate, reasonable people who are fiscally conservative. It’s not “conservative” to borrow billions from China and Saudi Arabia in order to give huge tax subsidies to Big Oil and reckless and unaffordable tax cuts for people who make more than a million dollars a year. My opponent’s actual voting record is the reason he will not win reelection.

What’s the most important thing you’d like voters to know about George Badey?
I grew up in a working class neighborhood and know first- hand the fears and concerns of working families. And, being a small-business owner, I understand the burdens of regulation, taxation and the oppressive cost of health insurance premiums. We are all in this together.