Primary Election Day 2015: Don’t Count Those Millennials Out Yet

NextMayorLogo2015Philadelphia has significant problem when it comes to voting, especially when the focus is on municipal elections rather than national. Of all folks who fall into the roughly 75 to 80 percent of registered voters who opt-out of voting, Generation-X and Millennials are by far the least likely to vote, according to statistics.

Knowing that this issue is nearly systemic in nature, it’s important to understand why young voters choose to not get involved.

More importantly, a variety of organizations around the city are working tirelessly to not just register voters but also educate them on the critical issues that could affect them. If the Millennials show up at the polls, rest assured that theses organizations played a significant role.

Nonpartisan Organizations

Young Involved Philadelphia, Unity in the Community and Influencing Action Movement came together with the nonpartisan national political action committee CROWDPAC to put together a Young Voter Education Week, just a week before the May municipal primary. The plan is to repeat these events prior to any election in Philadelphia.

Young Involved Philadelphia has been around for more than a decade and has worked diligently in this election cycle to raise voter engagement and education through a myriad of methods.

“Our overarching goal when we approach pretty much anything within YIP,” said Mike Thomas of YIP, “is to remove barriers for young adults in the city.”

In the past, YIP has run workshops to help explain the complicated ward and committee system in the city. That eventually lead to 40 young people running for positions and 11 to become elected.

“The goal was to say this is not a mystical person,” said Thomas, “but this an actual human being who probably lives down the street from you that you never knew before.”

This year YIP held The City Council Candidate Convention. In a partnership with WHYY and the Committee of Seventy, every city council member running for a contested seat was invited to set up a table and interact with young voters. The event brought together more than 400 young voters. They offered young voters a “cheat-sheet” that had over 100 questions voters could ask the candidates, even broken down by issue.

However YIP does more than just events. They coordinate phone banks and canvas neighborhoods in an effort to get voters to the polls.

“Since we’re nonpartisan, it makes for a pretty easy conversation” said Thomas. “We are just calling to say, ‘Hey you should really go vote! Are you going early? Are you going at night?’ Really, the overarching purpose is for people to know that this is something they should be involved in.”

For the purpose of canvasing, YIP has targeted down to the division level areas with the highest population of young voters with the lowest turnout. They also have spearheaded a program of distributing 2000 bar coasters to 20 local bars to drive a digital experience allowing those who interact with the program a method to calculate how much their drinking contributes to funding schools in Philadelphia.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.39.42 AMBoth Unity in the Community and Influencing Action Movement are attempting to reach the young audience through both grassroots and digital means. The plan is to reach young voters where they already are: text, social media and at the bar.

Their digital strategy includes a Young Voter Education week text alert system, where by texting IAMvoting to a specific number allows that person to remain aware of the where and when an event is taking place. The alert then prompts the user to tweet why they’re voting and utilize #missingvotePHL.

“We’ve provided an opportunity for community groups, both large and small, to get into the communities and really target those people who are not voting,” said Felicia Harris, president and CEO of Influencing Action Movement.

One of the events held by Unity In The Community was a meet-the-candidate happy hour at 22nd Street Café. The purpose was to create an opportunity for those who may not typically interact with candidates to have a beer with them and talk about the issues that concerned them.

“There are a lot of tough issues facing the millennials,” said Anton Moore of Unity In The Community. “So, we need to have a say so in this election because the mayor and city council members we elect will most likely [serve] another term in four years.”

Philadelphia council members on average are the longest tenured municipal city officials in the United States, serving on average 15.5 years, according to the PEW Charitable trust.

The only non-Philly based member of this coalition might also be the most transformative when it comes to impacting elections: CROWDPAC.

“Philly is so old school politics,” said Elizabeth Jaff, Political Director at CROWDPAC. “I think this is going to be really interesting because the idea is to put the tools into the power of the people and it’s the youth who are accessing stuff on social media.”

CROWDPAC, based in California and co-founded by Stanford University professors Steve Hilton and Amam Bonica, along with tech-entrepreneur Gisel Kordestani, smashes crowd funding, data-analytics and politics together to turn out a nonpartisan method of ranking candidates along a liberal/conservative spatial model. The ranking of 10C (conservative) or 10L (liberal) are rating’s the candidate can be scored.

To oversimplify how the ranking algorithm works, it combines whom they took money from, the donor who gave the funds and how the candidate votes. The results proved that on a federal level, it was 96 percent accurate before voting was even added in.

“What’s very interesting with Philadelphia is it’s less about party and really about actively getting people resources,” said Jaff. “What are you upset about? Potholes, biking lanes, education funding. Things that we can fix.”

CROWDPAC makes voting a social experience by giving users the ability to build their own ballots on their site, donate directly to candidates and then share that ballot via social media or email.

CROWDPAC plans to expand into 10 major cities over the next year. Jaff sees the organization as a fully nonpartisan tool that really seeks to raise voter engagement.

“You can either keep talking to the same people voting, or you can try and talk to new people,” said Jaff.

Partisan Organizations

 They are a few organizations that specifically advocate for the needs of young voters in Philadelphia, Philadelphia 3.0 and Philly Set Go are at the top of that list. Both are political action committees that endorse candidates. However, Philly Set Go also donates to candidates who they believe best represent the interests of young residents of the city.

Philadelphia 3.0, which has been around for just six months and is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, has being doing their fair share of street-level grassroots efforts to get voters registered. In fact, if you are a Philadelphian and wondered whom the people with the clipboards registering people to vote on your campus or in your neighborhood, it was probably them.

“What we have tried to do is simply engage new voices,” said T.J. Hurst, deputy director of Philadelphia 3.0. “We did a huge voter registration push in emerging neighborhoods and registered exactly 1,053 new voters in Philly, which is a substantial chunk when you are talking about the difference between last-winner and first-loser in an at-large city council race.”

Philadelphia 3.0’s website provides young voters a chance for a quick peek into city politics. One of the first aspects pointed out is the unusually long tenure that Philadelphia City Council members have. The organization is also much less focused on the mayor’s race than they are on the at-large city council seats that are up for grabs, endorsing candidates whom they feel align with their interest.

“This is another very thorough process that we feel very proud of,” said Hurst. “We put together an endorsement committee of people who really represented the community, a diverse group of strong leaders from around the city.”

The committee is made up five people: Brigitte Daniel, Cynthia Figueroa, Dr. Beatriz Garces, Christine Jacobs and Keith Leaphart. The selection process also includes this insight of executive director Alison Pealman and Hurst as well.

The committee then utilized Philly 3.0’s candidate questionnaire that was sent to every candidate for city council and an interview process with the candidates to provide the committee with the most information to make their endorsements. They received at total of 27 responses from all the candidates running for city council.

“We wanted to be effective and wanted to make a difference our first time out, so we thought it was best to be laser focused on city council,” said Hurst.

The list of Philadelphia 3.0’s endorsement’s as well as a copy of the questionnaire can be found on their website.

The other emerging PAC specifically for young voters in Philadelphia is Philly Set Go. The organization officially launched in January of 2015 and held their launch party the popular Center City bar Ladder 15.

“Philly Set Go is unlike most millennial civic or political groups in Philadelphia,” said Gabriela Guaracao, board member of Philly Set Go. “We are a PAC and so our primary focus is on raising funds so that we can use that to donate to candidates.”

Guaracao says that members of Philly Set Go felt the most impactful way to influence politics in Philadelphia was to go the route of forming a PAC based on the resources that they have.

Their mission is two part: voter registration and education, and to get the attention of elected officials with an emphasis on issues that relate directly to the Millennial arriving in the city.

“We wanted to educate the Millennial population on why it’s important vote for mayor, why it’s important to vote for city council,” said Guaracao. “Things like job growth and K-12 education are the reasons that Millennials will leave the city if they’re not addressed.”

Philly Set Go utilizes a mostly event-based agenda to engage voters because each board members involvement is essentially extracurricular. Currently, their strategy doubles as both a grassroots engagement method and a chance to fundraise for their PAC at every event.

Their website allows new voters to register by utilizing a built in Rock the Vote application. They plan to continue to organize events following the May primary to educate voters and continue to fundraise for their organization.

– Text and images by Zachary Rendin.

Millennials: Looking to the Northeast for clues about civic engagement

Above: Children play at the Tip Top Playground in Northern Liberties.

Pipeline Philly, a coworking space in Center City, is playfully stylish. The conference room overlooks City Hall and in the finished kitchen, the chrome of the espresso maker reflects the accent colored red bar stools. A weathered brown leather punching bag hangs from the ceiling and Chris Krewson, the editor of Billy Penn, encourages everyone to have some hummus before settling in for “The State of the City: A Conversation with the Pew Charitable Trusts,” an event hosted on April 7th by Billy Penn.

“There are two futures being written for Philadelphia right now. One of them is being written in Center City. The other is being written in the Northeast,” says writer and journalist Sandy Smith to the gathered crowd.

The event was planned to discuss key findings from PEW’s annual assessment of Philadelphia, with a specific focus on “what the numbers say about the city’s strengths and its challenges for millennials.”

Pipeline is painstakingly hip, but the men and women gathered for the event are slightly older than the environment would suggest. As the discussion made the quick loop from ‘What are the millennials doing here?’ to ‘Will they stay?’ it became clear that this event was about the millennials, not necessarily for them.

According to the Pew study, 54 percent of millennials consider Philadelphia “an excellent or good place to live,” which makes sense. Philadelphia was recently ranked #3 on The New York Times list of best places to visit in 2015. The population is booming, as is tourism, but things that bring tourists to Philadelphia don’t necessarily encourage young people to stay and raise families.

Smith, a Harvard grad, who occasionally writes for Hidden City Daily and Phillymag.com says, “I think something none of us are thinking about – and the planners and builders of Auto Age suburbs certainly didn’t – are neighborhoods that can accommodate people at all life stages.”

Northern Liberties, a neighborhood just outside Center City, nestled between Fishtown and Fairmount, has a population made up of between 30 and 40 percent millennials. The dog parks, restaurants, boutique shops, and small, pricey Piazza apartments are targeted at this demographic. On the corner of West Allen Street and Hope Street, is one of the neighborhood’s few child friendly areas, Tip Top playground. Children occasionally swing on the dilapidated swing set. The area is very popular, however, with dog owners, who let their dogs off leash to play fetch in the hockey rink, and jazz bands practicing for the Mummers parade.

According to Pew, “only 36 percent of millennials said they would recommend the city as a place to raise children, while 56 percent would not. With many young adults starting to raise families or thinking about doing so, this view is a not a positive sign.”

Children plan in the Sister Cities Fountain on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Children plan in the Sister Cities Fountain on the Ben Franklin Parkway

What could be a positive sign, however, is the redevelopment of certain areas of the city, aiming to make green spaces more family friendly. Logan Square, a historic area located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, recently revamped the Sister Cities Park.

On one of the first warm days on spring, small children dart through the fountains, wade in the boat pond, and form an impatient line in front of the pop-up Rita’s Water Ice stand. The Free Library of Philadelphia, only a block away, has set up an outdoor children’s library by the Logan Square Café and parents sit in the grass, reading to their children.

When, though, does this become a community, rather than a weekend attraction? This is the test that Center City desperately needs to pass. With more and more green areas cropping up, it’s clear that this development is aimed at encouraging people to put down roots. Once rooted, it may be more difficult, or less appealing, to move away.

“You think about New York City,” says Dr. Judith Stull, a sociologist who teaches at both Temple University and LaSalle University. “Manhattan is the place to be if you can afford it, but if you can’t afford it you go to Brooklyn. It’s economic in terms of how much housing can you afford. If you want a big house but you can’t afford the schooling then you go to the suburbs. On average, the suburbs do a better job.”

Safer neighborhoods, better schools, and more space rank high on the list of motiving factors to leave the city. What the millennials are asking for, although not in so many words, is a sense of community. Despite efforts within Center City to establish this sense, it’s already established farther out, in Northeast Philadelphia.

In Burlhome, Marian Fruehwald is the neighborhood cookie mom. A Girl Scout leader for the past fifteen years, she started when her oldest daughter, Kate, was in the second grade. Her husband, Franz, is a Boy Scout leader, continuing even after both of their sons were grown. They met as undergrads at LaSalle University and raised their children not far from where they grew up. Their involvement in the Scouts, as well as other aspects of the community, have kept them from moving, even after their youngest daughter left for college.

“Once in, if we run a good program, they usually stay,” Mrs. Fruehwald says of her troop. “We have six high schoolers at present. We do deal with girls who have multiple activities. It is ok to miss meetings for practices, rehearsal or homework; that is a fact of life. These days we keep in contact with the girls about what we are working on, so it is their option to keep up. Our program is girl driven. We had years where all the girls wanted to do was crafts so that is what we did. There have been times when they wanted to go places, so that is what we did. They are always interested in eating! If you do what they are interested in they stay.”

This seems to be the tact that groups and organizations in Center City are currently trying. Keeping millennials interested may keep them stationary. The Northeast has certainly seen success in this, with their longstanding religious and social affiliations rooting people to their communities.

The Fruehwalds, like their neighbors, are active members of the parish. Mr. Fruehwald is Eucharistic minister and brings communion to home-bound members of the community. He also teaches Sunday school classes at St. Cecilia’s Church, one of the largest and most successful parishes in the Northeast. While other Catholic schools are combining, St. Cecilia’s has no trouble filling pews and classrooms.

The Fruehwald’s sit in the same row every Sunday, Blessed Mother side, in front of the Baptismal font. Certain families, ones that have put all of their children through the same school and have deep ties to the area, all seem to have their own pew, unofficially reserved. Mr. Fruehwald, recognizable in his signature beret, walks their manically friendly golden retriever, Daisy, twice a day, and uses this time to keep up to date with the neighbors, people he has known for almost twenty years.

Half of the 20- to 34-year-olds questioned in a recent Pew study said that they didn’t see themselves staying in Philadelphia for more than five to ten years. According to the study, “The millennials cited job and career reasons, school and child-rearing concerns, and crime and public safety as the primary reasons for their potential departures.”

Fred Moore, a member of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, says, “It seems pretty rare that any community in the metropolitan area stays together long enough to form a tight social fabric.” A tight social fabric is exactly what keeps people tied to the Northeast neighborhoods, and it’s something Center City is trying to replicate.

The Petco Unleashed at 2nd and Girard is having a ‘Paw Art’ event – bring your pet and use their paws and some paint to create an 8” x 10” painting. The Raven Society, an offshoot of the Free Library of Philadelphia geared towards millennials, is hosting a Rooftop Biergarten on May 18th. Indego recently put a bike station at 2nd and Germantown Avenue, part of their initiative to bring bike shares to Philadelphia. The stocky blue bikes are more likely to be spotted being ridden than parked in their stations. Log-on to Philly MeetUp and find groups for everything from pickleball enthusiasts and mommy and me outings, to a knitting group near you.

Philly MeetUp, the Raven Society, and Young Involved Professionals are only a few of the groups in Center City that are based on fostering civic and community involvement in the millennial population.

Rachel Mancini, an events coordinator at Al Dia, Philadelphia’s Latino-focused news organization, says that they are “invested in making sure that young students and individuals feel compelled to stay in Philadelphia.”

They’re gearing up to host an event called the Diversity Career Fair on Thursday, May 19th in The Hub Commerce Square. This event will feature a resume station, a LinkedIn headshot booth, and a networking luncheon. One of the scheduled speakers, Max Conaboy of YIP, will be speaking about millennial involvement in the city.

“Millennials are actually are the core of our Career Fair. We’ve been targeting college-aged students and young professionals in our outreach and promotions. All of the speakers and workshops were conceived with younger career seekers in mind. Our events – and editorial content for that matter in our newspaper AL DÍA News and our website aldianews.com – seek to capture the next generation. There is definitely a substantial movement happening here in Philadelphia to build the foundation for young people to stay and remain involved in this city,” Mancini says.

With all of this effort directed at keeping millennials in the city, could it be possible that the next wave of flight to the suburbs will be small one? Can young people be tempted to stay in the city limits?

“They never have,” says Dr. Stull. “The gentrification cycle, the movement is continuously moving outwards. You have Center City, and then you have the zone of transition – it’s changing but it hasn’t changed.”

Therein lies the problem. While great improvements have been made to the infrastructure of the city, it’s just not enough to make much of a difference. Instead of staying to fix a broken system – like the school system – millennials are choosing to move to areas that already have the established services they need.

“The public school system does a better job than private schools but what you have in the city of Philadelphia, unfortunately, is this vast underclass that’s been left behind so people don’t have faith in the public school system,” says Stull.

“You learn from history. It just reprises itself in slightly different forms, with a slightly different constellation. It’s already happened in different ways in other times. As the city boundaries change, what is suburb and what is city, by definition, changes. There’s an inevitable press to move further out, where you get space and where you get schools.”

While the Pew studies find that “the millennials’ affection for Philadelphia is conditional. And for the city, the stakes in meeting those conditions are very high.” It’s safe to say that efforts are being made. Only time will tell, however, if those efforts prove fruitful.

A child runs through the parking lot at St. Cecilia’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia.
A child runs through the parking lot at St. Cecilia’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

– Text and images by By Alexandria Peachey.

Port Richmond: A River Ward With Potential Looks Toward Mayoral Election

NextMayorLogo2015It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in Port Richmond, the day after a messy snowstorm dumped more than four inches on the area. Few people are out on the streets, someone here and there shoveling snow off the sidewalk or away from their car.

People stop on the corners to chat with their neighbor for a minute, while a group of men in their mid-twenties throw snowballs at each other in the street. But otherwise, Port Richmond is quiet.

Dante Porcelli, 23, has lived in this neighborhood for almost two years.

“It’s just a little neighborhood inside of a big city,” Porcelli said. “You don’t really feel like you’re in a big city but you can always go quickly 10 minutes down the road and you’re there.”

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Dante Porcelli near his Port Richmond home.

The primary mayoral election is coming up in May but most people in Port Richmond do not seem to be paying much attention. Problems persist in addressing key issues that the neighborhood faces, such as a generation gap between incoming younger residents and longtime older residents, and consequentially the direction in which the neighborhood is headed.

John Rajca, president of Friends of Campbell Square, doesn’t have much hope for the next mayor of Philadelphia.

“The last great mayor for this city was Frank Rizzo,” Rajca said. “I do not see anyone approaching that stature in this race.”

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At the end of Richmond Street there is a big detour sign, with large cranes and a huge area of dirt under the I-95 overpass. The construction will extend I-95, as well as add a trolley line to Port Richmond. Along with these new additions will be the Port Richmond Trail, which according to Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation website will be a “two mile stretch of sidepath trail, which will ultimately be a part of the Delaware River Trail and the East Coast Greenway.”

The construction is a big step in a sleepy river ward. Maryann Trombetta, 61, head of the Port Richmond Town Watch, is optimistic about changes coming to Port Richmond.

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“I am still waiting for this big, gigantic change that’s going to happen in Port Richmond, as it’s happened to Fishtown, parts of Kensington, those kinds of things, where they’re building houses and building up,” Trombetta said. “I think we are the next on that line.”

In last years governor’s election, Philadelphia had the second lowest voter turnout in a gubernatorial race since 1990. In total, Port Richmond has 61 percent active voters.

With younger people moving into Port Richmond and youth voter turnout down, will Port Richmond be able to keep up with the times or will it continue to be an under-the-radar town?

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Trails that will soon become biking trails along the river.

“I got my shit to figure out and I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life yet,” Porcelli says. “I’m just trying to figure out how to pay bills and how to have fun while I’m doing it. I don’t want to get involved in politics. It’s never been my cup of tea.”

Around 70 percent of the voters in Philadelphia between the ages of 18 and 24 are inactive. Many younger residents in Port Richmond feel politics and issues in Philadephia do not directly affect them.

Patrick Sullivan, 25, has lived in Port Richmond for more than two years.

“Many of the families in Port Richmond have been there for generations,” Sullivan said. “A lot of the growth – and contrarily the decline – that happens in the city does not particularly affect the Port Richmond area. Port Richmond is always a quiet town that does not feel a very heavy influence from what goes on in the rest of the city.”

A quiet Port RIchmond corner.
A quiet Port Richmond street corner.

Port Richmond is only reflecting a larger issue in this city. As Philadelphia is gaining an influx of millennials moving to the city, millennials seem to be uninterested in politics.

Most of the candidates running in the upcoming primary mayoral election are regulars in the Philadelphia scene, like Lynne Abraham, former Philadelphia district attorney, and Milton Street, a former state legislator. These candidates may be familiar names but to the younger generation, are behind the times. Without candidates reaching out to young people and in turn, young people participating in politics, will Philadelphia continue to grow?

Port Richmond is an example of what could be.

“It’s tricky because it needs one domino to fall, and then it turns into a Fishtown or Northern Liberties,” Porcelli said. “If one of those things fall, it could be cool. Or it’s just going to stay the way it is and everyone’s going to keep driving by.

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The abandoned port on the Delaware River.

 – Text and images by Kerriann Raimo and Regan K Abato.

Politics: Meet Philly’s Future Leaders

NextMayorLogo2015Millenials are driving Philadelphia’s growth. Events like the Forbes Under 30 Summit, returning to Philadelphia this fall, highlight the accomplishments of the city’s young residents. Despite the success of this group of Philadelphians, the average age of this year’s declared mayoral candidates is 59.

While this lack of representation might make young people feel excluded from the city’s power structure, these five men prove that it is possible to get involved.

Kyron Banks

Kyron Banks’ love for politics grew with the excitement of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Yet, despite his growing interest, Banks (pictured above) set out to study finance. Not long after, he decided to take a risk. He changed his major to political science at Penn State University.

The risk paid off.

At 23, Banks is now the youngest member of Mayor Nutter’s administration. He works side-by-side as an aide to Mayor Nutter, organizing panels and planning special events, such as the Forbes Under 30 Summit.

In the future, he plans to work toward his MBA while continuing to make the city a better place for millennials.

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Brian Caputo

Politics made an impact on Brian Caputo at a young age. Sam Katz’s bids for mayor and the 2008 general election were just two pieces of inspiration for him. Caputo was told growing up that giving back to his community was one of the most important things that he could do and that’s just what he has done.

Caputo ran La Salle University’s College Republican group. He now works for Philadelphia City Councilman Brian O’Neill, he serves as a Republican city committeeman and he dedicates himself to helping the candidates that he believes will make Philadelphia a better place.

Caputo admitted that being young and involved in Philadelphia is hard. Yet, he believes that the voice of Philadelphia’s young generation will never matter if they fail to engage with the city.

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Stephen St. Vincent

Stephen St. Vincent took an unusual route to a political career. After graduating from Swarthmore College, he moved to Iowa City, where he worked as a video game programmer.

The Iowa caucuses sparked his interest. He felt a desire to help others, and decided to apply to law school.

He moved to Philadelphia with a law degree from the University of Michigan and obtained a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. He ended up working for the city’s law department for two years in the Child Welfare Unit.

After leaving his job, he worked as the policy director for Ken Trujillo’s mayoral campaign for one week. Then Trujillo announced his departure from the race.

St. Vincent is unsure of his plans for the future but knows that he wants to continue to give back to the community.

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Nick Marzano

A Pittsburgh native, Marzano, 32, is the president of Young Involved Philadelphia, an organization that aims to get young Philadelphians engaged with the future of the city. Marzano first became interested in politics after a “Ward 101” event organized by YIP.

He is now a Democratic committeeperson in the 2nd ward, a position which he won with six write-in votes. He chose to run because he felt that an elected committeeperson was better than one appointed by the Democratic City Committee.

As president of YIP, he wants to encourage millenials to become invested in Philadelphia and sees opportunities for politics to facilitate that engagement.

“We need to find ways beyond voting – but short of political office – for people to take ownership and take action, so that they can see immediate results,” Marzano said.

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Seth Kaufer

Originally from the Allentown area, Seth Kaufer has rooted himself in the local political arena of his adopted city. Kaufer is a 35-year-old gastroenterologist who took an interest in politics during his high school years.

“It was kind of a natural fit for me,” Kaufer said.

His passion and love for politics followed him from his hometown of Kingston, Pa. to Philadelphia, where he was elected the Republican Ward Leader of the 2nd Ward. Since then, he has been committed to not only his job as a doctor but to making a difference in the city and the lives of his constituents.

As for the future, Kaufer plans on best serving the community with his medical skills. However, he will continue to be dedicated to politics, whether it be behind the scenes or any other opportunity that may come his way.

– Text and images by Jade Perry and Megan Whelan.