Ben Waxman has lived in Center City for 10 years.
He has unofficially represented his neighbors to local government as part of the Center City Residents’ Association. And he has advocated for his neighbors in various official roles, too, including in communications positions with Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent Hughes and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Now, though, the longtime activist doesn’t just want to represent his fellow residents.
He wants to be their representative.
On Nov. 3, Waxman announced his campaign for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
The Springfield Township High School (Montgomery County) graduate will first have to win the Democratic Primary in May. But if he does, he will run for the District 182 seat, which represents Center City, in the November 2022 election.
Waxman calls himself a progressive and is committed to a social justice worldview. He led Krasner’s communications team from 2018-’19 because he wanted to help the DA work on sentencing reforms.
But the Conservative Jew, who keeps kosher in the home and belongs to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, is running because he wants to work on practical, everyday issues.
Waxman said he wants to help the state end the pandemic and reinvigorate the economy. He views Republicans as a threat to that first initiative and hopes to defend a Democratic seat.
Rep. Brian K. Sims represents the district but is not running for reelection.
“We’re in a crisis situation, especially when you have Republicans in Harrisburg who are resisting public health measures,” Waxman said.
Waxman, though, is announcing his campaign at a time when COVID case, hospitalization and death rates are declining. So if he wins, by the time he takes office in 2023, he hopes to be focusing on the post-COVID recovery.
As Waxman’s friend and neighbor Wade Albert put it, Center City is the “financial engine of Southeastern PA.” And right now, there are too many retail vacancies, Waxman said.
“We’ve lost stores on almost every block,” he said.
Waxman wants to use public investment to help the state economy recover. That way, the local economy can rebound, too.
He said, “There’s a vibrancy that only exists if there’s a lot of people here.” He envisions blocks full of shoppers and people going out to eat.
“What can we do so the economy recovers?” Waxman asked. “What can we do so Center City recovers?”
If elected, Waxman would represent an important district, but he would just be one vote in a 203-member body.
Yet he’s confident he can make an impact in the Democratic caucus. Republicans still have a house majority and General Assembly control in Pennsylvania. But House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, are increasingly progressive, Waxman said.
Waxman describes a House seat as the political position he’s most qualified to hold. He worked in the Senate for five years, focusing on the Appropriations Committee. So, he’s intimately familiar with how the government decides to spend its money.
Albert said Waxman was an integral part of the budget process during his earlier years in Harrisburg as well.
“There’s always a place for minority voices to be heard in connection to the budget process,” Albert said.
Right now, though, Waxman’s focus is not policy. It’s getting elected.
He doesn’t know who he’s running against or if he has the support of the local Democratic Party. He does say that he has a significant amount of grassroots support.
Waxman has already gotten donations from more than 130 people and he has a team of volunteers ready to go door-to-door.
In a local, low-profile race, Waxman knows he needs an army on the ground. But his campaign plan is both digital and physical.
He wants to use Facebook, Twitter and his website to keep building a team of volunteers and donors. Then he plans on talking to as many Center City neighbors as he can.
“It’s local, so you can almost talk to everyone,” Waxman said.
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