ABOVE PHOTO: State Rep. Dwight Evans, right, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, is joined by City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, left, as he campaigns in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
By Amy V. Simmons
If Rep. Dwight Evans wins the upcoming election on November 8th, he will be joining an esteemed group of African American predecessors who represented Philadelphia’s second district for nearly 60 years. This representation began with the election of with the late Representative Robert N. C. Nix, Sr., who served the 4th District from 1958-1963, and in the 2nd District in the US House of Representatives from 1963-1979. Nix was the first African American elected to the seat at the time.
Evans currently represents the 203rd Legislative District. He served as House Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman for 20 years. His term as state representative ends Nov. 14.
Like most Americans, Rep. Evans has been following the political kabuki theater otherwise known as the 2016 Presidential Election, and like most Americans, has strong opinion about it.
“I’ve never seen an election where one candidate doesn’t think he has to play by the rules that are related to the political process. Someone who doesn’t think he has to be prepared, shoots from the hip and takes other people for granted. On the other hand, you have a person who is very prepared, has done her homework, has worked very hard, and very diligently and is in a position, I believe, to be a great president of this country. And yet, you have still some of the same biases because she is a woman. [But] she earned it, she worked the old fashioned way.”
“[As citizens]we all have — in my view — an obligation. We will decide who we hire and who we will fire[in the upcoming election]. So that means that we need to really learn about the candidates, and understand what decision is taking place. It just is not a decision that affects the United States of America, but it affects all the other aspects of the world — be it Africa, be it Russia, China, South America — all of those other places.”
Evans is hopeful for a Clinton victory on November 8th, but recognizes that when campaigns end, the real work begins.
“[Winning the election] is just the beginning, not the end. You then have to govern – you have to negotiate. [But]most of the constituents I talk to are [just] trying to figure out how to make it.”
Evans’ top priorities for his first 100 days in office are organized around different aspects of the economy and on solutions which support long -term community wellness and growth, particularly concerning higher education and jobs with sustainable, living wages. He believes a renewed focus on vocational training, technical schools, trade schools and community colleges — as viable alternatives to four-year university programs — needs to be implemented in response to a rapidly changing, 21st-century work model.
Evans referenced the Clinton-Kaine campaign manifesto, “Stronger Together: A Blueprint for America’s Future” when speaking about one area they identified in which he would like to work with Mrs. Clinton — rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, highways, and other similar projects.
“There is a section in it which she talks about having the largest increase for infrastructure [programs]. So, my first thing would be to work on ways that I could piggyback on that initiative. I want to couple my agenda with her agenda.
For example, the thing I did with [former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor] Ed Rendell was to couple supermarkets with his economic stimulus. I found a way to figure out how to put supermarkets into ‘food deserts,’ and that did a couple of things. First, it generated job opportunities in construction and for retail clerks. Then it dealt with food insecurity and inaccessibility to food. So he had his initiative, and I had my initiative…. I see the same thing in her [Secretary Clinton’s] case.”
A holistic approach to community needs
Evans believes in initially utilizing systems that are already in place to address problems in the community, rather than the creation of new policy and procedures to address specific issues in the community. He believes that only after accessing what is already in place and formulating a plan of action should addition remedies be considered to close any gaps.
“There’s the problem, the policy, and the politics, what you call the ‘three Ps.’ How do you then take the policies[already in place] and approach the problem? The difference in what I want to do now is where I was dealing with counties as a state legislator, I’ll be dealing with states. There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania; there are 50 states. If you look at the counties, the counties are reflective of the states. That’s the way you have to think of it,” he said.
Throughout his career, Evans has adhered to a “neighborhood first” philosophy. This focus has been part of every project or cause he has been a part of, from his early days as a community activist to his present position as a seasoned legislator. He was influenced by his parents and mentors such as activists and former East Mount Airy Neighbors presidents, Bill and the late Anne Ewing, and the late Eversley S. Vaughan.
Although never a political figure himself, Vaughan — a social worker, civil rights and community activist based in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia — mentored many young activists in the 1960s and 1970s who eventually ended up in government or public service in some capacity. He was one of the founding members of East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN)–a group founded in response to the adverse effect ‘white flight’ was having on the remaining residents and their new neighbors, many who were mostly middle class, African American families. The organization helped to bridge the gap and brought community stakeholders together.
Evans spoke warmly of EMAN’s influence on his career, both as a young activist and later as a politician. He was 19 years old when his life of service began.
“East Mount Airy Neighbors was the gold standard of community organizing. They were your true global citizens. They weren’t driven by the transactional nature of politics; they were about community…it is that philosophy of “community first” that influenced my behavior when I got into the area of politics…Bill, Eversley, and Anne — all of them influenced me[regarding] where I am in 2016. I don’t think they knew how much influence they had on my behavior.”
According to his official website, Evans is interested in implementing many of the initiatives that have been successful for his district over the past 36 years as a PA state representative and building upon them in the communities he hopes to serve as a US Congressman and throughout the country.
Components include private-sector, job-generating commercial hubs made up of local small businesses; major financial institutions; neighborhood schools that are one-stop community and family centers; mixed income housing; police substations or other public-safety installations; and ample green spaces, recreational and cultural enrichment opportunities.
Due to the vacancy in the 2nd Congressional District created by the June 23, 2016, resignation of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), there will be a special election to fill that seat on Nov. 8, 2016. It will run concurrently with the general election. The winner of the special election will fill the seat during the final eight weeks of the 114th Congress; the general election will be for the same seat in the 115th Congress, which convenes on January 3, 2017. Voters will cast two separate ballots for the same seat.