Incumbent Democrat Brian Sims is facing competition this year in the 182nd District from three challengers, including Jewish newcomers Marni Snyder and Ben Waxman.
The other Democratic candidate is Louis Lanni, who has run as a Republican in the past.
The primary election is April 26, with the general election slated for Nov. 8.
The 182nd District covers Center City and parts of South Philadelphia.
Here’s some background on Snyder and Waxman.
While Waxman is only 31, he is motivated and ambitious.
He was involved with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) during high school, leading protests against the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. He also served on its board and later as youth organizer for an anti-death penalty group called Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.
“I’m a big believer of doing the job right,” Waxman said. “If you work really hard, other opportunities will come. An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
He participates in local civic activism, serving on the board of the Center City Residents Association, Friends of Greenfield and was elected in 2014 to the 8th Ward Democratic Executive Committee.
Waxman credits much of his success to his Jewish background and beliefs.
“The primary value is that we in the Jewish community have this idea about tikkun olam,” he said. “That has been a guiding principal for me in terms of the work that I’ve done and why.”
He and his wife, Julie Wertheimer, live in Center City and are members of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel. While not religious, he enjoys Shabbat, especially in Israel.
Shabbat is “my favorite tradition, and my greatest inspiration as a Jew is to observe Shabbat,” he said.
Waxman told the Jewish Exponent his love for politics began at the age of 14 when he met Rabbi George Stern, the director of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. He worked with Stern on interfaith dialogue and civil liberties shortly after 9/11, where the rabbi helped him foster his thirst for knowledge and giving back.
As time went by, he noticed there was one glaring problem in Philadelphia: poor education. He is appalled at how many schools have no extra-curricular activities, are overcrowded and don’t have nurses or guidance counselors.
“We have a crisis when it comes to public education,” he said. “I view the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as ground zero for that crisis. The first step to fixing the broken school system is to restore the funding that has been cut so that our students have adequate resources in the classrooms and can succeed.”
He suggested one way to fund education is to implement taxes on fracking, which Pennsylvania does not do.
Before establishing his candidacy, Waxman consulted with his wife, who works for the city. Part of her job is conducting focus groups for people who have been incarcerated.
She told him a story about a convict that blew his mind. She met a man who had been locked up for a year and had previously dropped out of high school. In prison, he turned his life around, went back to school and got his General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
When Wertheimer asked him what made him do this, the answer shocked her.
“It was much easier in prison,” he told her.
“The idea that it’s easier to get a degree in prison really shook me,” Waxman said. “I’m so frustrated with what’s happened to the Philadelphia school district. A lot of people are.”
Snyder, 34, practices criminal defense and special education law at her own firm, the Law Offices of M. J. Snyder, LLC in Center City. A native of Overbook Park, Snyder has resided in Center City for the past decade.
After law school, Snyder clerked for the Honorable Carolyn Engel Temin in the homicide division of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. In 2007, she became an assistant public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia under the leadership of Ellen Greenlee.
“I want my representation to really empower Democrats because I want to introduce data-driven decision-making and statewide advocacy,” she said.
She became interested in social justice and community service at a young age.
“I considered being a public defender absolutely a public service,” she said. “You’re not a good public defender or criminal lawyer if you don’t have the pulse on what’s happening in the courts, legislature and the community.”
Her work ethic and commitment to help others comes from her parents, Mark and Sharon Snyder. Her mother, who has taught in the Philadelphia school district for 15 years, has felt increasingly less supported by the district, which inspired Snyder to run for office.
“You wonder what kind of culture and lack of resources made her feel that way,” Snyder said.
The love of politics stems from her father, who served as a Democratic committee person in the early 1990s.
“He kind of taught me you can do it on a small scale or you can do it on a big scale, and every single part of helping people matters,” she said. “Being a Democrat and having those values was important in my house, no matter the role that we took.”
Looking ahead to the election, Snyder said education and criminal justice reform are major issues.
According to Snyder, not only are prisons overcrowded, but they are housing too many non-violent drug offenders. She favors rehabilitation and diversion programs that help drug users, rather than lock them up.
In looking at the failing education system, she said there needs to be a complete evaluation of how the schools operate. She explained that conducting cost-benefit data analysis and keeping track of data might help the future of education.
“We need to determine how to educate our kids,” she stressed. “We need to fund schools, not prisons.”
Snyder, whose favorite holiday is Passover, grew up in a Conservative home, but belongs to Mekor Habracha in Center City. She is not Orthodox, but enjoys the vibrant welcoming atmosphere the shul offers.
She has visited Israel three times and believes her Jewish-based commitment to improving the world around her will help her succeed if elected.
“Figuring out the theme that we want to take on to really help change things is going to be social justice,” she said. “It’s going to be the idea that when we have an eye toward what is fair and good, we can create these things without making pockets of hurt.”