A new face for Philadelphia Republicans
PHILADELPHIA J. Matthew Wolfe was part of an insurgency that spent three years trying to overthrow the leadership of Philadelphia's feckless Republican Party in the hopes of building a viable alternative to Democratic dominance.
Last year, the GOP ended the fight by naming State Rep. John Taylor, a respected legislator, chairman. The party also hired a young, aggressive operative as executive director.
"We have a stronger Republican Party than we did a year ago," Wolfe said, before adding: "We have a long way to go."
Just how far the party has traveled toward relevance will be tested May 20, when Wolfe, a lawyer in University City, runs for City Council in a special election. An at-large vacancy was created when Bill Green left Council to chair the School Reform Commission.
Wolfe's opponent, State Rep. Ed Neilson, could not be more representative of the need to finally crack the Democratic stranglehold on power, Wolfe said.
After statewide redistricting, Neilson would have been forced to square off against fellow Democratic State Rep. John Sabatina Jr. Instead, the city's Democratic ward leaders hand-picked Neilson for the Council race to avoid a nasty primary. (Wolfe, a GOP ward leader, was picked by his party leaders, as well, per the special-election rules.)
"What was the analysis in selecting my opponent? Was it, 'What's best for Philadelphia?' " Wolfe said. "No, it was, 'What's the most expensive race we're going to face? How can we preserve our resources to sustain ourselves?' "
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Elkins Park (his parents hailed from West Virginia; his father worked for television maker Philco), Wolfe, 58, is a peculiar species of urban Republican.
He has lived in West Philadelphia since his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania, where he first got involved in Republican politics, and he espouses a love of city living and public transportation that probably would roll the eyes of many state Republicans.
He stands on solid GOP ground when he talks about reforming the city's public employee pension system and work rules, but those are also positions to which Mayor Nutter, a Democrat, has been holding fast for most of his two terms.
Wolfe hews close to party orthodoxy on taxes (raising them is "one of the worst things you can do") and school choice (he supports expanding charter schools.)
But he refuses to situate himself on the political spectrum.
"This is a city election. We have to fix potholes," he said. "I'm out there talking about city priorities."
He and the party hope to attract independent and Republican voters in May, in part by pushing opposition to a ballot question.
That question will ask city voters whether they want to end the requirement that elected Philadelphia officials must resign if they want to run for another office.
Wolfe likens ending the rule to paying politicians to look for new jobs - a "Not on our Dime" Twitter handle and Facebook page were started last week by the new GOP executive director, Joseph J. DeFelice.
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