Pennsylvania State Senator Tony Williams takes on Paul Prescod in battle over Democratic Party’s future

As a Philadelphia Democrat whose campaigns were bolstered by a conservative billionaire promoting “school choice” policies like charter expansion, State Senator Anthony H. Williams has long played a unique role in the debate. on education policy in Pennsylvania.

In the past, these debates have taken place on bigger stages, such as his unsuccessful campaigns for governor in 2010 and mayor in 2015.

But on Tuesday, it will play out for the first time in Williams’ backyard when he takes on Paul Prescod, a Democratic Socialists of America organizer who quit his job as a Philadelphia public school teacher to run. against Williams in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 8th Senate District.

Williams has never faced a serious challenger since winning the seat in a 1998 election orchestrated by his late father, Hardy Williams, who founded a powerful black political organization based in the West and South West Philadelphia that his son now runs.

Prescod, who taught at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, said he was motivated to come forward after “seeing and experiencing the divestment for public schools and the real crisis point it is at.”

“Especially on this issue of education, I felt it needed a different voice and a different choice,” said Prescod, 31, adding that Williams “school choice” programs support SAP resources. traditional public schools.

Williams, 64, said the most important issue in this election is not education but public safety, and his experience in Harrisburg and the district makes him better equipped to deal with it.

“Climate, environment, employment, employment, education are all important issues, but how we remove illegal guns from Philadelphia and the region is fundamental to my district,” Williams said. , adding that Prescod was ill-prepared because he didn’t have as many connections to people “who are actively looking for solutions to problems.”

The race remains an uphill battle for Prescod, a first-time candidate in an area where voters have voted for Williams or his father for 50 years. But Prescod gained surprising popularity, raking in over $300,000 and earning endorsements from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Philadelphia District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the progressive group Reclaim Philadelphia.

Williams has banked more than $500,000, including significant contributions from fellow Senate Democrats, building trades unions and a slew of businesses, law firms and lobbyists.

As well as being a referendum on Williams’ tenure, the race is also a test of the potential reach of Philadelphia’s progressive movement, which since 2016 has won a string of victories against establishment-backed Democrats but has fallen behind. Seldom is such a racially and economically diverse seat contested. like Williams’.

The 8th District, which is 58% black, includes parts of Delaware County, West Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia. The legislative seats progressives have captured in recent elections have typically been in gentrifying neighborhoods with a disproportionate share of white, young, and highly educated voters.

“The district has a bit of everything, and I think it’s kind of uncharted territory for the left,” Prescod said. “There was no campaign in a neighborhood like this.”

Among the ever-changing factions and alliances of Philadelphia’s progressive movement, the race is also notable as a sign of the heightened ambitions of the local DSA, which has previously trumped other progressive organizations in electoral politics. Prescod headed the Philly DSA’s labor committee, and his candidacy was bolstered by nearly 200 group volunteers who polled the district and called voters on his behalf.

In other cities, local DSA chapters have been leaders of left-wing political organizations, including helping elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a Bronx-based congressional seat in 2018. But until this year, other progressive organizations like Reclaim Philadelphia led the charge.

Williams tried to seize on Prescod’s ties to the left to bolster the narrative that the challenger is an outsider to the district, saying Prescod’s campaign is “part of the politics of gentrification.”

Prescod, however, makes for an odd target for all-in charges. A native of Norristown and a graduate of Temple University, Prescod said he grew up in the “lower middle class” and lived in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia.

Williams, who is black and lives on Cobbs Creek Parkway, also cited Prescod’s race. Prescod, who identifies as multiracial, is the son of a black man from Barbados and a white woman.

“He always mentions that his father is Trinidadian. He never mentions his mother,” Williams said, misidentifying the nationality of Prescod’s father. “You do a codeword because you don’t mention your mother because she’s probably not Trinidadian.”

Prescod noted that Williams, who attended the elite Westtown School in West Chester and graduated from Franklin & Marshall College, had a more privileged upbringing.

“It’s just an effort to delegitimize me,” Prescod said. ” Let’s be realistic. Williams went to a private school.

Prescod said it is Williams who is out of touch with the district because of campaign money he receives from Jeffrey Yass, a Main Line hedge fund operator who is the richest person in Pennsylvania and has spent millions to fund committees and candidates going back to school. choice policies.

“To whom is he really responsible? said Prescod. “We just can’t ignore the influence of the money he takes from people like Jeffrey Yass.”

Williams noted that he had also received support from unions and wondered why he should refuse money from a donor.

“Frankly, I’m amazed to even be faced with these questions about this,” Williams said. “I’m supposed to tie my hands behind my back and not have support from people who have support for my issues that they agree with me on because their name is Yass?”

The base salary for state senators in Pennsylvania is $95,000 per year. No Republicans are running in the heavily Democratic district, and the winner of Tuesday’s primary will serve a four-year term beginning in January.

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