Meet the political outsider running to rep Philly’s 177th District

Dan Martino wants to clean up neighborhood streets and tackle the opioid crisis.

Dan Martino is the secretary of the Olde Richmond Civic Association.

Dan Martino is the secretary of the Olde Richmond Civic Association.

Danny Henninger / Billy Penn
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Politics is boring.

At least according to Dan Martino, the secretary of the Olde Richmond Civic Association who recently announced his run for 177th District State Representative. In some ways, the graphic-designer-turned-candidate considers himself the anti-politician. His father’s not a congressman, and he probably won’t be backed by the Democratic establishment.

He’s also been an outspoken advocate of safe injection sites to combat the opioid crisis.

“Politics is a game,” said Martino, who is 33. “The red and blue thing is just a wedge issue to get people upset when there’s real work to be done. It doesn’t matter.”

Martino’s run follows the retirement of John Taylor, a powerful Republican incumbent who was elected 17 times in a row to represent the 177th Legislative District, which includes parts of Port Richmond, Fishtown, Tacony and Lawncrest plus most of Bridesburg, Northwood and Mayfair. Taylor’s move created a huge void, and several others have already jumped into the race.

Immigration lawyer Joe Hohenstein is one of Martino’s match-ups. A Democrat, he ran in 2016 and snagged 45 percent of the vote and four of the seven wards, giving Taylor a run for his money. (He was one of 161 candidates endorsed by President Barack Obama.) Hohenstein’s campaign platform is “Philadelphia against Harrisburg.”

Another competitor is Maggie Borski, a 24-year-old Temple law student and the daughter of former U.S. Rep John Borski, also recently announced her bid for state rep. She’s already got some political backing — former Gov. Ed Rendell and former Philadelphia DA candidate Joe Khan have both come out in support of the bid.

The election will be decided on May 15 — and Martino is confident he’s the best one for the job.

“We need more average people in the state house,” he said. “I think a lot of people are getting frustrated with politics because they feel like their opinions are largely ignored.”

Martino, a Billy Penn Who’s Nexter, has history in the district. He was born and raised in Northeast Philly — and so was his father, and his grandfather before that. Martino bought a house down the street from his great-grandfather’s fire station, Ladder 16, which is also around the block from his father’s childhood home.

The district has changed noticeably since Taylor was first elected in 1984. According to a 2011 Pew Charitable Trusts report, Northeast Philadelphia underwent a “striking” demographic shift from 1990 to 2010, moving from 92 percent white to 58.3 percent white over two decades. The region also grew in population by 5.4 percent “thanks to an array of new arrivals,” Pew reported.

Martino is certainly not a new arrival. But as an engaged community activist, he thinks he can understand his neighbors — both new and old — and best represent their interests.

If elected, Martino said he will prioritize two issues:

  • Keeping neighborhood streets clean and safe
  • Battling the opioid epidemic

Voters aligned with those goals should note he’s already done work on both.

In Olde Richmond, he helped institute an in-home security camera program called Safe Streets, and a weekly street-sweeping initiative known as Clean Streets.The Safe Streets program won a grant from the Penn Treaty Special Services District to install one security camera on every block of the neighborhood — that’s 200 cameras on 200 blocks, Martino said.

Martino — a member of the Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative — organized the March in Black, which memorialized overdose victims last August in Kensington. He also started a petition for Philly to open a supervised safe injection site last year. His goal regarding the epidemic? “Minimize the damage done to society” in any way he can.

“We need to find a place so that people aren’t injecting publicly,” Martino said. “It doesn’t seem that controversial or radical to me. Fewer deaths means a better city for everyone.”

His passion comes from personal experience. Martino’s brother is in long-term recovery, and his sister lost her boyfriend to substance use. She moved in with Martino while she grieved the loss of her boyfriend. Often she would wake Martino up in the middle of the night, he said, screaming from her nightmares.

“To think there are 1,200 families in the city now that have to feel that same horror,” Martino said, “that has helped my forge my path.”

Inspired by his community work, Martino wants to tap into civic associations in his district to understand local issues and get ideas for policy.

“There are so many incredible neighborhood groups that exist right now that,” he said. “All the things I’ve done for Olde Richmond, I’ve done as a volunteer. If you bring in some people who live in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of great stuff you can do.”

Next up for Martino: funding his campaign. The candidate filing deadline is March 6, which is when he’ll officially know who he’s up against in the election. In the meantime, he wants to knock on a lot of doors. He’s also planning to institute monthly payment plans — making it easier for working class folks in his neighborhood to give what they can.