Election 2018

Why the candidate fighting Brian Sims to rep the Gayborhood is OK with being a long shot

Independent James McDevitt launched a late campaign for Pa. House District 182.

Candidate James McDevitt / Pa. Rep. Brian Sims

Candidate James McDevitt / Pa. Rep. Brian Sims

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That Brian Sims was going to have a general election opponent this November came as a surprise — even to Brian Sims.

Independent James McDevitt’s name was “inadvertently omitted” from an official list until after the challenge period, according to Philly Mag. Sims was granted an extension to file a challenge to McDevitt’s candidacy, but ultimately didn’t. All of this was reported in the story, which introduced McDevitt as “A Gay ‘Berniecrat Socialist.’

McDevitt feels a need to correct the record.

“I don’t consider myself socialist,” McDevitt told Billy Penn, adding that he actually got in trouble for that phrasing with his Venezuelan husband, who “knows some of the traps” of that ideology.

But McDevitt, a financial adviser from Center City, does support universal healthcare, an increase to the minimum wage, and legalizing marijuana. He got out the LGBTQ vote for progressive DA candidate Larry Krasner in 2017.

His beef with Sims, who is also openly gay, is pretty simple: McDevitt doesn’t think his representative is paying enough attention to the 182nd District.

As evidence, he lists missed votes, delay in coming to the conversation around racism in the Gayborhood, and allegations that Sims blocks people on social media.

“He’s more interested in 25,000 likes on Facebook than about calling [constituents’] back,” McDevitt claimed.

Sims declined to be interviewed for this piece, but did send a statement:

The last two years that I’ve had the honor of serving the residents of Center City’s 182nd District have been among the most productive since taking office. Every day my staff and I have work as hard as possible, both in Harrisburg and here at home in Philadelphia.

I’m extremely excited about the caliber of candidates seeking to join the House of Representatives next term, and I’m hoping that the hard work and dedication I’ve put in will allow me the honor of working alongside them as the Representative from the 182nd District.

If elected, McDevitt would be the only Independent serving in Harrisburg. He left the Democratic party four years ago.

“Corruption here is horrible,” he said, noting that his “opponent is still under an ethics investigation” and was “ready to abandon the district to go to Congress.”

Sims last year admitted the State Ethics Commission was investigating his travel reimbursements and speaking engagement fees, a probe he called a “hit job” orchestrated by a political enemy. The commission has declined to comment on the existence of such an investigation.

It is also true that Sims ran for Congress in 2016 before dropping out of the primary and endorsing Dwight Evans.

McDevitt, as Philadelphia Gay News reported, was convicted of driving under the influence back in 1994, and then of disorderly conduct in 2014. The latter incident, he explained, occurred at a wedding while defending his mother. He told PGN he would no longer fight in such a situation, “but I’m from Port Richmond and grew up gay there, so I know how to handle myself if need be.”

Sims was elected to the state House in 2012 after primarying long-time representative Babette Josephs. His national profile has risen as he’s loudly championed the LGBTQ community and taken on Republican lawmaker Daryl Metcalfe, whom he called the “biggest bigot” in Harrisburg. This summer, he made national news after he posted a photo of himself giving the finger ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Philadelphia.

“My opponent is more of a national celebrity,” McDevitt said. “My main focus is to increase constituent services.”

McDevitt has stepped away from his job to run for office, which means knocking on a lot of doors. The hardest part so far, he said, has been convincing Democrats not to pull straight-ticket but to “make a choice.”

Should he lose, McDevitt hopes his challenge will push Sims to focus more on the 182nd’s constituents. If that doesn’t happen, McDevitt said he’d launch a 2020 challenge as a Democrat.

While it’s generous to even call McDevitt a long shot in this race, he still sees reason to hope.

After all, he said, “Philly loves an underdog.”

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