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Updated 11:30 a.m.

When Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez last ran for reelection in 2015, she faced a virtually unknown candidate who was slammed for his racist and homophobic posting history on social media. Still, the councilwoman won by just an 850-vote margin, largely thanks to labor leader John Dougherty and other Democratic power brokers who backed her opponent.

One of those rivals now plans to gun for the seat himself this year. State Rep. Angel Cruz, a 10-term lawmaker from North Philadelphia’s Latino strongholds, says he filed formal paperwork for his campaign this week.

“She’s a micromanager,” Cruz said. “There are too many leaders in the 7th District who are tired and want a change.”

Before the mudslinging continues, some backstory:

Both politicians have long served the city’s heavily Latino, deeply impoverished neighborhoods in North Philly. For decades, neighborhoods like Kensington and Fairhill have been ground zero for the city’s drug plights, from crack in the ’80s to the current opioid crisis. Both agree is it a heavily neglected district.

But Quiñones-Sánchez and Cruz are inveterate adversaries — their feud as personal as it is political. Despite attempts to work together in their overlapping communities, moments of peace have been rare, and election seasons have historically aired the dirty laundry. Quiñones-Sánchez has backed political allies in bids against Cruz, and vice versa.

Cruz says Quiñones-Sánchez has been a stubborn and unwilling collaborator. The councilwoman bristles at that characterization.

“I have Jason [Dawkins], I have Jared [Solomon], and now I have Danilo [Burgos],” Quiñones-Sánchez said, referring to state lawmakers whose legislative districts also overlap with hers. “The only person who doesn’t work with me is [Cruz].”

Quiñones-Sánchez avers Cruz is using the bid to collect a second taxpayer-funded pension.

Cruz has been representing the 170th House District in Harrisburg since 2000. But his political entreé began as aide to former Councilman Rick Mariano in the 1990s. He worked in City Hall for almost five years, he said; city employees must put in ten in order to collect a pension, Quiñones-Sánchez noted. Cruz dismissed the implication.

“I’m not getting anything for nothing,” he said. “What is she working for? Everybody else is working for their retirement, for their pensions, and I want to serve this district.”

Political corruption runs deep in both their districts. Several of Cruz’s onetime political allies have ended up in federal prison. His old boss Mariano – who once helmed the 7th District – served a stint on bribery charges. Cruz’s political camp at one point also included convicted ex-lawmaker Leslie Acosta and political scion Renee Tartaglione, who was convicted last year for defrauding a Fairhill mental health clinic she started with her husband, ward leader Carlos Matos, who also served time for bribing a trio of Atlantic City councilmen. Cruz himself was never been indicted in these political scandals. “I don’t look good in orange,” he noted.

The state lawmaker, 53, then alleged the councilwoman has her own skeletons in the closet.

“She’s been interviewed by the FBI,” he claimed. (False, the councilwoman countered.)

Of course, the prospective battle will hinge on who can garner support and get out the vote.

Cruz is also been a longtime ward leader in his own district — making him part of the line to Democratic endorsement. The party has historically backed candidates running against Quiñones-Sánchez, but it is too early to tell whether Cruz would have wide support in the district.  (Party leader and Congressman Bob Brady could not be reached for comment Thursday night.)

Cruz said he had already courted the 11 ward leaders in the district, but would not name who pledged their support.

“In this game you got to kiss a lot of rings,” Cruz said. “Her problem is it has to be her way or no way.”

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...