State Rep. Amen Brown Credit: Pa. House

Pa. Rep. Amen Brown is jumping into the race for Philly mayor, becoming the first sitting state legislator to join the crowded Democratic primary field.

The West Philly native will formally launch his campaign on Friday afternoon at University Square Plaza Senior Community Center, where the 35-year-old will share “his plan to prioritize public safety to protect all Philadelphians,” according to his press release.

“This city is in dire need of courageous leadership that is willing to do what is needed for the best interest of the people,” the statement continued.

First elected to the General Assembly in 2020, Brown has made a splash by partnering with Republicans more than the average Philadelphia Democrat, in both substance and fundraising. He has put forth policies and taken a lead in efforts — such as the House investigation of Larry Krasner — that have rankled other members of his party.

Brown’s mayoral candidacy is being backed by wealthy contributors, per reports, despite his political career to date having been relatively short.

The unofficial announcement that Brown is running took place about two weeks ago, in a literal smoke-filled room at the Pennsylvania Society — a meeting for Pa. political movers and shakers that’s based in NYC.

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Marty Burger, the CEO of New York’s Silverstein Properties who introduced Brown at the cigar bar event, has been pitching the candidate to other potential supporters, according to The Inquirer, intending to create a super PAC with at least $5 million in funding.

What has Brown accomplished so far, and what’s to come for his campaign? Here’s what you need to know.

Path to the Pa. House

Brown often shares experiences he has in common with many of his constituents: food insecurity, seeing addiction set his family back, incarceration, and being shot, among other things.

Raised near 56th and Market, Brown and his eight siblings grew up in a single family home, supported by his mother. He was shot near his home at age 12, and caught up in a police sweep in high school and incarcerated for 45 days before drug charges against him were dropped.

Through it all, he maintained an entrepreneurial mindset.

He launched a child-care center that ran after school programs and summer camps — he once wanted to be a school principal — and later started Overbrook Beacon Community Center, where he’s still listed as director. Located at 56th and Lancaster, the center has hosted events like back-to-school giveaways and local business roundtables with elected officials.

Brown also delved into real estate, and in 2014 ended up involved in a deed fraud lawsuit.

The case ended with the rightful owner regaining a deed to their family home after a judge ruled it had been forged. Brown and his representatives say he was scammed on Craigslist, even as he held onto the house after the rightful owner emerged and sued him. Former DA Seth Williams’ Office had initially filed criminal charges against Brown, but they were dropped, a lawyer for Brown said he was unaware that he still held the title.

This was all well before 2020, when he won the race for the 190th House District seat after the former two representatives had to step down after facing criminal charges.

Ahead of the 2022 primaries, he ran into legal trouble trying to remain on the ballot for the area, which was newly constituted as the 10th District. Brown didn’t meet residency requirements or disclose necessary financial information, per Axios. A judge ruled he could remain on the ballot because the violations appeared to be unintentional, but commented that the mistakes were “consistent with the candidate’s general irresponsibility and poor handling of his affairs.”

In the end, Brown won the three-way primary by less than 200 votes, securing reelection to the House. If he wins election as mayor of Philadelphia, he would be the youngest to ever serve in the position.

Unafraid to cross party lines

Brown is a bit of a maverick as far as Philly Democrats go, certainly unafraid to cross party lines. There was mild uproar about his meeting with Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz over the summer.

Most recently, he served on the select committee in the House investigation of District Attorney Larry Krasner, which ultimately didn’t recommend impeachment. Danilo Burgos, the fellow Philly Democrat on the Republican-controlled panel, resigned from the committee the day the House voted to impeach based on the committee’s reports. Brown stayed aboard, but abstained from voting on whether Krasner should be impeached or not.

Prior to this, Brown turned heads for sponsoring a bill that ran counter to raise mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun charges.

In 2021, Brown teamed with Central Pa. Republican Sen. Mike Regan to forward legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana. “Legalizing and regulating cannabis is simply the right thing to do — ensuring that an equity lens is applied and that injustices caused by enforcement of drug laws are redressed,” he wrote in the bill’s sponsorship memo.

Brown has no qualms about his propensity to look for partners outside of the Democratic coalition.

“I don’t see party,” he said in an interview with Drexel student journalist Ava Kataria. “I see issues and problems in my community, and in Harrisburg, I see people that can help me either soften the blow or help change what’s going on in my community.”

Once the city improves some fundamental aspects of life, he said — public safety, education, housing, etc. — he sees Philly flourishing.

“We can lead in technology, we can lead in life sciences … hell, they created the [COVID] vaccine on 37th and Market, in my district!” Brown told Kataria.

Fundraising status

The last campaign finance filing for Brown for his state rep campaign was a few weeks before the 2022 primary, and showed that he had about $59,000 of unspent funds at that point.

That’s by far the lowest amount of funds on hand out of the current list of candidates, though it appears as if at least $5 million of PAC money — courtesy of the developers backing the candidate early on — may be behind him.

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Jordan Levy

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...