Nicholas DiDonato, Jr., a retired police detective, will run for the 184th House District in South Philadelphia. The nephew of a former state Rep., DiDonato says he intends to take on Democratic incumbent Rep. Bill Keller in the 2018 primary.
The former cop came out guns blazing, immediately seeking to tie Keller to Congressman Bob Brady’s alleged buyout of a political opponent.
“My opponent, Bill Keller, he’s been invisible for 24 years,” DiDonato said. “You got to wonder why no one ever ran against him except for a few occasions. You got to wonder what was going on. Then you see the thing with Brady – was some of that going on?”
DiDonato outlined a sprawling platform that includes enhanced public safety, lower taxes, changing the Mummers parade route and resolving a simmering dispute over median parking on South Broad Street.
Although DiDonato excoriated Democratic corruption scandals and said he was beholden to no sitting politicians, he did acknowledge several family ties to local political actors.
“I intend fully to run. My father was a committeeman. My uncle was a committeeman. My uncle” – referring to former state Rep. Anthony DiDonato – “was a state Rep. in (state Rep Maria) Donatucci’s area,” he said.
DiDonato, Jr. sent out a press release from his iPhone on Monday, although he admitted he has yet to file formal paperwork for his campaign in the Democratic primary. The 20-year police vet is just the latest Keller challenger to emerge – sources told City&State PA just days ago that former WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler also intended to run for that office.
DiDonato’s entrance to the race is another indicator that the culture wars boiling in a rapidly gentrifying part of the city will become part of the race for Keller’s seat.
Born and raised in South Philly, DiDonato is vocal about his support for the Mummers, members of whom have sparked outcry over the years for racist elements of their performances in the long-running New Year's Day parade. At a recent community event, DiDonato promoted his candidacy while wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” T-shirt, linking himself to a pro-law enforcement social movement that is controversial among those seeking more police accountability.
The soon-to-be-candidate also pledged to resolve the decades-long issue of cars parking on the South Broad Street median, which has historically triggered angry responses from neighbors when the city has sought to enforce parking rules. The issue reared its head again after an urbanist PAC, The Fifth Square, filed suit to compel the city to ticket vehicles parked on the median.
Despite DiDonato’s law enforcement background, he said it was better to keep the illegal median parking than to completely eliminate the hundreds of parking spots running the length of South Broad through several dense neighborhoods. Although he said he could not back up the claim, he suggested it was possible that state parking codes, which bar median parking, were no longer applicable.
“I read something that said if a law hasn't been enforced in a certain period of time it should be relooked at again, or edit it a little bit,” he said. “But I’m not a lawyer; I’m not saying it definitely does not apply.”
He did offer support for compromise solutions like more back-in angle parking to add spots around the neighborhood and creating more private parking lots.
DiDonato was adamant about bringing the Mummers back to the more southern reaches of Broad Street. The parade was recently condensed for logistical reasons.
“If we could find money to do everything else in this city...then why do we have to take away the tradition” of the Mummers’ longtime parade route, he asked. “As a resident of South Philly, we’re forgotten. Everything is Center City. This longstanding tradition is something else they want to take away. It's very sentimental to a lot of people.”