A race that many predicted would be an easy lock for the longtime incumbent, Republican state Rep. John Taylor, has turned bitter in the final stretch of the campaign.
Mailers circulated in the past few weeks by Taylor’s campaign have blasted opponent Joe Hohenstein’s work at an immigration law firm, calling him a “lawyer who defends terrorists.”
The latest mailers came shortly after Hohenstein’s camp released their own materials implying that Taylor helped cover up “sex abuse” at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and that Taylor’s law firm had gotten “sweetheart contracts” from the embattled agency. A rare campaign commercial in the 177th called out Taylor's record on abortion.
The late-in-the-game mail war in Northeast Philadelphia’s 177th District looks like an indication that the longtime incumbent is worried about political newcomer Joe Hohenstein – and Taylor didn’t disagree.
“I say that there’s only two ways to run: unopposed or scared,” he said. “I don’t have option one, so you better believe we’re pulling out all the stops.”
A mailer recently sent to voters in the 177th PA House District, depicting Democratic challenger Joe Hohenstein as terrorist-friendly.
Taylor stood by his claim that Hohenstein was a “terrorist’s lawyer” – a reference to two cases where Hohenstein was assigned as defense counsel in deportation trials involving suspected terrorists.
“You have many attitudes from lawmakers who are worried about the perpetrator. I’m worried about the victim,” Taylor said. “[Hohenstein] specializes in deportation matters and criminal deportation matters. I say put them back to wherever they came from if they’re committing crime.”
Both cases cited in the mailer were controversial. The first client, Mazen al-Najjar, was a professor targeted for deportation by immigration o fficials that relied on secret evidence. The other, the 1990s deportation of an Algerian national who admitted he entered the US with fraudulent credentials, revolved around similarly vague allegations of terrorism.
“Everybody deserves representation – that’s fine – but his sympathies are gonna lie with those folks who commit crimes,” Taylor said.
Both men were later deported. Hohenstein countered that his work on both cases predates 9/11 and that the men were entitled to defense.
“The basic story is that these were cases that I handled at a nonprofit when I was the immigration equivalent of a public defender,” he explained. “We took the cases as they came in. We had a priority to help people who were detained and did not have representation.”
He said Taylor was attempting to scandalize cases that were nearly 20 years old and highly unusual in nature.
“This isn’t what I make my living off of. What I’ve done with the majority of my career is work with asylum seekers and domestic violence victims,” he said. “John’s representation of the PPA is a lot more pertinent to the election.”
In turn, Hohenstein’s ads made hay out of a PPA contract, valued at more than $382,000, doled out to Archer & Greiner, a law firm where Taylor is of counsel. They also raise ambiguous questions about his direct involvement in a wide-ranging sexual harassment scandal involving ex-PPA Director Vince Fenerty.
Hohenstein said the contract represents a conflict of interest, given Taylor’s chair of a House transportation committee and ties to the GOP-dominated administration of the agency.
Taylor did not specifically refute the mailer’s “misleading” assertions, except to take issue with the mailer’s reframing a widely publicized sexual harassment scandal as “sex abuse.”
Hohenstein said that statement shows Taylor didn’t grasp the severity of the PPA allegations.
“There were physical interactions between Vince Fenerty and Sue Cornell that I would say rise to the level of abuse,” Hohenstein said. “If John’s taking issue with that, it shows he doesn’t really understand the issue.”