South Philly’s Bern identity

Signs encouraging East Passyunk Avenue passers-by to volunteer and register to vote now fill the windows of 1916-1918 E. Passyunk Ave.

Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert

There’s a pretty big election coming up – the 45th President of the United States of America will be decided on Nov. 8. In the meantime, state primaries have whipped just about every American into a combination of panic and civic engagement. With Pennsylvania state primaries on April 26 for the Republican and Democratic candidates, the two parties’ leading figures are starting to make their way to Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.

Of course, this is just a taste of what’s to come this summer, when the Democratic National Convention arrives in Philadelphia July 25-28 at the Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St.

On Saturday, the Bernie Sanders campaign celebrated the opening of another Philadelphia office, this one at 1916-1918 E. Passyunk Ave. The others are in Center City, NE Philly, North Philly and West Philly. On background, a representative from the Hillary Clinton campaign said it has offices set up in Scranton, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg with more to come in the near future.

With two murals in his honor, one in Queen Village at Sweettooth, 630 S. Fourth St., and another at the corner of 22nd and Catharine streets in Graduate Hospital, it seems South Philly is, as they say, Feeling the Bern. As far as this publication can tell, there aren’t any other candidates, from either party, who have a Philadelphia office (let alone a South Philly space).

On Monday, John Fishman, the drummer for Phish, visited Sweettooth before a Sanders campaign event in Northern Liberties at North Bowl. Owner Sam Greenblatt and manager Kim Price took over the space about a year ago and, as Price put it, “we wanted to put some light back into it.”

The candy shop, which attracts South Street tourists, locals of every age and demographic, and now Sanders supporters painted over a mural that had existed on the wall for five years in December.

“We wanted to change it, and we wanted to do Bernie Sanders,” Price, a Fishtown resident, said. “We had just heard about him and had seen his speeches online and believed everything he says.”

The Brooks Bell-executed mural references the peace symbols of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the text that reads “Without People You’re Nothing” recalls Clash lead singer Joe Strummer. Fishman signed autographs while Sanders campaign volunteers attempted to register folks to vote. Before heading to North Bowl, he posed with the Sweettooth staff in front of Bell’s mural.

Sitting at a small table on Bainbridge Street outside the shop, Pennsport resident Dianne Mayer said “one of the big things I don’t like is the money that’s spent on our military.” She and her friend sat with their Sanders 2016 signs while gusty winds blew magnolia petals about. “I’d like to see the tax burden spread more evenly,” she went on, “I like his honesty and he takes the high road – it’s not about dirty politics with him.”

Dan Creskoff, the owner of CineMug, 1607 S. Broad St., a café and DVD rental spot, has hosted a couple Democratic debate viewing parties and, on Sunday night, welcomed Fishman, as well.

“I think he’s bringing a lot of ideas that aren’t usually talked about in politics and things that politicians don’t usually want to think too much about. I think he’s refreshing and passionate, and I think that resonates with people,” Creskoff, of Broad and Dickinson streets said, but noted that his shop sees mostly younger patrons. “That newness and freshness of Bernie resonates with a lot of young people,” he says, and responded as a small business owner to criticisms of his support for the candidate with “I think it’s important and I like his message, so I think it’s worth pushing for him.”

Amanda Mcillmurray is a driving force of Bernie Sanders’ South Philly presence – the resident of the 2600 block of South Darien Street is an official DNC delegate for Sanders and heads up volunteer efforts at the new East Passyunk Crossing office. She first heard about the candidate last June at a meeting of a group called the Democratic Socialists of America.

One of the group members had a mother who worked for the senator in Vermont, so they had a small jump on his announcement to run. They started coordinating efforts on the Temple campus and at LOVE Park, and held events like Beers for Bernie.

“I kind of jumped in headfirst,” the legal office manager and Marconi West resident said. “I always thought he would last this long. In the beginning, it was a lot of optimism and now it’s a combination of optimism and pragmatism. Now he has a chance, he can do this and we can do this with him – it’s changed very quickly.”

Her enthusiasm may be spurred by his primary wins on March 22 (Idaho and Utah) and March 26 (Alaska, Hawaii and Washington). At print, Sanders has approximately 1,004 delegates pledged to Hillary Clinton’s 1,243, excluding superdelegates.

Superdelegates, of course, have been the ire of many Sanders’ supporters protestations – a fluid vote pledge from established politicians and office-holders, many are believed to go to Clinton.

“I think the whole superdelegate thing is not very well explained, and I think that’s purposeful because politicians benefit from their populace not knowing what’s really going on,” Mcillmurray, who believes the superdelegate system benefits a two-party system, said.

She said there are already plans in the works if, as a worst-case scenario, Sanders seems to win the primary-pledged delegates but not the nomination come July, there will be protests.

“If [Sanders] somehow wins but it’s stolen from him, there’s already marches in the works, but we’re hoping for the best case scenario,” Mcillmurray explained. “I think the DNC is focused on maintaining the status quo.”

Meanwhile, at 22nd and Catharine, across from the Graduate Hospital Ultimo Coffee, 2149 Catharine St., Max Glass had an empty property he owned and decided he wanted to take a note from Sweettooth and create his own Sanders mural, which went up earlier this month. Now, a 67-foot wide by 30-feet tall mural, he says, is pushing the candidate into popular conversation surrounding politics.

The young developer, who studied at the University of Pennsylvania, believes there’s a “deep media bias against this man – we need to be big and vocal and unafraid in supporting this man for President. He’s a popular candidate and the media would have you believe otherwise.”

Glass admits that an aspect of painting this huge mural on an empty shell is that he is looking forward to demolishing the empty shell when a proper operator comes along: “It’s somewhat childish, I’ve always wanted to have a mural on a building prior to it being demolished.” He developed the Ultimo building and he says his mixed-community neighbors thank him because it used to be a drug corner. Now, he says, a corner he’s worked on for years has become a hotbed for political discussion.

“People stop and they have a real conversation about this candidate or Hillary or Trump,” Glass said. “Many people walk by and say ‘Who’s that?’ and that’s a huge disadvantage for him.”

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.

Phish drummer, John Fishman, posed with Sweettooth staff and manager, Kim Price, Monday afternoon in Queen Village.

Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert