Dunbar in Disarray: Police Incident & Staff Problems Mire Dem Challenger
Philadelphia — Bad poll numbers, a police incident with a former staffer, and a campaign run by students. It’s another day on the campaign trail for William Dunbar.
The Democratic challenger to John Taylor, Philadelphia’s last Republican state Representative, has been mired in problems since September.
Philadelphia would appear to most Pennsylvanians as a dark blue dot on the map thanks to its overwhelmingly Democratic population. However, the perception of the city as uniformly Democratic is wrong.
For decades, Northeast Philadelphia was Republican territory. Ten years ago, this section of the city sent five Republicans to the State House. Until just four years ago, there were still four Republican State Reps from the Northeast. But then things began to change.
First, Brendan Boyle won the seat of longtime Rep. George Kenney, becoming the first Democrat ever elected to that district. Boyle is now chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee and considered a rising star. Two years later, Boyle’s brother Kevin ousted embattled former House Speaker John Perzel. Finally, earlier this spring, Democrat Ed Neilson narrowly won the open seat vacated by former Speaker Denny O’Brien.
That leaves one lone Republican standing: John Taylor in the 177th District, comprising Port Richmond, Bridesburg and other neighborhoods. Given the changes in the Northeast, Democrats thought a strong challenger may now be in a great position to take down this 28-year incumbent. In a presidential year, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, many believed that Dunbar would be the candidate to finally beat Taylor and solidify the Democratic surge in the Northeast.
Dunbar, 28, is a former staffer to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and was Director of Children and Youth Programs at United Communities Southeastern Philadelphia.
But Dunbar’s personal issues – including an altercation with his campaign manager in September – make the switch far less likely.
In September, Philadelphia police officers and Public Safety officers at the University of Pennsylvania responded to a call.
According to an incident report from Sept. 11, 2012, Dunbar threatened a staffer, his former campaign manager, with bodily harm at a coffee shop on Penn’s campus.
Dunbar’s campaign staff had walked out a few days earlier when he refused to pay their salaries for the month of August, according to three independent sources. It didn’t end there. For days, Dunbar repeatedly called and harassed his former staff.
That Saturday, his former campaign manager met with an intern who had decided to stay with the campaign. He said he intended to show the intern how to use some campaign software. PoliticsPA is honoring the staffer’s request not to be named.
He said Dunbar ambushed and threatened him.
“He told me, ‘You won’t make it to your car. My guys are waiting for you,’” the staffer told PoliticsPA. He said Dunbar made threats like, “You’re gonna die,” and said Dunbar slapped a cell phone from his hand when he tried to call authorities after a lengthy argument. Two witnesses corroborated the staffer’s story, according to the U. Penn Public Safety incident report.
Dunbar and his former campaign manager separated after Penn Campus Safety offices and Philadelphia Police officers arrived at the scene.
That wasn’t all.
Dunbar showed up at the doorstep of another person, that former staffer told PoliticsPA. When this staffer refused to meet Dunbar, the candidate flooded his phone with aggressive text messages and phone calls to get him to come out.
Dunbar denied all of the allegations, and said he had fired both members of his staff.
“If you had read the police report, you would see that the the staffers were fired, and asked to leave because they stole pertinent info related to the campaign,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about why people may or may not have left my campaign.”
No charges were filed as a result of either incident. If they had been, they wouldn’t be Dunbar’s first. He’s been convicted of theft by credit card in 2004 and was charged but not convicted of simple assault in 2006. He still owes thousands of dollars in court fees.
Just this week, Taylor’s campaign sent out a mail piece hammer Dunbar on the record.
Since the professional staff walked out, Dunbar’s campaign has been managed primarily by students, according to a third source with direct knowledge of the campaign. They’re tall on idealism but short on experience, the source said.
In terms of the race now, Dunbar said he’s been out and about in the community helping the people recover from the damage from Hurricane Sandy. In this last weekend before the election, Dunbar said, “we are doing doors, [get out the vote] efforts and lit. It’s not about being Democratic or Republican. It’s about serving the community.”
In a race that had been considered a possible Democratic pickup as recently as August, Dunbar is no longer among the top tier House challengers in PA.
Operatives from both parties say that Taylor polls above his party by double digits and that Dunbar hasn’t been able to move the numbers. This is despite Dunbar’s decent fundraising pace. He raised over $138,000 so far this campaign and had over $91,000 on hand as of Oct. 22 – $70,000 of it from Grant Venerable of Lincoln University.
For his part Taylor, 57, seemed to laugh off the notion that the race is very competitive. He said he’s saving money this cycle that he knows he’s going to need when a more formidable opponent comes around.
After running 14 other opponents, he said he doesn’t think that Dunbar is a someone who understands the needs of this district. “I have no intention of going anywhere,” he said.
Taylor has proven himself immune from the liabilities of his party label because he runs a strong constituent service operation and brings home the bacon.
“The difference between me and Dunbar is that he came here from somewhere else and doesn’t understand the depth that we have in this community. My service in the community and great legislation record for the year shows we’re working for the people.”